News & Politics

Is the U.S. Leaving Iraq? Military Officials Send Mixed Messages

The destroyed Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on July 10, 2017. (Kyodo)

On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted to rescind the invitation they extended to American troops in 2014 to help them quell jihadists after the strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Yahoo News reported that the United States responded with a letter announcing our intention to withdraw troops immediately.

The US military informed its counterparts in Baghdad on Monday it was preparing for “movement out of Iraq,” a day after the Iraqi parliament urged the government oust foreign troops.

The head of the US military’s Task Force Iraq, Brigadier General William Seely, sent a letter to the head of Iraq’s joint operations command, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

The letter said forces from the US-led coalition in Iraq would “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 that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” said the letter, dated Monday.

As the letter was signed by a US official, it was not immediately clear whether it applied to forces from the 76 countries which make up the international coalition.

A US defence official and an Iraqi defence official confirmed the letter was real and had been delivered.

It said helicopters would be travelling in and around the Green Zone as part of the preparations.

AFP could hear helicopters flying low over Baghdad throughout the night on Monday.

Over 4,000 American soldiers have lost their lives in the Iraq war theater since 2003. The pull-out is welcome news to many Americans who don’t want to be stuck in endless Middle East conflicts at the expense of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives. But is it real? The Pentagon is now downplaying the report. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told the Washington Post, “This is a mistake.” Milley described the letter as an unsigned planning draft discussing new deployments and that it should not have been released. “There has been no decision made to leave Iraq, period,” added Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

NPR reporter Jane Arraf, however, conducted an interview with Iraqi parliamentary members and according to them, their decision is binding and the U.S. is leaving. “They likely will leave,” said Arraf. “It looks like it’s almost inevitable that they will. There are 5,000 U.S. troops here, again, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to support the Iraqis in anti-ISIS operations. And in fact, the U.S. said yesterday that it was concentrating on force protection given all the threats around them from Iranian-backed militias. And they are suspending those operations supporting the forces fighting ISIS and suspending training. Allies of the U.S. are worried. It depends on the government implementing this, but now that the prime minister has said he has put that process in motion, it looks like it will take effect.”

If the U.S. pulls out, our allies will likely do the same. As of now, it’s not clear what the real story is or what will happen. Arraf continued, “Fighting ISIS, that’s going to be much more difficult without the U.S. assets, the air support, the surveillance. And you know, what happened in 2014 – when ISIS came in, the people fighting them at the start weren’t the Americans helping the Iraqis; it was the Iranians. So if U.S. forces leave, Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias will certainly gain more influence.”

Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo.” Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter