Pentagon chief visits Iraq nearly 20 years after US-led invasion

BAGHDAD: US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Iraq on Tuesday for an unannounced visit, just under two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

“I am here to reaffirm the strategic partnership between the US and Iraq on our journey to a safer, more stable and more sovereign Iraq,” Austin tweeted upon landing in Baghdad.

His visit comes ahead of the March 20 anniversary of the ground invasion that ushered in two decades of bloodshed that Iraq is only now beginning to emerge from.

In the run-up, Iraq has hosted a number of foreign officials, including Iranian, Russian and Saudi foreign ministers and UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Since US-led coalition forces ousted Saddam’s Sunni-Arab-dominated regime, Iraq’s Shia majority has run Iraq under a sectarian power-sharing system.

Successive governments have forged close ties with Iraq’s Shiite-led neighbor Iran, while Iraq maintains its ties with Iran’s nemesis, the United States, in a delicate balancing act.

Both allies provided extensive support during Iraq’s fight against Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group, which overran much of northern and western Iraq in 2014.

The jihadists were driven out of Iraqi territory in 2017 but maintain dormitories in desert and mountain hideouts in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Iraq announced the end of combat operations by US-led coalition forces by the end of 2021, but some units remain deployed to provide advice and training. -AFP Pentagon chief visits Iraq nearly 20 years after US-led invasion

Russell Falcon

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