After President Donald Trump authorized the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq, Iraqi parliament voted for the withdrawal of United States troops from the country. In response, the U.S.-led military coalition in the country is reportedly planning to withdraw troops from the region, Reuters reports.
The letter announcing the withdrawal was penned by the United States Marine Corps Brigadier General William H. Seely III — who is the commanding general of Task Force Iraq — and addressed to the Iraqi defense ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad.
“Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement,” the letter reads.
“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”
The letter’s authenticity was reportedly confirmed to Reuters.
But according to Sky News’ foreign affairs editor, Deborah Haynes, a coalition source says that the plan is to “thin out” troops in Baghdad, not completely leave the country.
“We’re not leaving Iraq,” the source reportedly said, according to Haynes’ Twitter.
The news comes just one day after Trump threatened sanctions on Iraq if they tried to force the U.S. from the region in a hostile manner, as well as shortly after the U.S. sent an additional 3,500 troops to the Middle East, including some to Iraq.
BREAKING: The US military sends a letter to the Iraqi military announcing the “onward movement” of US troops “in due deference to the sovereignty of Iraq & as requested by the Iraqi Parliament & the Iraqi PM”. It’s a withdrawal. pic.twitter.com/tQHSsHTtez
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) January 6, 2020
Per Reuters, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi spoke to U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Matthew Tueller today, suggesting that the two countries work together on withdrawing American troops from the region. According to a statement from the prime minister’s office, Mahdi “stressed the importance of mutual cooperation” during the withdrawal process, as well as creating a “proper foundation” for U.S.-Iraq relations.
“He stressed how dangerous the situation is right now and its potential consequences, adding that Iraq is doing everything it can to prevent the descent into open war.”
The withdrawal plan comes as tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to escalate following an attack on a U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the subsequent killing of Soleimani via a drone strike. In response to Iran threatening retribution for the strike, Trump claimed to possess a list of 52 Iranian cultural sites that he said the U.S. would target in retaliation. However, a senior U.S. military official said that he is not aware of the existence of such a list.
Experts say that the Soleimani attack and subsequent escalation in tensions have put Iraq in a tricky position. While the U.S. has had a military presence in Iraq for almost 20 years, the country does not appear to want to get into a conflict with its powerful neighbor, Iran.