Pentagon Chief Visits Iraq to Strengthen Ties

Reuters file photo
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing after participating a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 16, 2022.

BAGHDAD (AFP-Jiji) — Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Tuesday he hoped to “strengthen and broaden” relations with Iraq on a Baghdad visit ahead of the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Defense Secretary Austin also told Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani that U.S. troops were “ready to remain” in the country at Baghdad’s invitation, a thorny issue that has divided public opinion in both countries.

The visit, which had not been publicly announced in advance, comes ahead of the March 20 anniversary of the ground invasion that started two decades of bloodshed which Iraq is only now beginning to exit.

“I am optimistic about the future of our partnership,” Austin told reporters in Baghdad after meetings with Sudani and Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet al-Abbasi.

“The United States will continue to strengthen and broaden out partnership in support of Iraqi security, stability and sovereignty.”

The Iraqi premier told Austin he also wanted to “strengthen and consolidate relations” with Washington, and underlined Baghdad’s commitment to “maintaining balanced relations with the regional and international powers.”