Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a trip to Iraq on Tuesday nearly 20 years after Saddam Hussein’s ousting, said Washington intended to maintain its military presence in the country.
Austin, the most senior member of the Joe Biden administration to visit Iraq, was the last general to command US troops during the US invasion of Iraq. Recall that the United States sent troops to Iraq in 2003 and left the country in 2011.
“US troops are prepared to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government,” Austin told reporters after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani. “The United States will continue to strengthen and expand our partnership for Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty.
Sudani said “Iraq’s stability is key to the region’s security and stability.”
There are currently 2,500 US troops stationed in Iraq; 900 American soldiers are stationed in Syria to advise and assist local troops in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Lloyd Austin and the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan Nechirvan Barzani
During the trip, Austin met with Sudanese and Kurdish President of the Autonomous Region Nechirvan Barzani amid a protracted dispute over budget transfers and the distribution of oil revenues between the national government and Erbil, as well as a protracted feud. between the two main Kurdish parties that govern the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.
“Erbil and Baghdad must work together for the benefit of all Iraqis, and Kurdish leaders must put aside their differences and come together to create a safe and prosperous region of Iraqi Kurdistan,” Austin said after meeting Barzani.
Austin also condemned Iran’s “repeated cross-border attacks” on Iraq.
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