The top American military officer arrived in north Iraq on Monday shortly before he is due to step down and with just months to go before the US must withdraw its forces from Iraq, a US officer said.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, landed at a US base on the outskirts of the main northern city of Mosul after a two-day trip to Afghanistan, much of which was spent visiting troops before he is due to step down in October.
First Lieutenant Joseph Larrew said in an email to AFP that Mullen arrived in Mosul, 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad, but provided no further details about his itinerary or the duration of his stay.
Around 47,000 US soldiers are currently stationed in Iraq, all of which must withdraw by the end of the year under the terms of a bilateral security pact.
US officials have pressed their Iraqi counterparts to decide quickly whether they want any American military presence beyond that date, and proposals for a training mission are gaining traction among Iraqi leaders, although nothing has yet been agreed.
Mullen’s arrival comes days after the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, warned in a report that Iraq was less safe than one year ago and that security was deteriorating.
“Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,” Bowen said in his report published on Saturday. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.”
Figures released on Monday showed the number of Iraqis killed as a result of violence in July declined from the previous month but still marked the second-highest such toll for 2011.
A total of 259 Iraqis — 159 civilians, 56 policemen and 44 soldiers — died in attacks last month.
Five American soldiers also died in July, four of them in “hostile” incidents, bringing the overall number of US troops to have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to 4,474, according to data compiled by independent website www.icasualties.org.