Donald Trump and Melania make surprise visit to Iraq to see US troops
President Donald Trump has made an unannounced visit to Iraq.
He left behind a partially shut down US government to greet troops helping hold off extremists in a country where thousands of Americans died during the recent war.
It comes a week after Mr Trump stunned his national security advisers by announcing that he would withdraw US troops from neighbouring Syria where they have been fighting Islamic State militants.
US defence secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned following the announcement , and Mr Trump's decision rattled allies around the world, including in Iraq.
Mr Trump's trip was shrouded in secrecy.
His wife Melania accompanied him and was pictured with troops.
Air Force One flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad under the cover of darkness on Wednesday evening.
It is his first visit with troops stationed in a troubled region.
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the US still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by the Islamic State (IS) group.
IS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.
Mr Trump, who speaks often about his support for the American military, had faced criticism for not having visited US troops stationed in combat zones as he nears his two-year mark in office.
He told The Associated Press in an interview in October that he "will do that at some point, but I don't think it's overly necessary".
He later began to signal that such a troop visit was in the offing.
Mr Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington due to the shutdown.
It is unclear whether his trip to Iraq was added after it became apparent that the government would be shut down indefinitely due to a stalemate between Mr Trump and congressional Democrats over the president's demand for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Adding to the tumult, the stock market has been experiencing heavy losses over concerns about a slowing global economy, Mr Trump's trade war with China and the president's public slamming of the Federal Reserve and its chairman over interest rate hikes by the independent agency.
Via Evening Standard