Pentagon chief visits Iraq before invasion anniversaryMarch 7
(RT) ⸻ Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday on an unannounced visit to reaffirm the US-Iraq strategic partnership and lead to a more secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq. His visit comes two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, which led to the death of between 180,000 to 210,000 civilians and the rise of Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL. US troops returned to the country in 2014 to combat ISIS, but the US decided to keep 2,500 of its troops stationed in Iraq and 900 in Syria. The Iraqi parliament voted to expel all foreign troops after the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that the Iraqi people wanted the US to remain on their soil. US Defense Secretary James Mattis is expected to tell the Iraqi government that the US remains committed to retaining its forces' presence in the country, and that the US is interested in a strategic partnership with the government of Iraq. Prior to his trip to Baghdad, Austin met with Jordan's King Abdullah ll in Amman and reassured regional allies that Washington remains committed to the Middle East. He is also expected to visit US allies Egypt and Israel to raise Washington's concerns over Iran's ties with Russia and China's growing interest in the region.