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Donald Trump makes surprise visit to US troops in Iraq

Donald Trump has visited Iraq for an unannounced first meeting with US troops serving in the region.

The president was accompanied by First Lady Melania and the pair spent three hours on the ground with troops at the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad.

Mr Trump, who arrived amid great secrecy on Air Force One, said the United States had no plans to withdraw its troops from the country, adding: "In fact we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria."

Image: Donald and Melania Trump greet members of the US military during a surprise visit to the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq

He defended his shock decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, announced without consulting allies or advisers before Christmas.

President Trump chats to children on the phone on Christmas Eve 0:11
Video: The president comes close to shattering one child's Christmas illusions.

The move prompted the abrupt resignation of his defence secretary General James Mattis and rattled allies around the world, including in Iraq.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to speak to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: The president said there were 'no plans' to remove US troops from Iraq

There are more than 5,000 US troops still in Iraq, 15 years after the 2003 invasion.

Their main role is to support the Baghdad regime's forces in their continuing fight to remove Islamic State from the country.

Some critics will see the trip as an attempt by the president to take attention away from his domestic troubles.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to speak to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Mr Trump signed campaign caps for soldiers

Mr Trump is in the middle of a government shutdown after failing to reach agreement with congressional Democrats over funding for his long-promised southern border wall.

The shutdown, in which more than 400,000 federal employees have stayed away from work, looks set to continue into January.

A slowing global economy and stock market in free-fall has added to a sense of chaos, with Mr Trump blaming the head of the Federal Reserve for the country's financial woes.

The trip may also help answer critics who point out that, despite his fondness for discussing his support for the US military, he had not visited US troops stationed in combat zones after almost two years in the White House.

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US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to speak to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. - President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq on his first visit to US troops deployed in a war zone since his election two years ago (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Mr Trump put on a military-style jacket during the visit

Mr Trump told reporters it was "pretty sad" that after all the US had spent in the Middle East, his trip still had to be a surprise for safety's sake.

He claimed he had planned to make the trip three or four weeks ago, but word got out and forced him to postpone it.

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