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Top Pentagon official in Iraq to discuss US troop presence

AP  |  Baghdad 

The top official arrived in on Tuesday to consult with American military commanders and leaders on the troop presence in

Pat Shanahan, the defense, said before his unannounced trip that he wanted to hear first-hand about the state of Iraq's fight against remnants of the Islamic State group. Shanahan, who is on his first visit to Iraq, is also to meet with

In remarks to reporters after leaving on Sunday, Shanahan declined to say whether he would propose that additional US special operations troops be brought to to, in effect, compensate for a pullout from to begin within weeks.

The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in to train and advise its security forces, 16 years after the US invaded to topple

upset Iraqis by saying earlier this month that US forces should use their Iraqi positions to keep an eye on neighbouring

That is not the stated US mission in Iraq, and Iraqi officials have said Trump's proposal would violate the Iraqi constitution.

Trump also has angered Iraqi politicians by arguing that he would keep US troops in Iraq and use the country as a base from which to strike extremists in if necessary, after the 2,000 troops now in depart in coming weeks.

Curbing foreign influence has become a hit-button issue in Iraq after last year in which Shiite politicians backed by made significant gains.

Meanwhile, Shiite militias that fought alongside US-backed troops against IS in recent years, gained outsized influence along the way.

This political tension formed the backdrop to Shanahan's visit, which marks his first time in Iraq. He took over as the acting after resigned as in December. It's unclear whether Trump will nominate Shanahan for confirmation.

On Monday, Shanahan was in Afghanistan, where he met with US troops and amid a US push for peace talks with the

Trump has indicated he would like to get US troops out of after 18 years of war, but Shanahan said he has no orders for a troop drawdown.

Although is America's longest war, fighting in Iraq has taken a heavier toll on American lives. pulled troops out of Iraq in December 2011 but sent them back in smaller numbers in 2014 after the Islamic State group swept across the border from Syria and took control of much of western and

Since the height of its self-proclaimed caliphate that included a third of both Iraq and Syria, IS-held territory has now shrunk to a sliver of territory in where remaining Islamic State militants are fighting back.

Trump has not publicly called for a US withdrawal from Iraq, although he often calls the 2003 invasion a colossal mistake and has said the US should have taken Iraq's as compensation for getting rid of Saddam.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, February 12 2019. 16:00 IST