During a surprise visit to Baghdad today, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in what he called a “very productive” meeting.
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Carter said the United States would continue to provide as much assistance as needed to fight back ISIS while reaffirming it would be done within the framework of Iraqi sovereignty.
Abadi expressed confidence to Carter that Iraqi troops would soon retake Ramadi from ISIS and position the Iraqi military to move on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which has been under ISIS control since the summer of 2014.
Abadi told Carter he was optimistic that Iraq was “on the verge of breaking the back of Daesh.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Carter’s visit had been scheduled for some time, but President Obama said on Monday that Carter would head to the Middle East “to work with our coalition partners on securing more military contributions to this fight” against ISIS.
Following his meeting with Abadi, Carter told reporters that the U.S. is willing to do more to help the Iraqis fight, but that the U.S. strongly respects Iraqi sovereignty.
“I reemphasized to the prime minister that he knows well that everything that we do and the coalition does here in Iraq is subject to the principle of Iraqi sovereignty,” Carter later told reporters.
Carter said last week that the U.S. was prepared to provide U.S.-piloted Apache attack helicopters and American advisers closer to the fight to assist Iraqi forces pushing towards Ramadi, but only if Iraq made such request.
Carter said both Abadi and Lt. General Sean MacFarland, who is leading the war on ISIS, both feel right now that the helicopters are not needed for the fight to take Ramadi. But they could "make a difference in the future,” he said.
Carter also met with Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al Obeidi, who told him that after Iraqi troops retake Ramadi from ISIS, they would prepare for “a big battle” to reclaim Mosul and Nineveh province. “Indeed our preparations for the Nineveh operation will proceed ... immediately after the liberation of Ramadi,” Obeidi said.
The minister said security forces would stand together to recapture Mosul. “But for sure we are going to need that continuous support from the coalition,” Obeidi said.
The United States is eager to do more to do more to accelerate the war against ISIS in Iraq, Carter told Obeidi. "It’s your victory and it’s your advance, but we look forward to opportunities, increased opportunities, at your request, with your permission to assist you in making that move.” Carter said he was discussing with other coalition officials how to do so.
Carter’s visit to Baghdad was hampered by a sandstorm that complicated travel for his meetings with Iraqi leaders.
Afterwards, Carter met with some of the American troops stationed in Baghdad. The U.S. military is currently authorized to keep 3,550 American troops inside Iraq to train, advise and assist the Iraqi military fighting ISIS.