Oh, the Trump administration’s letter informing Iraq of the U.S.’ withdrawal from the country was actually just “an honest mistake”? Too bad.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that even though the Pentagon clumsily retracted Marine Corp Brig. Gen. William Seely’s letter on Monday and told reporters there was “no decision whatsoever” to leave Iraq, the Middle Eastern country expects the U.S. to go through with it anyway.
“We don’t deal with statements [made] in the media,” an unnamed senior Iraqi official told the Post. “As a state, we deal with the official letters that we receive, and we will act in accordance with this letter.”
According to the official, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi believes there is “no way to organize Iraq stably” while foreign troops are still in the country.
“We will tell the U.S. to put in place a timeline to implement this withdrawal,” the official said.
The Post stated that another official had backed up the first official’s remarks.
In his letter to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense on Monday, Seely laid out the U.S.’ “movement out of Iraq” and acknowledged Iraq’s “sovereign decision to order our departure,” referencing the Iraqi parliament’s resolution to have all foreign forces removed.
The letter prompted a wave of confusion given that a day prior to the letter, President Donald Trump had made a blustering threat to impose “very big sanctions” on Iraq if it expelled U.S. troops.
Several hours after Seely’s letter spread online, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley scrambled to walk back the “poorly worded” letter, which they said was merely a draft and an “honest mistake.”
“That’s not what’s happening,” Milley said of the letter’s affirmation of U.S. withdrawal.
On Tuesday, Esper doubled down on the Pentagon’s disavowal of the letter.
“We are not leaving Iraq, and a draft, unsigned letter does not constitute a policy change,” he said during a press conference.
“There are a few procedural mechanisms, hurdles, if you will, that the Iraqi government would need to go through,” the Defense secretary responded when a reporter asked what the U.S. would do if Iraq formally requested the withdrawal of U.S. troops. “We remain in constant contact with them on that.”
“I think it’s fair to say that many Iraqis recognize the strategic importance of our partnership with them, whether it’s training and advising their military to become more effective on the field of battle or it’s working together with them to defeat ISIS coalition,” he added.
Defense Secretary Esper: “We are not leaving Iraq and a draft…unsigned letter does not constitute a policy change.” pic.twitter.com/MRSo9AARel
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) January 7, 2020