U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled visit to Baghdad after canceling a planned meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany. The visit comes as the U.S. is stepping up pressure on Iraq's larger neighbor, Iran, and claiming that Iran could be planning threats against U.S. forces in the region.
The White House and departments of State and Defense have not been specific about what those threats might be.
"I wanted to go to Baghdad to speak with the leadership there, to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation," Pompeo said to reporters en route to Iraq after departing from Rovaniemi, Finland.
Late Sunday the administration announced that it is deploying a U.S. aircraft carrier and Air Force bombers to the Persian Gulf region. The USS Abraham Lincoln had been scheduled for a planned port visit in Croatia.
According to pool reports from press traveling with Pompeo, the secretary of state met in separate meetings with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Iraq has extensive ties with Iran that go back generations and Iran backs some Iraqi militias.
Pompeo had scheduled a visit to Germany Tuesday — his first official trip to Berlin — where he was expected to speak with Merkel about Ukraine, Russia, China, Syria and the Western Balkans. The abrupt cancellation is viewed as a snub of Merkel's government, the New York Times reports.
Wednesday marks a year since the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers. That 2015 deal provides relief from economic sanctions in return for limits on Iran's nuclear program.