Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad yesterday on an unannounced visit for talks on the sensitive issue of a continued troop presence following withdrawal from neighbouring Syria.
Shanahan is keen to reassure Iraqi leaders after President Donald Trump angered many by saying he wanted to keep troops at the Al-Asad airbase, northwest of Baghdad, to keep an eye on Iran.
The acting defence secretary, who flew in from Afghanistan on his foreign tour since taking office last month, is due to hold talks with Prime Ministrer Adel Abdel Mahdi and top military advisers and commanders.
Trump's comments about Iran, in an interview with CBS television aired on February 3, drew a stern rebuff from President Barham Saleh, who said the use of Iraq as a base against a third country violated its constitution.
They also sparked renewed calls for a US withdrawal both from pro-Iran factions within the government and from Iran-trained armed groups whose power has risen sharply during the fightback against the Islamic State group that culminated in December 2017.
Those calls are likely to intensify as Washington carries out the full troop withdrawal from Syria unveiled in a shock announcement by Trump in December.