US Troops “Not Leaving Iraq,” Says Pentagon

US Troops

( – There was confusion in the press — and at the Pentagon, apparently — on Monday, after the emergence of a letter that seemed to show the US is preparing to withdraw its forces from Iraq. Defense secretary Mark Esper seemed as surprised by this as anyone else and moved quickly to squash rumors. So, will we stay or will we go?


On Sunday, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel all foreign troops from the country, in a reaction to the elimination of Iranian terror chief Qasem Soleimani last Friday. This move is mainly aimed at the US forces who have been in the country since 2003.

  • Within 24 hours of the Iraqi vote, Reuters was reporting that a US general had written a letter to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense informing them that US troops would be repositioning in preparation for “onward movement” — in other words, withdrawal from Iraq.
  • The letter carried the signature block of US Marine Corps Brigadier General William Seely, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Iraq — but, significantly, it wasn’t actually signed.
  • Now Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says the letter was a “poorly worded” draft that should never have been released.
  • According to Esper, no decision has been made on whether to withdraw US forces from Iraq. This potentially puts the US on a collision course with the Iraqi government.
  • Right now, US and allied troops are in Iraq under a multinational agreement to train Iraqi forces and fight against Islamic State — but if Iraq pulls out of the deal, legally the US has to withdraw.
  • Iraq’s Shia-dominated parliament is increasingly pro-Iranian and likely to take the chance to remove US troops from their country. The defeat of ISIS makes that even more likely; Iraqi leaders probably calculate that, with Iranian support, their own forces can hold out against what’s left of the terror group.
  • However, a major pivot to Iran would put key US allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, at increased risk of Iranian attacks.
  • President Trump has made clear that if US troops are ordered out of Iraq there will be consequences. “If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” he said. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

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