U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Iraq in a surprise move on Sunday as he tours the Middle East in a bid to deescalate tensions following the outbreak of the Israel–Hamas conflict.
The two “discussed the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the need to prevent the conflict from spreading, including in Iraq,” the readout said. They also discussed “continued commitment to coordinating with Iraq and our other partners in the region to ensure sustained and safe access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance required to meet humanitarian needs.”
Mr. Blinken also called on the Iraq leader to “hold accountable those responsible for continuing attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and fulfill Iraq’s commitments to protect all installations hosting U.S. personnel at the invitation of the Iraqi government.”
Hundreds of troops are still stationed in both Iraq and Syria. Pentagon officials have also recently announced the deployment of several hundred more to the region amid the attacks and Israel conflict.
Iran-backed terrorist group Kataib Hezbollah issued a warning on Saturday night Mr. Blinken’s visit would be met with “an unprecedented escalation.”
U.S. defense officials say rocket and drone attacks on U.S. and coalition troops have stepped up in Iraq and Syria since the Hamas terrorist group’s deadly attacks on Oct. 7 sparked an intensive Israeli military campaign in Gaza. Iraqi armed groups aligned with Iran have threatened to target U.S. interests with missiles and drones if Washington intervened to support Israel against Hamas in Gaza.
Mr. Al Sudani, the Iraqi prime minister, has pledged to pursue the perpetrators of rocket attacks on three military bases in Iraq hosting international coalition advisers, including Ain al-Asad in western Iraq, a military base near Baghdad’s international airport, and Harir in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
The Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group, which like Hamas is backed by U.S. adversary Iran, has launched strikes on northern Israel. Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, issued a warning on Friday that preventing a regional conflict depended on stopping the Israeli retaliation on Hamas, and said there was a possibility of fighting on the Lebanese front turning into a full-fledged war.
While he was in Israel’s West Bank, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Abbas spoke mainly about humanitarian concerns, the State Department said.
Mr. Blinken “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance and resumption of essential services in Gaza and made clear that Palestinians must not be forcibly displaced,” the State Department said Sunday.
Meanwhile, he told Mr. Abbas that a ceasefire would allow Hamas terrorists to regroup and launch another attack. The United States wants pauses in humanitarian aid to Gaza and for people to leave the region, the agency said.
Mr. Blinken later on Sunday will travel to Turkey, where protests are already underway. Several top officials in Turkey, a member of NATO, have condemned Israel’s military operation in Gaza targeting Hamas following the Oct. 7 series of attacks launched by the terrorist group that left more than 1,400 Israelis—mostly civilians—dead, and took over 240 more hostage.
In southern Turkey, police used tear gas and water cannons as hundreds of people at a pro-Palestinian rally tried to storm an air base that houses U.S. troops, hours before the secretary was due in Ankara for the talks.