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US defence secretary makes unannounced visit to Iraq

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made an unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, just days before the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Austin was greeted on Tuesday on touchdown in Baghdad by Major General Matthew McFarlane, the US commander in Iraq. 

The defense secretary is expected to meet top officials during his visit to Iraq, which is home to hundreds of American troops.

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

Austin’s visit comes after he held talks in neighbouring Jordan with King Abdullah II, a staunch US ally in the region.

“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,” a Pentagon statement said.

READ MORE: Afghanistan to Iraq: How US invasions make Americans rich

Daesh attacks continue

Since the US-led invasion in 2003 that removed longtime dictator Saddam 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 past 20 years.

Despite their defeat in Iraq in 2017, Daesh militants and their sleeper cells are still launching attacks in the country, as well as in neighboring Syria. 

Daesh has killed and wounded dozens of Iraqi troops over the past months. 

The US has been urging countries around the world to repatriate their citizens from al Hol camp in northeast Syria, which holds tens of thousands of mostly women and children linked to Daesh. The vast majority of them are Iraqis and Syrians.

Iraq has repatriated more than 500 women and children from al Hol over the past weeks.

The whitewashing of Syria’s Al Hol camp

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