(IntegrityPress.org) – US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said in an impromptu visit to Iraq on 3/7/23 that American troops are prepared to remain in Iraq in a non-combat role to support Iraqi-led operations against terrorism, mostly against remnants of ISIS and other groups allied to them. Speaking during an unannounced visit to Baghdad, Austin described the mission as “critical” and noted that the US would continue to broaden its support for Iraqi security, stability and sovereignty. His visit came ahead of the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, which led to the removal of former dictator Saddam Hussein, and also endless power vacuums that have resulted in much destabilization of the country for the past 20 or so years. The US military officially ended its combat mission in the country last year, unlike in Syria, where American troops fought alongside Syrian Democratic Forces and other allies.
Austin, the highest-ranking Cabinet official to visit Iraq since President Joe Biden took office, met with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and is expected to hold talks with other senior officials during his visit. The prime minister said he wanted to strengthen and consolidate relations with the US, which is viewed as a crucial ally in containing Iran’s regional influence. Tehran has sought to exert control over Iraq through proxy forces and alliances with Shia parties in Baghdad.
Al-Sudani was appointed after months of deadlock and violent protests following the last elections. Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had appeared set to lead the government, but he failed to form a coalition due to opposition from rival parties, paving the way for al-Sudani’s appointment. The Iraqi prime minister has shown a willingness to expand his government’s links with Washington. After his visit to Baghdad, Austin traveled to the Kurdish regional capital, Erbil, where he met with the President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani. A strengthened Iraqi-US relationship would prove American commitment to the protecting of the region from the influence of Iran.
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