The United States military has no plans “whatsoever” to leave Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper made clear on Monday.
The clarification was made in response to a report the US military had sent a letter to Iraq notifying Baghdad it was preparing to withdraw American troops from the country.
The Iraqi Parliament voted Sunday to expel US troops from the country in the wake of last week’s targeted killing by the US of Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandi, a Shiite militia backed by Iran.
“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. “There’s been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period.”
Reports of the letter were cited by US media and news agencies who said it was sent to the Iraqi Army by the head of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State terrorist organization, US Marine Corps Brigadier General William H Seely III.
Reporters were later told the letter was actually a draft document intended only to explain the increased movement of the troops.
“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal; that’s not what’s happening,” said US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He, too, underlined that no withdrawal is planned, and that the document was unsigned, and sent for the purpose of eliciting feedback from the Iraqi officials.
“It (the draft letter) was sent over to some key Iraqi military guys in order to get things coordinated for air movements, etc. Then it went from that guy’s hands to another guy’s hands and then it went to your hands. Now, it’s a kerfuffle.”
Bottom line: US troops are staying put, regardless of angst from the Iraqi Parliament.