US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit, reportedly for discussions on defeating the Islamic State terrorist group.
He said earlier on Monday that the US military is not in Iraq “to seize anybody’s oil.”
“I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future,” Mattis told a small group of reporters traveling with him, while discussing his top objectives for the trip, Reuters reports.
“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” he stressed.
Mattis appears to have distanced himself from remarks made by President Donald Trump in a speech last month, when the new Republican president told CIA officials: “We should’ve kept the oil. But, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.”
He later explained his position in a lengthy interview with ABC.
Trump said Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) would not have become a global threat if it hadn’t taken over Iraq’s oil industry when the country was left weakened by the war.
“We should’ve kept the oil when we got out. And, you know, it’s very interesting, had we taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS, because they fuel themselves with the oil. That’s where they got the money. They got the money… when we left, we left Iraq, which wasn’t a government.
“We created a vacuum and ISIS formed. But had we taken the oil, something else very good would’ve happened. They would not have been able to fuel their rather unbelievable drive to destroy large portions of the world,” Trump noted, while adding that Iraq’s oil could have been beneficial for the United States too, as the country’s budget has been drained by involvement in Middle East wars.
On Sunday, Iraqi forces launched a major military operation to retake the western part of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorists.
Last week, Iraqi aircraft dropped millions of leaflets in western Mosul, calling on residents to get ready to welcome the Iraqi troops, as the siege on the militants continues.
In October, Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led international coalition, launched a campaign to retake Mosul. Last month the US-led coalition admitted to “unintentionally” killing at least 188 civilians in Syria and Iraq since 2014, when the airstrikes against Islamic State began.
As of February 14, 2017, the US-led coalition had conducted a total of 18,250 strikes (11,102 Iraq / 7,148 Syria), the US Department of Defense reported.