The US has not taken any decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq, Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said, shortly after the US military in a letter to Iraqi officials said that the US forces would be relocating "to prepare for onward movement". Some 5,000 US soldiers are deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the IS terror group.
The Iraqi Parliament on Sunday passed a resolution to terminate the agreement that allows for American troops in the country. Iraq's move comes in response to the killing of Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani, the 62-year-old head of Iran's elite al-Quds force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, in a US drone attack in Baghdad on Friday.
The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force. In a letter released on Monday, Marine Corps Brig Gen William H Seely said the US forces "respect your sovereign decision to order our departure".
Seely said the US-led coalition would "be repositioning forces" and the American troops would be relocating "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," the letter stated.
However, shortly after the letter was released, Defence Secretary Esper said no decision has been taken yet to leave Iraq. "There has been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq. There's no decision to leave, nor did we issue any plans to leave or prepare to leave," he told reporters here on Monday.
The US remains committed to the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq and the region, Esper said. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, during an off-camera briefing, told reporters that the letter incorrectly implies withdrawal and it was sent by "mistake". "It (the letter) was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released," he said.