US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Iraq Tuesday to review efforts against the Islamic State group but insisted it was up to the Iraqis themselves to win the war against the jihadists.
Hagel, who is due to step down from office shortly, was to be briefed by US military commanders and hold talks with his Iraqi counterpart as well as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during the unannounced visit.
Washington has forged an alliance of Western and Arab countries that has launched air strikes against IS after the extremist group seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate”.
The United States will be doubling the number of its troops in Iraq helping government forces to 3,100, and on Monday the American commander of the war effort said allies were also ready to send roughly 1,500 security personnel.
But, speaking to a group of US and Australian troops soon after he landed, Hagel said the outcome of the campaign would ultimately depend on the Baghdad government.
“It’s their country, they have to lead, they’re the ones who are going to have to be responsible for end results,” he said.
“We can help, we can train, we can assist, we can advise — we’re doing that.”
The Iraqi leadership will need to build an inclusive government that wins the trust of all the country’s religious and ethnic communities, he said.
Support for IS has been in part fuelled by complaints from Iraq’s Sunni minority of being excluded from power by the country’s Shiite majority.
US and allied warplanes have launched more than 1,200 air strikes against jihadists in Iraq and Syria since August 8.
Washington also has about 1,500 troops in Iraq providing security for the American embassy and advising the Baghdad government’s army and Kurdish forces.
Last month President Barack Obama approved the deployment of another 1,500 troops to bolster the training and advising effort across the country.