US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reached Iraq on Tuesday on an unannounced visit, less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. In a tweet, after landing in Baghdad, the US Defense Secretary said, his visit aims to reaffirm the US-Iraq strategic partnership as they move toward a more secure, stable and sovereign Iraq. His visit comes ahead of the 20th March anniversary of the ground invasion by the United States which ushered in two decades of bloodshed that Iraq is only now beginning to exit. In the run-up, Iraq has hosted a raft of foreign officials, including UN chief Antonio Guterres and the Iranian, Russian and Saudi foreign ministers. Since US-led coalition troops ousted Saddam’s Sunni Arab-dominated regime, Iraq’s Shiite majority has led Iraq under a confessional power-sharing system. Successive governments have forged close ties with Iraq’s Shiite-led neighbour Iran, while Iraq also maintains relations with the United States,in a delicate balancing act.
Before reaching Iraq, the US Defense Secretary held talks in neighbouring Jordan with King Abdullah II, a staunch US ally in the region. Pentagon in a statement said, Secretary Austin shared his concerns on a range of shared challenges, including, maintaining focus on security and stability in Iraq, and countering other destabilising activities in the region.