Pence inspects US forces in Anbar without meeting Iraqi officials, and protests continue

 US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday inspected his country's troops in Iraq without meeting any officials in Baghdad, on a visit that comes amid protests against the political class, which also affected Iran Influential in Mesopotamia, Washington has remained largely silent about it.

Ongoing demonstrations in Baghdad and several areas in the south of the country have killed about 350 people since it broke out on October 1. The last of them fell in clashes with security forces in Baghdad.

On his first visit to Iraq, Pence inspected his country's forces at the base of Ain al-Assad in the western province of Anbar, a security source told AFP.

Pence, the highest-ranking US official to visit Mesopotamia since Donald Trump's visit in late December 2018, echoed President Bush's brief visit without meeting a local official.

Two Iraqi officials confirmed that Pence had telephoned Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. "There will be no meeting (between the officials) as long as they communicate by phone," one of them told AFP. "The prime minister will not go to Anbar."

For his part, confirmed the office of Iraqi President Barham Saleh that he was not familiar with the visit in advance, and that it is not scheduled to hold a meeting between the parties.

Pence posted on Twitter photos of him with his wife and US soldiers during the visit, which comes days before Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. The vice president enclosed his tweet with a comment "Happy Thanksgiving from Iraq."

Trump's visit has sparked controversy for not meeting any Iraqi officials.

The visit comes in the midst of demonstrations in Baghdad and many parts of the south of the country for nearly two months, which saw many demonstrators criticized Iran for its wide influence in Iraqi politics, and supported by many armed factions.

The Trump administration has been largely silent about the unprecedented protests against a regime it helped establish after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, deploying tens of thousands of troops and coping with the transition. The United States effectively dissolved and rebuilt the majority of the Iraqi state apparatus, bringing to power a new class of political elites with whom it established close personal ties.

It also began building a new army and deployed more than 170,000 troops in Iraq at the height of its military presence before the withdrawal in 2011.

Of these, 5,200 remain in bases in Iraq. They also work in training and advising Iraqi forces.

A senior Iraqi official, who asked not to be named in previous statements to AFP, said, "The gap between Iraq and America has never been as great as it has now, and is still growing."

Pence's visit comes days after the New York Times and The Intercept website on Monday uncovered hundreds of leaked Iranian intelligence reports showing the depth of Tehran's influence in Iraq.

The United States has already announced, through Pence, the imposition of sanctions on leaders of Iraqi armed factions close to Iran, including Ryan Chaldean, Secretary-General of the Brigades, "Babylon". The latter commented on Pence's visit by saying on his Twitter account, "To the American Vice President who has stealthily arrived in Iraq ... ... Our people who expelled your occupation by blood, do not want a future drawn from killing, displacement and theft. # Not welcome in the land of Iraq." .

Clashes continue

On Saturday, clashes continued between security forces and demonstrators in different parts of Iraq, especially in Baghdad, where medical sources reported that "a protester was shot dead by rubber bullets on Jisr al-Ahrar" and wounded 17 others.

Nine people have been killed in similar clashes since Wednesday night in the Iraqi capital, from a total of about 350 people killed since the start of the protests, which also injured about 15 thousand people.

The protests cut three major bridges between the two parts of Baghdad, the Republic, the Liberals and the Senk. Demonstrators frequently seek to break the cordon imposed by security forces on these bridges, and cross from Rusafa to Karkh, where the Green Zone, home to most government buildings and several foreign embassies, is located, which security forces are blocking.

In the southern city of Karbala, medical sources reported that 45 people were injured on Friday night, including 32 demonstrators and 13 members of the security forces.

Also in Karbala, on Saturday, the body of Firas Owaid Hassan, who was found dead on Friday night in his trunk, was buried, according to an AFP correspondent.

His brother Osama said Firas was "killed by the demonstration" and that he was missing for two days before his body was found, with "stab knives visible on his chest and back."

For its part, Karbala police pointed out that the killing of Firas "criminal 100 percent", and that it has assigned a task force "to find out the circumstances of this incident."


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