(NewsHill.org)- It was almost 20 years ago that the United States led an invasion into Iraq toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein – as well as the Iraqi leader himself.
And while America has since ended its war in the country, defense leaders are still saying they’re committed to keeping a military presence in Iraq.
On Tuesday, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. defense secretary, took a trip to Iraq that was unannounced to pledge America’s ongoing support for the country, which will come in the form of continuing a military presence there.
The invasion that began in 2003 resulted in tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and also created a lot of instability in the region. Many military experts have said that the actions that were taken under then-President George W. Bush ultimately allowed militants from the Islamic State to rule the region once the U.S. eventually withdrew its military forces back in 2011.
Austin has first-hand knowledge of the situation, as he was the last person to serve as commanding general of America’s military forces in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
Following a meeting that he held with Mohammed al-Sudani, the prime minister of Iraq, this week, Austin said to reporters:
“U.S. forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq. The United States will continue to strengthen and broaden our partnership in support of Iraqi security, stability and sovereignty.”
In a statement released after the fact, Sudani said the approach of the Iraqi government is to ensure that balance relations are maintained with international and regional governments, which should be based on their shared interests as well as respect for their sovereignty.
He added that “the stability of Iraq is the key to the security and stability of the region.”
There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops that are still stationed in Iraq. Another 900 are stationed nearby in Syria. Those troops are there to assist and advise the local troops about how they can combat the Islamic State. In 2014, the group seized large territory swathes in both Iraq and Syria.
While the power of the Islamic State has dissipated in recent years, there are still some militant cells that have survived attacks and are still active in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Former military experts have also said that Austin made the trip to Iraq to support the push back Sudani’s government is giving against the influence that Iran is trying to exert in the country.
Militias that are based in Iraq and backed by Iran have at times targeted American military forces as well as the U.S. embassy that’s based in Baghdad.
In 2020, the Iran and the U.S. came close to a major conflict when the U.S. killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, as part of a drone strike in Iraq.
One senior American defense official, who didn’t want to be named, told Newsmax for a story this week:
“I think that Iraqi leaders share our interest in Iraq not becoming a playground for conflict between the United States and Iran.”