US Defense Secretary denies reports of US withdrawing from Iraq

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The United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said that the US  no plans to pull its troops out of Iraq, following reports of a leaked American military letter informing Iraqi officials about repositioning troops in preparation for leaving the country.

The tensions between the US and Iran escalated after Friday, when a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani is widely seen as Iran’s second most powerful figure behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Iranian leader Khamenei grieved along with hundreds of thousands of mourners who congregated in the streets of Tehran for Soleimani’s funeral on Monday.

Iran’s demand for U.S. forces to withdraw from the region gained traction on Sunday when Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

The United States has about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The letter was a poorly worded draft document meant only to underscore increase movement of U.S. forces, the top U.S. military officer told reporters.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, stressing there was no withdrawal being planned.

The authenticity of the letter, which was addressed to the Iraqi defense ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad and signed by a U.S. general, had been confirmed to Reuters by an Iraqi military source.

Esper added the United States was still committed to countering Islamic State in Iraq, alongside America’s allies and partners.

Reuters / Microsoft News 

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