Top US diplomat makes secret Iraq trip amid Iran tensions

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seen during the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a lightning visit Tuesday to Baghdad aimed at showing support for the Iraqi government as the United States has been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East.

"They both provided assurances that they understood that was their responsibility", he said.

Mrs May reportedly gave the green light to the company bidding for work on "non-core" aspects of the hi-tech 5G network at the NSC meeting, overruling concerns from ministers including Gavin Williamson, who was later sacked as defence secretary over suspicions that he had leaked details of discussions.

The visit came days after a USA aircraft carrier was deployed to the region, which officials said was in response to threats to USA forces and its allies from Iran. "We've urged the Iraqi government for its own security to get all of those forces under Iraqi central control", Pompeo said.

Asked about the decision to move the aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the region, Pompeo said Washington wanted to defend its interests from the Iranian threat and ensure it had the forces necessary to accomplish that goal.

Iran, meanwhile, was expected to announced Wednesday that it would partially withdraw from the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015. The top United States diplomat's unannounced visit marked an effort to stand up Washington's ties with Baghdad as it pushes ahead with its "maximum pressure" against Tehran a U.S. arch-rival, but an ally of Iraq.

Abdul Mahdi said the United States was an important strategic partner for Iraq, but stressed that Baghdad was continuing to seek a balanced relationship with all of its "friends and neighbours, including neighbouring Iran". More than 5,000 US troops are stationed on Iraqi soil.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the high security nature of the visit, said Pompeo was set to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. Iran won the ear of many top Iraqi politicians after it stepped in to fill the political vacuum following the 2003 USA invasion. "This is an obligation that Iraq honours", he said.

Washington has ramped up sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program in recent months and designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group. The Trump administration hopes to compel Iran to negotiate a "new deal" that would cover not only its nuclear activities, but also its ballistic missile programme and what officials call its "malign behaviour" across the Middle East.

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