US defence chief Mattis, in Iraq, downplays Trump oil comments

World Monday 20/February/2017 17:28 PM
By: Times News Service
US defence chief Mattis, in Iraq, downplays Trump oil comments

Baghdad: The U.S. military is not in Iraq "to seize anybody's oil", Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump at the start of a visit to Iraq on Monday.
Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as Pentagon chief, is hoping to assess the war effort as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launch a new push to evict IS militants from their remaining stronghold in the city of Mosul.
But he is likely to face questions about Trump's remarks and actions, including a temporary ban on travel to the United States and for saying America should have seized Iraq's oil after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Trump told CIA staff in January: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance." Mattis, however, flatly ruled out any such intent.
"We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he told reporters travelling with him.
His remarks are the latest example of his policy differences with Trump.
Trump has acknowledged that Mattis did not agree with him about the usefulness of torture as an interrogation tactic but, in a sign of Mattis' influence, said he would defer the matter to his defence secretary.
Mattis has also been more critical than Trump of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and distanced himself from Trump's labeling of the media as "the enemy of the American people," saying he had no problems with the press.
A retired Marine general who led American troops in Iraq, Mattis has also sought an exemption from Trump's travel ban for Iraqis who served with U.S. troops, including translators.
He said he had not seen a new executive order which the administration is considering.
"But I right now am assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us, for example, to be allowed into the United States," Mattis said.
Mattis is finalising plans at Trump's request to accelerate the defeat of IS and is expected to meet senior U.S. and Iraqi officials in Iraq.
His visit comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi announced the start of the ground offensive on western Mosul, where IS militants are essentially under siege along with an estimated 650,000 civilians.
The insurgents were forced out of the east of the city last month after 100 days of fighting.
The U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both of IS' major strongholds - Mosul and the city of Raqqa in Syria - within the next six months.
The defence secretary's strategy review could lead to additional deployment of U.S. forces, beyond the less than 6,000 American troops deployed to both Iraq and Syria today.
Experts say the Pentagon may also look at increasing the number of attack helicopters and air strikes and bringing in more artillery, as well as granting greater authority to battlefield commanders fighting IS.
The future for U.S. forces in Iraq, and for Iraq's fragmented society, is unclear once the hardline group has been expelled from Mosul.