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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."

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

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

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.

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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