President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Joseph Dunford met on Monday in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
The visit marks an early foray for the Trump administration into the situation in Iraq. It comes against the backdrop of an ongoing investigation into civilian deaths in an area of Mosul near the site of an air-strike by US-led coalition forces last month.
Dunford invited Kushner and Thomas Bossert, a presidential assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, on the trip to meet with Iraqi leaders and US forces and receive an update on the fight against the Islamic State group. Captain Greg Hicks, a spokesman for Dunford, said Kushner was “travelling on behalf of the president to express the president’s support and commitment to the government of Iraq and US personnel currently engaged in the campaign”.
The meeting with al-Adabi came after some confusion regarding Kushner’s whereabouts on Monday morning.
Kushner’s travel plans initially were revealed late on Sunday by a Trump administration official who said Kushner wanted to see the situation there for himself and show support for Baghdad’s government.
The official said Kushner had already arrived. But when presented with information indicating that was not accurate, the official said the timing of his arrival was unclear but confirmed that Kushner was scheduled to be in Iraq on Monday. Such visits from high-ranking officials are typically kept secret out of security concerns. The administration official who provided the information late Sunday wasn’t authorised to speak about confidential meetings by name and demanded anonymity.
Kushner’s West Wing portfolio is robust. He has been deeply involved with presidential staffing, recently launched a task force meant to modernise government using lessons drawn from the private sector, and has played the role of shadow diplomat, advising on relations with the Middle East, Canada and Mexico.
And though Kushner had no previous diplomatic or government experience, Trump also tasked him with trying to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump told Kushner at a gala a few days before his inauguration.
Kushner was also the latest Trump associate to be swept up into the ongoing probe into contacts with Russian officials. The White House confirmed last week that he had volunteered to be interviewed by the Senate intelligence committee. Senator Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, said that Kushner would likely be under oath and would submit to a “private interview” about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials.
Kushner is married to Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka. He was expected to have a major role in meetings later this week between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s winter retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.
His visit came just two weeks after al-Abadi said he was assured by the president the US will accelerate its support for his country’s struggle against the Islamic State group.
Al-Abadi met with Trump and Kushner in Washington recently and said he had the impression that the United States would take a more aggressive approach, although he did not say what that might entail.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis recently presented Trump with the outlines of a comprehensive approach to defeating IS and other extremist groups on a global scale, but specifics have yet to be worked out. Officials have indicated that the approach is unlikely to depart radically from the Obama administration’s strategy, at least with regard to ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq was part of the Trump administration’s original travel ban but was removed from the revised version after a request from the Pentagon and the State Department highlighting Iraq’s key role in fighting the Islamic State. The second travel ban, which restricts immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, has been halted by a federal court. The US Justice Department has announced an appeal.
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