Pentagon chief pledges continued US troop presence in Iraq

STORY: Austin, the most senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Iraq, was the last commanding general of U.S. forces there after the invasion.

Austin told reporters that U.S. forces are ready to remain in Iraq "at the invitation of the government of Iraq."

The United States currently has 2,500 troops in Iraq - and an additional 900 in Syria - to help advise and assist local troops in combating Islamic State, who in 2014 seized swathes of territory in both countries.

The 2003 invasion led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and created instability that eventually paved the way for the rise of Islamic State militants after the U.S. withdrew its forces in 2011.

On his trip to Baghdad Austin met Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani and later in Erbil met with the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, where he condemned Iran's "repeated cross border attacks," on Iraq.

Last year, Tehran fired missiles at bases of Kurdish groups in northern Iraq it accuses of involvement in protests against its restrictions on women, displacing hundreds of Iranian Kurds and killing some.