U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived unannounced in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss the fight against the extremist Islamic State (IS) militant group and expand the partnership with Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani met with the U.S. delegation, where the two officials “discussed the cooperation between Iraq and the United States, the performance of the Iraqi forces in combating terrorism and pursuing the terrorist militants of the IS group,” the president’s media office said in a statement.
Al-Sudani affirmed that Iraq pursues balanced relations regionally and internationally on the basis of common interests and respect for sovereignty.
The stability of Iraq “is the key to the security and stability of the region because of its role in bringing views closer and easing tensions in the region,” he added.
For his part, Austin said the United States looks forward to strengthening relations with Iraq and developing their partnerships in various fields, according to the statement.
At a news conference in the Iraqi capital, Austin said U.S. forces in Iraq are remaining “at the invitation of the government of Iraq,” adding these forces are operating non-combat, providing advice to assist and support the Iraq-led fight against terrorism.
Austin’s visit to Iraq came days before the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, which toppled former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.