US Defense Secretary Austin makes surprise visit to Iraq

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made an unannounced visit to Iraq and expressed Washington's intention to keep its troops in the country.

Austin arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday during his Middle East tour and held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani.

After the meeting, Austin told reporters that the United States remains committed to supporting the security of Iraq and the region.

He also said, "US forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of its government."

The visit came before the March 20 anniversary of the US-led war on Iraq that ousted then-president Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The US military pulled out after the war, but redeployed troops to fight against Islamic State militants.

Washington announced in 2021 that it had ended all combat operations in Iraq.

Now about 2,500 US personnel are stationed there to provide training and support to Iraqi forces.