Trump declares end to US ‘policeman’ role in surprise Iraq visit
US President makes first visit to troops in conflict zone as pressure, criticism mount in domestic issues
AL-ASAD AIR BASE, IRAQ: President Donald Trump used a lightning visit to Iraq - his first with US troops in a conflict zone since being elected - to defend withdrawal from Syria and to declare an end to America's role as the global "policeman".
Mr Trump landed at 7.16pm local time at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, accompanied by his wife Melania, following what he described as a stressful, secrecy-shrouded flight on a "pitch black" Air Force One.
He spoke to a group of about 100 mostly special forces personnel and separately with military leaders before leaving a few hours later, an AFP correspondent said.
A planned meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was scrapped and replaced by a phone call, the premier's office said.
White House video showed a smiling Mr Trump shaking hands with camouflage-clad personnel, signing autographs and posing for photos.
Morale-boosting presidential visits to US troops in war zones have been a tradition in the years following the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Mr Trump has been criticised for declining to visit in the first two years of his presidency.
But speculation had been mounting that he would finally do it after his controversial decision to cut troop levels in Afghanistan and withdraw entirely from Syria.
At the Iraqi military base, Mr Trump defended his America First policy of pulling back from multinational alliances.
"It is not fair when the burden is all on us," he said.
"We don't want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don't pay for it and they are going to have to."
Mr Trump told reporters he had overruled generals asking to extend the Syria deployment, where about 2,000 US forces, joined by other foreign troops, assist local fighters battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"You can't have any more time. You have had enough time," he said he told the top brass.
The drawdowns - and the abrupt announcement - helped lead to the resignation of US defence secretary Jim Mattis, who has been one of the administration's key heavyweights.
Mr Trump's Iraq visit did not go down well with Iraqi political and militia leaders.
They condemned his visit as a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.
Lawmakers said a meeting between Mr Trump and the Iraqi Prime Minister was cancelled due to a disagreement over venue.
Mr Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of Parliament "to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over".
The Bina bloc, Islah's rival in Parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Mr Trump's trip to Iraq.
Mr Trump described that the flight into Iraq was unlike anything he had experienced.
"If you would have seen what we had to go through in the darkened plane with all windows closed with no light anywhere - pitch black," he said.
"So did I have a concern? Yes, I had a concern." - AFP, REUTERS