Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel landed in Iraq this morning. Hagel is scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders about the U.S.-led war against the so-called Islamic State.
This visit is of note because Hagel is the first secretary of defense to visit the country since President Obama ended American combat involvement in Iraq in 2011.
Since then, the U.S. has beefed up its military presence in Iraq to combat ISIS, which started an assault on the country over the summer.
“In remarks to a group of U.S. and Australian soldiers, Hagel said the U.S. wants to help Iraq regain the territory it lost to Islamic State militants earlier this year, but said the only lasting solution must come from the Iraqis themselves.
“‘In the end, that’s where this all goes,’ he said in remarks on an outdoor stage shielded by portable concrete walls at Baghdad International Airport.
“‘Just as in Afghanistan, it is their country,’ Hagel said. ‘They have to lead. They are the ones that are going to have to be responsible for end results.'”
Reuters reports that Hagel said the U.S. will continue assisting and training Iraqi forces, but the key to long-term success will be an inclusive Iraqi government.
“Since taking office in September, Shi’ite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has worked to build alliances with Sunni tribes and also reached a deal on oil exports with the semi-autonomous Kurdish region after months of dispute.
“Hagel was due to meet Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi during his visit.”