US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Sunday as part of his Middle East tour, with the aim of easing tensions following the recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group, Hamas. Following his earlier visit to the occupied West Bank, Antony Blinken arrived in Baghdad on Sunday evening, marking his first visit to Iraq as the United States’ top diplomat. He engaged in discussions with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani.
The United States is actively seeking to prevent the escalation of a broader regional conflict and has intensified diplomatic efforts with countries in the region whose populations have expressed outrage over Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Blinken’s arrival in Baghdad saw him landing at the city’s international airport. He donned a ballistic vest and was transported to the Green Zone via a Black Hawk helicopter, a symbol of the U.S. presence in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. At the U.S. ambassador’s residence, he received briefings on potential threats to American facilities before proceeding to the prime minister’s office. Later on Sunday, Blinken is set to travel to Turkey, where protests have already begun.
Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group, issued a warning on Saturday night, stating that the anticipated visit by Antony Blinken would lead to an “unprecedented escalation.”
U.S. defense officials report an increase in rocket and drone attacks on U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and Syria following Hamas’ deadly attacks on October 7, which triggered an intense Israeli military operation in Gaza.
Iraqi armed groups aligned with Iran have issued threats to target U.S. interests using missiles and drones in the event of Washington’s intervention to support Israel against Hamas in Gaza.
Antony Blinken emphasized the importance of sending a strong and unequivocal message to anyone considering exploiting the Gaza conflict to threaten U.S. personnel in the region. He made this statement to reporters following his meeting with al-Sudani. Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, has launched attacks on northern Israel. Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, issued a warning on Friday, coinciding with Blinken’s visit to the region, emphasizing that preventing a regional conflict depended on halting the Israeli attack on Gaza. He also expressed concern about the potential for the fighting on the Lebanese front to escalate into a full-scale war.