BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday confirmed the U.S. support to maintain Iraq's unity during his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi government said in a statement.
A statement of Abadi's office said that the prime minister received in his office a U.S. delegation led by Mattis, and the two sides discussed bilateral cooperation in fight against the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group.
Mattis reiterated his country's support to Iraq in its war against terrorism, asserting his country's attitude to "maintain Iraq's unity and rejects any action aimed at dividing and destabilizing it," the statement said.
Mattis comments came as the Kurdish leaders intent to hold a referendum on the independence of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan from Iraq on September 25, a step which has been criticized by Baghdad as well as the neighboring Turkey and Iran, which have sizeable Kurdish minorities of their own.
The referendum is viewed by some regional and international officials as a threat to both Iraqi and regional security, putting Barzani under heavy pressure from the U.S. to postpone an independence referendum.
Earlier in the day, Mattis arrived in the capital Baghdad with the aim of holding talks with top Iraqi and military commanders to discuss bilateral relations and the offensive against the IS group in the city of Tal Afar in west of Mosul.
During the day, the Iraqi forces and allied paramilitary Hashd Shaabi units made their first progress in urban areas in Tal Afar when the commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces entered Kifah neighborhood in western the city, while the army's 9th Armored Division and Hashd Shaabi units broke into the eastern side of the city, according to Iraqi military statement.
Hundreds of U.S. troops are already in Iraq, serving as trainers and advisers, in an attempt to help the country win the battle against IS militants in the country's northern province of Nineveh, where Tal Afar is located.
The U.S.-led international coalition has also been conducting air raids against IS targets in both Iraq and Syria.
Mattis' visit came as the Iraqi security forces backed by the anti-IS international coalition are carrying out a major offensive to drive out the IS militants from their last stronghold in Tal Afar in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh.