The role of London mayor is not normally associated with official visits to Iraq. But Boris Johnson couldn't resist the opportunity to go – just four months ahead of the general election.
On Thursday, Johnson flew into Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, to meet with the Kurdish prime minister and his cabinet. His surprise visit came ahead of a six-day trip to New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, next month, leading fellow Tories to suggest he is trying to build up his image as a statesman.
Although Johnson still has another year to serve as mayor of London, he is standing as an MP in May's election, while also positioning himself to run for leader of the Conservative party.
One Tory backbencher told BuzzFeed News that Johnson's visit to Iraq was clearly aimed at boosting his profile on the world stage ahead of a leadership bid, adding: "If there's a vacancy at the top, he'll be difficult to beat."
Aides to the mayor, who recently wrote a book about Winston Churchill, insist his Iraq visit is merely about drumming up international trade for London. The area is regarded as ripe for British investment in infrastructure, healthcare, and education.
Johnson will hold talks with Kurdish prime minister Nechirvan Barzani and his cabinet, address business leaders, and meet UK firms in Erbil.
But significantly, he will also see British soldiers training Peshmerga fighters. He is understood to have wanted to see first-hand the work being done to keep ISIS terrorists at bay. This will also ensure images of the mayor on the front line of the battle against terror make their way back to the UK.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported how Boris has finally paid an outstanding US tax bill ahead of his visit to the country's east coast next month, in order to avoid awkward questions about his finances. Johnson, who has joint US-UK citizenship, paid the outstanding tax due on the sale of his former London home.