Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Iraq Monday on an unannounced visit that seemed aimed to reassure Iraqi allies. He told reporters that, despite President Trump's earlier statements to the contrary, the U.S. does not plan to seize Iraqi oil.
"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 said. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil."
The trip comes amidst an operation by Iraqi security forces to retake the western half of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the last major stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq. The U.S. and other international troops are there advising and assisting them, but there has been mixed messaging from the White House.
NPR's Alice Fordham says Iraqi leaders have been rattled by Trump's comments about seizing their oil, and by the president's inclusion of Iraq in his executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Speaking at the CIA the day after his inauguration, Trump said that, after the war in Iraq, "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance." Comments like these have also shaken the Iraqis.
Mattis is in Baghdad meeting with Iraqi leaders. Fordham says they are probably looking to him for reassurance — both of political alignment, and continued support for their battle against the Islamic State.
The statements from Mattis Monday are the latest in a series of reassurances from the new head of the Pentagon that Washington remains a reliable ally. Mattis spoke to European allies at the Munich Security Conference last week, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO, which Trump has said is "obsolete."