State Department tells Iraq it will not discuss US troop withdrawal


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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Department of State on November 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The State Department said in a statement Friday that the U.S. will not hold discussions with Iraq regarding American troop withdrawal from the country.

“At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

“There does, however, need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership. We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq,” Ortagus added, writing that “America is a force for good in the Middle East.”

The latest revelation from the State Department further deepens confusion over plans for U.S. troops in the region.

On Sunday, Iraq’s parliament passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the removal of American forces and other foreign troops from the country in the wake of a U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani.

A day later, a letter from U.S. Marine Corps Gen. William Seely to Iraq’s Defense Ministry said the withdrawal of U.S. coalition troops was occurring “in due deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested” by the nation’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, and the Iraqi parliament.

In the letter, Seely wrote that coalition troops “will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”

“In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” he added.

In the wake of the letter, the Pentagon acknowledged that the letter informing Iraq’s Defense Ministry that U.S.-led coalition troops would leave Iraq “was a mistake.”

“A draft unsigned letter that was acquired by an Iraqi official has no import. It has no value whatsoever,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday in an interview with CNN.

“I will say this, the United States is not withdrawing from Iraq. In fact, in my conversations with my counterpart, the Iraqi defense minister, I conveyed to him that we do want to stay in Iraq and we want to continue the important defeat ISIS mission,” he added.

“That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should never have been released,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal,” Milley said. “That is not what’s happening.”

Alongside Milley, Esper told reporters earlier in the day that the U.S. was “repositioning forces throughout the region.”

On Tuesday, Iraq’s prime minister said that the U.S. military sent a letter regarding American troop withdrawal from the country but that the English version did not match the Arabic version.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said that his country requested clarifications on U.S. plans.

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