US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that “There has been no decision to leave Iraq,” following the delivery of a letter sent to the Iraqi military alleging the US was going to ‘thin out’ troops in Baghdad.
He was referring to the reports that the head of Combined Joint Task Force Iraq, General William H. Seely III, had informed the Iraqi government of preparations to reposition the coalition forces “in due deference to the sovereignty” of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that the letter Seely had sent was only a draft and that releasing it was a “mistake.” The Iraqi military confirmed receiving it, however.
Esper would neither confirm nor deny the letter’s authenticity, though US Army public relations officials said earlier it was real. Instead, he reiterated the position staked out earlier by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that the Iraqi people “want the US to stay,” and cited the rise in attacks by Iranian “proxy groups.”
US President Donald Trump likewise rejected the withdrawal on Sunday, threatening Iraq with sanctions and saying the US will not leave until the Iraqis “pay us back” for an airbase that he said cost billions of dollars to build.