The head of the United States Army arrived in Baghdad for a short visit on Tuesday to meet with American and Iraqi leaders in the country, including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and Defence Chief General Zebari Babakir.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey’s trip to Baghdad followed a two-day visit to Kabul for meetings with American and Afghan officials.
In his 90-minute meeting with Al-Maliki, Dempsey discussed security assistance to Iraq and the Syrian conflict with senior leaders.
Dempsey noted that he did not intend to inquire about an active role Iraq may have in the Syrian conflict, but address the security of the border it shares with the country mired in a 17-month uprising. Maliki also expressed concern that events in Syria could spill over and create further violence and instability in Iraq.
“[Dempsey and Maliki] also spoke in general about current and future US support to the government of Iraq, including air defense and border security, as well as maritime security and military exchanges and exercises. The Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq (OSC-I) and the US State Department and embassy work with the Iraqi government on the specific sales, programmes and activities that support Iraq,” said Colonel David Lapan, Spokesman to General Dempsey, to the Daily News Egypt.
The chairman told AFP that Iraq was now a “sovereign state, on an equal footing with the United States.”
“We still retain significant investment and significant influence. But now it’s on the basis of a partnership and not the basis of ownership,” Dempsey told AFP.
“Flying over, there certainly seemed to be a sense of what we call normalcy,” he told reporters according to the Armed Forces Press Services. “Are there still challenges, problems? Of course there are. But the Iraqis appear to be on a good path.”
Although the US has announced its withdrawal of ground troops, more than 225 troops, seven civilian employees of the Defense Department, 530 security assistance team members and over 4,000 contracted personnel are still based in Iraq at the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq. Most of these US government employees provide training to Iraqi security personnel and help oversee the foreign military sales programme and the roughly $1.5 billion that the US contributes to it.
The US State Department funds training of Iraqi officers at war colleges in the US, where 154 are currently attending.
Most of the US aid goes to bolstering the Iraqi army’s supply of armoured vehicles and aiding construction of its air force.
“We almost always talk about the hardware…we went through that [in Iraq]. It’s part of the conversation. But we managed to talk about software – the human dimension of this thing,” Dempsey told reporters on the way back to the US according to AFPS.
General Dempsey is the highest-ranking official in the US military to visit Iraq since US troops left the country last December. He served as a commander during the US occupation of Iraq as part of the First Armored Division in 2003 and 2004 and the Multinational Security Transition Command from 2005 to 2007.