Mattis on Trump comments: No US plan to seize Iraqi oil

BAGHDAD — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday the United States does not intend to seize Iraqi oil, shifting away from an idea proposed by President Donald Trump that has rattled Iraq's leaders.

Mattis arrived on an unannounced visit in Iraq as the battle to oust ISIS militants from western Mosul moved into its second day, and as the Pentagon considers ways to accelerate the campaign against the group in Iraq and Syria.

Those efforts could be complicated by Trump's oil threat and his inclusion of Iraq in the administration's travel ban — twin blows that have roiled the nation and spurred local lawmakers to pressure Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reduce cooperation with Washington.

"I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do that in the future," Mattis told reporters traveling with him. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil."

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Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis walks out after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet retired Marine General James Mattis for a meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine General James Mattis departs as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump walks back into the main clubhouse following their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis and Operation Gratitude Founder Carolyn Blashek speak during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Egyptian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan shakes hands with US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo on March 29, 2011.

(KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis speaks during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Threats Posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), AQ (al Qaeda), and Other Islamic Extremists' on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., September 18, 2014. Yesterday the House approved President Obama's plan to train Syrian rebels to counter ISIL.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 1, 2011. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require a military operation to destroy the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing 'the air defense capability first,' Mattis told a Senate hearing. 'It would be a military operation,' he added.

(CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander James Mattis speaks during the 2010 Atlantic Council awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC.

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Kuwait Major General James Mattis, a high ranking Marine commander who also led troops into Afghanistan, visits Living Support Area one in Kuwait near the Iraqi border where troops are poised to begin a war against Iraq if called to do so by the President of the United States.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Mattis' remarks on oil are the latest example of his policy differences with Trump. Trump has acknowledged that Mattis did not agree with him about the usefulness of torture as an interrogation tactic but said he would defer the matter to his defense secretary.

Mattis has also taken a dimmer view of Russia and President Vladimir Putin than Trump, saying Moscow sought to break the NATO alliance. On Sunday,Mattis distanced himself from Trump's labeling of the media as "the enemy of the American people," saying he had no problems with the press.

His comments may provide some reassurance to the Iraqis. But the tensions come at a critical point in the war against ISIS, with two key battles in the works: the fight to take control of west Mosul, and the start of a campaign in Syria to oust ISIS from Raqqa, the capital of its self-declared caliphate.

Al-Abadi has taken a measured approach, but the issues can roil already difficult internal politics.

Under the president's deadline, Mattis has just a week to send Trump a strategy to accelerate the fight and defeat ISIS. And any plan is likely to depend on U.S. and coalition troops working with and through the local forces in both countries.

"We're going to make certain that we've got good situational awareness of what we face as we work together and fight alongside each other," said Mattis, a retired Marine general wary of Iranian influence in Iraq.

His key goal during the visit is to speak about the military operations with political leaders and commanders on the ground, including his top commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend.

Asked about the tensions, Mattis said he has been assured that the travel ban — it has been stalled by a legal challenge — would not affect Iraqis who have fought alongside U.S. forces.

RELATED: Iraq oil well fires

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Fire fighters try to extinguish the fire at oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists as they fled after Al Qayyarah town's cleansing from Daesh militants as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh continues, in Al Qayyarah Town of Mosul, Nineveh, Iraq on November 02, 2016.

(Photo by Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Children are seen at the street as smoke rise from oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists to limit coalition forces pilots' eyesight and to make the wells out o service following Iraqi army's retaking of Al Qayyarah town from Daesh during the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh, in Mosul, Iraq on October 25, 2016. Black smoke affects human life in town badly.

(Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A fireman tries to extinguish fire from oil wells, set ablaze by Islamic State militants before fleeing the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, November 4, 2016.

(REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

People look on as fire fighters try to extinguish the fire at oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists as they fled after Al Qayyarah town's cleansing from Daesh militants as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh continues, in Al Qayyarah Town of Mosul, Nineveh, Iraq on November 02, 2016.

(Photo by Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Smoke billows from a burning oil well, set ablaze by retreating Islamic State (IS) group's jihadists, in Qayyarah, some 35 miles south of Mosul on November 25, 2016.

(THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

Fire fighters try to extinguish the fire at oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists as they fled after Al Qayyarah town's cleansing from Daesh militants as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh continues, in Al Qayyarah Town of Mosul, Nineveh, Iraq on November 02, 2016.

(Photo by Yunus Kele/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters are seen in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq December,21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Smoke rise from oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists to limit coalition forces pilots' eyesight and to make the wells out o service following Iraqi army's retaking of Al Qayyarah town from Daesh during the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh, in Mosul, Iraq on October 25, 2016. Black smoke affects human life in town badly.

(Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters are seen in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016.

(REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

Smoke rises from oil wells set ablaze by Islamic State militants before fleeing the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq December 6, 2016.

(REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

Smoke rise from oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists to limit coalition forces pilots' eyesight and to make the wells out o service following Iraqi army's retaking of Al Qayyarah town from Daesh during the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh, in Mosul, Iraq on October 25, 2016. Black smoke affects human life in town badly.

(Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Oil workers react in front of oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq December 21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

A fireman tries to extinguish fires from oil wells, set ablaze by Islamic State militants before fleeing the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, November 4, 2016.

(REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

MOSUL, IRAQ - NOVEMBER 03: Smoke rises behind the collapsed buildings after the clashes between Iraqi forces and Daesh terrorists at Al Qayyarah town, as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh continues, in Al Qayyarah Town of Mosul, Nineveh, Iraq on November 03, 2016.

(Photo by Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Children are seen at the street as smoke rise from oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists to limit coalition forces pilots' eyesight and to make the wells out o service following Iraqi army's retaking of Al Qayyarah town from Daesh during the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh, in Mosul, Iraq on October 25, 2016. Black smoke affects human life in town badly.

(Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Workers tasked with putting out the fire in an oil well, set ablaze by retreating Islamic State (IS) jihadists, assemble a water pipeline in the town of Qayyarah, some 70 km south of Mosul on November 20, 2016. Firefighters and engineers pumped water into the well in an effort to stop the fire.

(ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The sun cuts through the smoke as workers tasked with putting out the fire in an oil well, set ablaze by retreating Islamic State (IS) jihadists, assemble a water pipeline in the town of Qayyarah, some 70 km south of Mosul on November 20, 2016. Firefighters and engineers pumped water into the well in an effort to stop the fire.

(ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

A member of the Iraqi security forces looks at fire from oil wells set ablaze by Islamic State militants before they fled the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, November 4, 2016.

(REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

Girls are reflected in oil as they walk near smoke rising from oil wells, set ablaze by Islamic State militants before IS militants fled the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, November 1, 2016.

(REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

A boy eats food left over by oil workers in front of oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016.

(REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

Firefighters work to extinguish an oil well set on fire by fleeing ISIS members on November 9, 2016 in Al Qayyarah, Iraq. Many families have begun returning to their homes in recently liberated towns south of Mosul. Oil wells in the area that were set on fire by ISIS continue to burn blanketing the area in think clouds of smoke and oil.

(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

People look on as fire fighters try to extinguish the fire at oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists as they fled after Al Qayyarah town's cleansing from Daesh militants as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh continues, in Al Qayyarah Town of Mosul, Nineveh, Iraq on November 02, 2016.

(Photo by Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

People look on as fire fighters try to extinguish the fire at oil wells, were set on fire by Daesh terrorists as they fled after Al Qayyarah town's cleansing from Daesh militants as the operation to retake Iraq's Mosul from Daesh continues, in Al Qayyarah Town of Mosul, Nineveh, Iraq on November 02, 2016.

(Photo by Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Oilfields burned by Islamic State fighters are seen in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq November 23, 2016.

(REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

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The oil issue, however, may be more difficult. Trump brought it up during the campaign, and he mentioned it again late last month during a visit to the CIA.

"To the victor belong the spoils," Trump told members of the intelligence community. He said he first argued this case for "economic reasons," but added it made sense as a counterterrorism approach to defeating ISIS "because that's where they made their money in the first place."

"So we should have kept the oil," he said. "But, OK, maybe you'll have another chance."

Trump, however, has also been clear that defeating ISIS is a top priority. In his inauguration address, he pledged to eradicate radical Islamist terrorism "completely from the face of the Earth." And he talked during the campaign about greatly increasing the number of U.S. troops in order to "knock out" ISIS.

He signed an order Jan. 28 that gives Mattis and senior military leaders 30 days to come up with a new plan to beef up the fight.

There are more than 5,100 U.S. forces in Iraq, and up to about 500 in Syria.

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