- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Pentagon’s top officer will travel to Iraq at the end the month to check on progress in a country that has been beset by sectarian violence and political turmoil since the United Station withdrew most of its troops in December.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will make a one-day stop in Baghdad, where he is expected to meet with U.S. Embassy officials and Iraqi leaders and to check the status of U.S. efforts to support Iraq’s fledgling democratic government. His will be the highest-level visit to Iraq by an American official since the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

“The chairman expects to discuss both internal and external security challenges facing the Iraqi government and our mutual cooperation to meet those challenges,” said Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

About 300 U.S. troops remain in Iraq to provide training to Iraqi forces and spearhead security for embassy staff.

Asked for the Pentagon’s response to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal, Col. Lapan said, “We are concerned with malign Iranian influence throughout the Middle East, and sanctions recently enacted are intended to reduce Iran’s role in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.”

“The [U.S. government] continues to provide support, as requested by the Iraqi government, within the authorities and resources allocated to the mission,” Col. Lapan said.

After visiting Baghdad, Gen. Dempsey will travel to Afghanistan, where international troops are scheduled to withdraw from combat by the end of 2014.