US "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil"

Defence secretary James Mattis is visiting Baghdad to assess the fight against Islamic State

US "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil"

James Mattis. Picture by J. Scott Applewhite AP/Press Association Images

The US defence secretary General James Mattis has said the US isn't in Iraq "to steal anybody's oil" on a surprise visit to Baghdad.

Mattis, who's in the country to get a first-hand assessment of the continuing fight against so-called Islamic State, distanced himself from remarks made by President Donald Trump during his White House campaign and last month when speaking to CIA staff.

"I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future," Mattis told reporters.

"We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil."

That contradicts his boss, as in January, President Trump told CIA staff: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance."

It's a familiar theme for Mr Trump, who, as long ago as 2011, told the Wall Street Journal that this was his policy for Iraq.

"You heard me, I would take the oil," he said, claiming it amounted to reimbursement for the cost of the Iraq war, rather than theft.

It's not the first time the pair have disagreed, as Mr Trump has admitted he and Mattis differ on the usefulness of torture as an interrogation tactic, but the president has said he will defer to his defence secretary.

Mattis is also far more sceptical of Russia than Mr Trump, has told reporters he doesn't see the media as the enemy and wants an exemption from Trump's travel ban for those who have fought alongside Americans, such as translators.

Mr Mattis is in Iraq for the first time as defence secretary to finalise plans to defeat so-called Islamic State, as the battle for the jihadist group's last stronghold, Mosul, intensifies.

On Sunday, thousands of US-backed Iraqi troops, supported by artillery and airstrikes, began a ground assault on western Mosul, where the militants are essentially under siege, along with around 650,000 civilians.

Their progress has been reportedly slowed down by huge improvised explosive devices planted by IS along the route of the offensive, forcing bomb disposal teams to clear them.

As Mr Mattis arrived in the country, the US-led coalition announced that a serviceman died on Monday in a non-combat related incident outside the Iraqi city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.