No decision on pulling US troops out of Iraq, says Pentagon
Iraq urges UN Security Council to condemn the air strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani.
Senior Pentagon leaders have said the US has no plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, despite a draft letter from a senior military officer that appeared to suggest plans for withdrawal were under way.
The denial comes as Iraq urged the UN Security Council to condemn the air strike that killed Iran’s top military commander as a “flagrant violation” of the terms of the American forces’ presence in the country.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the US is “moving forces around” Iraq and neighbouring Kuwait.
He said a draft letter circulated internally by a US Marine commander was a “poorly written” honest mistake that should never have got out.
The draft letter appeared to suggest the US was preparing to pull troops out of Iraq in response to a vote by the Iraqi parliament over the weekend.
The draft said troops would be “repositioning over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement”, and warned of an increase in helicopter travel around the Green Zone in Baghdad. It added: “We respect your sovereignty decision to order our departure.”
Gen Milley and defence secretary Mark Esper said the US has been repositioning troops, largely due to increased security threats from Iran. The letter was meant to co-ordinate with the Iraqi military on an increase in US helicopter and troop movements as they shift positions around the country.
“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Mr Esper said. “There’s no decision to leave, nor did we issue any plans to leave or prepare to leave.”
Gen Milley acknowledged that some language in the letter “implies withdrawal”, but that “is not what is happening”.
“The long and the short of it is, it’s an honest mistake,” he said, adding that he had just got off the phone with the US commander in the Middle East, who explained the effort.
Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom issued a letter to the security council on Monday, calling the air strike “a dangerous escalation that might ignite a devastating war in Iraq, the region and the world”.
He also urged the council to hold accountable “those who have committed such violations”.
Mr Esper said the US remains committed to the campaign to defeat the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and the wider region.
Any Security Council action sought by Iraq against the Trump administration, however, is virtually certain to be vetoed by the US.