Baghdad (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner visited Iraq Monday with the top US military officer to meet Iraqi leaders and review the fight against the Islamic State group, officials said.
The visit comes as Iraqi forces battle to retake Mosul from IS with support from US-led air strikes that have recently been criticised for causing civilian deaths in the city’s west.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked Kushner and White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert to accompany him on the trip, Navy Captain Greg Hicks said in an emailed statement.
“General Dunford invited Mr Kushner and Mr Bossert to meet with Iraqi leaders, senior US advisors, and visit with US forces in the field to receive an update on the status of the counter-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria,” Hicks said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“As well as receiving briefings and updates, Mr Kushner is travelling on behalf of the president to express the president’s support and commitment to the government of Iraq and US personnel currently engaged in the campaign,” he said.
“Mr Bossert is travelling in his role as assistant to the president and will participate in meetings and briefings to reinforce the strong US-Iraqi partnership to defeat ISIS,” he added.
Dunford and Kushner would meet with Iraqi Defence Minister Irfan al-Hayali during the trip, ministry spokesman Colonel Laith al-Nuaimi said.
“They arrived in Baghdad and will hold a meeting with the defence minister,” Nuaimi told AFP.
Officials from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office and the foreign ministry declined to comment on the visit.
The United States is leading an international coalition that is carrying out air strikes against IS and providing other support to forces fighting the jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
– Battle for Mosul –
Iraqi forces have been engaged in a grinding battle for west Mosul since last month, prompting more than 200,000 civilians to flee the northern city, Iraq’s second largest.
The operation to retake Mosul was launched last October, with Iraqi forces recapturing its eastern side before setting their sights on its smaller but more densely-populated west.
The coalition admitted that it “probably” played a role in recent civilian casualties in the city, but has sought to place responsibility for the deaths on IS, saying the jihadists are gathering civilians together and seeking to provoke strikes.
Although Kushner has no previous experience in government, he has become one of the most powerful men in Washington as a trusted adviser to the president with a broad portfolio of responsibilities.
Valued by Trump for his discretion and loyalty, the baby-faced 36-year-old is officially a White House senior adviser with far-reaching influence over domestic and foreign policy.
Among other responsibilities, Trump has tapped Kushner to play a leading role in efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal — an achievement that has eluded experienced policymakers for decades.
Kushner’s wife Ivanka, the 35-year-old first daughter, also plays a key role in advising her father.
A regular presence in the White House since Trump’s election, she officially became assistant to the president last week amid accusations about possible conflicts of interest involving the couple’s business interests, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.