US Defence Secretary Mattis: US is "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil"

  • 21/02/2017
President Donald Trump with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis
President Donald Trump with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis

The US military is "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil", Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said as he arrived in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi leaders, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump.

Mr Mattis was the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit Iraq since Mr Trump irked Iraqis with 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.

Mr Trump told CIA staff in January: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance."

Mr Mattis, however, flatly ruled out any such intent. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he told reporters travelling with him late on Sunday, ahead of his arrival.

"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," said Mr Mattis, a retired Marine general who once led forces in Iraq.

His remarks are the latest sign of differences with Mr Trump. Mr Trump has acknowledged that Mr Mattis disagrees with him about the usefulness of torture in interrogation and said he would defer to his defence secretary on the issue.

Mr Mattis has been more critical than Mr Trump of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and distanced himself from Mr Trump's labelling 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, Mr Mattis has sought an exemption from Mr Trump's travel ban for Iraqis who have served with US 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," Mr Mattis said.

Mr Mattis' visit came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive on western Mosul, where Islamic State militants are under siege along with an estimated 650,000 civilians.

It was unclear whether Trump's remarks on oil had come up during Mr Mattis' visit with Mr Abadi, who has told Washington that Iraq's oil is the property of Iraqis.

Mr Trump is looking for a plan to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State, which could lead to an additional deployment of US forces, who currently number less than 6000 in Iraq and Syria.

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 Islamic State.