By C. Todd Lopez
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (March 08, 2023) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited Iraq yesterday for meetings with leaders in Baghdad and Irbil as part of a multiday trip through the Middle East to reaffirm U.S. commitments in the region.
The trip includes stops in Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Iraq.
In the morning, Austin met in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Iraqi Defense Minister Thabit Al-Abbasi.
There, Austin reaffirmed the U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership and underscored the U.S. commitment to a secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq. The secretary also affirmed U.S. and coalition commitment to advising, assisting and enabling the Iraqi Security Forces at the invitation of the government of Iraq to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS -- also called Daesh.
"We're deeply committed to ensuring that the Iraqi people can live in peace and dignity, with safety and security and with economic opportunity for all," Austin said following the meeting. "Our defense cooperation against Daesh is a key pillar of our bilateral relationship, and the United States remains committed to this fight in support of Iraq's security and the security of the entire region."
Just a few years ago, Austin said, the group's members were spread across Iraq threatening both Iraqis and the stability of the entire region. The U.S., he said, convened a global coalition of 80 countries to defeat Daesh.
"That coalition responded to the request of the sovereign government of Iraq to work alongside them to defeat this ruthless terrorist enemy," Austin said.
As part of that coalition, Austin said more than 50,000 square kilometers of Iraq have been liberated from Daesh and more than 4.5 million Iraqis are no longer in fear of Daesh influence.
"We will continue to listen to our partners and rally together with them in this fight," Austin said. "We will continue to harness the professionalism of the coalition's diplomats and assistance experts and warfighters, as well as the incredible professionals in the NATO mission here. We will continue to increase interoperability among our among our allies and partners and will continue working to accomplish this mission together.
Austin said U.S. forces are ready to continue their work in Iraq with the continued agreement of the Iraqi government.
"These forces are operating in a noncombat, advise, assist and enable role to support the Iraqi-led fight against terrorism," he said. "This is a critical mission, and we're proud to support our Iraqi partners."
In addition to discussion of on-going operations, Austin said he also discussed with the Iraqi prime minister the importance of future partnerships -- not just between the U.S. and Iraq, but between Iraq and its partners in the region.
"We continue to believe that Iraq's greater integration with its Arab partners in the region will deliver increased stability, security and prosperity," Austin said. "And it will pay dividends not only for Iraqi citizens, but for all people of the region. And so, I look forward to continuing to consult with our valued Iraqi partners and to advance our shared interests and to improve the lives of the Iraqi people."
Later in the day, Austin flew north to meet with the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani. During that visit, Austin thanked the president for peshmerga, a Kurdish term for a fighting group, contributions to efforts to defeat Daesh.
The two men also discussed, among other things, threats to the stability of the Iraqi Kurdistan region and the efforts underway to unify and professionalize its forces in partnership with the United States.
Following the meeting, Austin publicly acknowledged peshmerga contributions to the defeat-ISIS mission.
"Working together, the United States and Iraq, including the Iraqi Kurdistan region, have taken great strides to restore Iraqi sovereignty," Austin said. "Let me applaud the invaluable contributions to this fight made by the Kurdish peshmerga as part of Iraq's security forces."
Austin again underscored the U.S. commitment to the defeat-ISIS mission, and to Iraq.
"U.S. forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq to support the Iraqi-led fight against Daesh," he said. "We're glad to be able to support your forces and defend the Iraqi people."
Austin also condemned cross-border attacks by Iran, acknowledge the threat they pose to Iraqi sovereignty, and called for more cooperation between Irbil and Baghdad.
"For the country of Iraq to realize its full potential, Irbil and Baghdad must work together for the good of all Iraqis, and Kurdish leaders must put aside their divisions and come together to build a secure and prosperous Iraqi Kurdistan region," Austin said.
Following the meeting, Austin also visited with U.S. service members, as well as coalition partners, who are stationed in Irbil as part of the advise and assist mission there.