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Theresa May Makes Secret Visit to Iraq

Theresa May has become the first British prime minister to visit Iraq since 2008, touring a military base near Baghdad and holding talks with her counterpart while promising to increase UK efforts to boost the fight against Islamic State.

The prime minister arrived in an RAF Hercules plane at the Taji base, north of Baghdad, on Wednesday morning, flying in from Jordan.

While it had been announced that May was in the Middle East, information about her visit to Iraq was kept secret until she had departed for security reasons.

At Taji, May met some of the 100 or so UK military personnel stationed at the predominantly Iraqi base, where they have helped train local forces, including some of the Iraqi troops who took part in the recently completed battle for Mosul against Isis. May, who was the first British leader in the country since Gordon Brown, talked to an Iraqi soldier who had taken part in the brutal campaign.

She later flew to Baghdad for talks with the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, before flying on to Saudi Arabia.

To coincide with the visit, Downing Street announced a series of joint security measures with Iraq, including £10m in extra funding for anti-terrorism efforts, moves to improve cross-border security, and work to tackle extremist material on the internet.

The UK has about 600 troops in Iraq, almost all involved in training Iraqi forces. At the Taji base, May said this was vital to ensure the forces “are able to conduct the operations they need to” against Islamic State.

May told Sky News: “We need to continue to work with the Iraqi forces to ensure that they are able to provide the security and stability for the country in future.”

Part of the work involved trying to keep track of Isis fighters as they dispersed after the collapse of their self-styled caliphate in Mosul, the prime minister said.

“We do need to ensure that we address the possibility of individuals from Daesh trying to set up elsewhere, and that is about ensuring there are no unstable areas where they can set up,” she said, using the government’s preferred term for Islamic State.



Read full article Peter Walker on The Guardian, November 29, 2017.

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