The Dallas Morning News

U.S. defense secretary reaffirms partnershi­p to safeguard country

In unannounce­d visit, Austin says fight will continue against IS


BAGHDAD — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounce­d visit Tuesday to the Iraqi capital where he vowed to continue the fight against the Islamic State group until the extremists are defeated.

Austin, whose visit came just days before the 20th anniversar­y of the U.s.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, said in a statement later that he held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-sudani and Defense Minister Thabet Muhammad Al-abbasi.

Al-sudani’s office said he and Austin discussed cooperatio­n between their countries in the fight against IS. The premier reaffirmed Iraq’s “keenness to strengthen and consolidat­e relations” with the U.S.

Austin was greeted on touchdown by Maj. Gen. Matthew Mcfarlane, the U.S. commander in Iraq, which is home to hundreds of American troops helping in the fight against the militant Islamic State group.

“We’ll continue working to accomplish this mission together. Through the global coalition to defeat Daesh, we liberated more than 50,000 square kilometers from Daesh and freed more than 4.5 million Iraqis from their cruel grip,” Austin said, using an Arabic name for IS. “The United State remains committed to this fight in support of Iraq’s security and the security of the entire region.”

Austin also said U.S. forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of its government, adding that these forces are operating in a non-combat and advisory role in support of the “Iraqi-led fight against terrorism.” “This is a critical mission, and we’re proud to support our Iraqi partners,” said Austin, one of the most senior Biden administra­tion officials to visit Iraq in recent years.

Since the U.s.-led invasion in 2003 that removed longtime dictator Hussein from power, Iraq has been a point of friction between the United States and Iran. Tehran has widely expanded its influence in Iraq over the last 20 years.

“I’m here to reaffirm the U.s.-iraq strategic partnershi­p as we move toward a more secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq,” Austin tweeted upon arrival.

Despite their defeat in Iraq in 2017, IS militants and their sleeper cells are still launching attacks in the country, as well as in neighborin­g Syria. IS has killed and wounded dozens of Iraqi troops in recent months.

The defense secretary did not take questions.

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