Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Monday that the United States has no plans to pull out militarily from Iraq after a letter from a top U.S. commander stated that the military coalition would in fact be leaving Iraq and relocating. 

The letter read, “Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, [Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve] will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement. 

 

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” it concluded. The letter was said to be signed by the United States Marine Corps Brigadier General William H. Seely III, the commanding general of the Task Force in Iraq. It was addressed to the Iraqi defence ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad.

In response to questions about the letter, Esper told reporters on Monday, “I don’t know what that letter is… We’re trying to find out where that’s coming from, what that is. But there’s been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period.” He continued by assuring reporters, stating that the United States was still committed to countering ISIS in Iraq.

He told reporters Monday evening that some forces will be repositioned within Iraq, not leaving. Two U.S. officials told NPR that some forces will be moved to Kuwait, but that these were NATO Forces.

An unnamed U.S. general told Al Jazeera reporters that the letter was “a poorly worded draft document meant to only underscore increased movement of forces.” 

The letter was identified and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source. 

This comes just days after the news of a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. There are approximately 5,000 troops currently in Iraq. 

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