US President Donald Trump makes an unannounced Christmas visit to US troops in Iraq, his first trip to a conflict zone nearly two years into his presidency and days after announcing a pullout of troops from neighbouring Syria.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet members of the military at a hanger rally at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, December 26, 2018.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet members of the military at a hanger rally at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, December 26, 2018. (AP)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria during an unannounced visit to Iraq, saying that many people are going to start seeing things the same way he does.

Trump abruptly made the decision on Syria last week, against the advice of top aides and commanders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned the next day.

Trump said he had told his advisers, "let's get out of Syria," but was then persuaded to stay, before deciding to bring the 2,000 troops home.

"I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It's time for us to start using our head," the president told reporters at the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad where he and first lady Melania Trump spent three hours on the ground with US troops.

Trump also declared "the United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world," adding, there would be no delays over Syria pullout. 

"You can't have any more time. You've had enough time," he said he had told his generals.

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansan has more from Washington.

No plans to withdraw troops from Iraq

Trump also said the United States had no plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq, adding, "In fact we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria."

Trump indicated he would not rush to nominate a new secretary to replace Mattis, the first defense chief in decades to resign over policy differences with the president.

Trump said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, whom he named on Sunday to replace Mattis in an acting capacity starting on January 1, "could be there for a long time."

Trump visit a blow to 'Iraqi sovereignty'

Meanwhile, a meeting between Iraq's leadership and Trump was scrapped over disagreements in how to conduct the session, according to a statement from the Iraqi PM's office.

"A disagreement over how to conduct the meeting led to the meeting being replaced by a telephone conversation," the statement said.

But later, Iraqi political and militia leaders condemned Trump's surprise visit as a violation of Iraq's sovereignty, and said the meeting between Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was canceled due to a disagreement over venue.

Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament "to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The US occupation of Iraq is over."

The Bina bloc, Islah's rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al Amiri, also objected to Trump's trip to Iraq.

"Trump's visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government," said a statement from Bina.

Trump has come under withering criticism from fellow Republicans, Democrats and international allies over his decision to pull out of Syria because he believed Daesh militants have been defeated.

Critics argue that the decision could undercut US leverage in the region and undermine diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian civil war, now in its eighth year.

TRT World spoke with political analyst Ahmed Bedier for more.

Turkey's operation

On Sunday, Trump said in a tweet that he had spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a "slow and highly coordinated" withdrawal of the US troops, suggesting that he might slow down the process after the barrage of criticism.

A complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria would leave a sizeable US military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq. 

Much of the US campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of Qatar and other locations in the Middle East. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies