Esper Denies US Troops are Leaving Iraq; Rules Out Hitting Iranian Cultural Targets

UPDATED: Pentagon contradicts U.S. commander of forces in Iraq, saying the roughly 5,000 troops aren’t going anywhere. 

Defense Secretary Also Contradicts
Trump on Targeting Cultural Sites

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday denied that U.S. troops were planning on leaving Iraq after a letter from the U.S. commander in Iraq was published saying U.S. forces would be repositioned out of the country.

Esper told reporters in Washington: “There’s been no decision to leave Iraq. Period.”

Earlier on Monday a letter written by U.S. Brig. Gen. William Seely, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to the Iraqi commander of joint operations said:

“In due 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.” 

Iraq’s parliament on Sunday voted to order all foreign forces to leave Iraqi territory.

The decision came after U.S. attacks on units of the Iraqi army last week and the assassination on Iraqi territory of Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani on Friday.

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told Pentagon reporters after a briefing on Monday that the let was a draft that was mistakenly sent to the Iraqi government.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” Milley was quoted by Reuters as saying. 

President Donald Trump has threatened sanctions against Iraq if U.S. troops are told to leave.  “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” Trump said Monday. “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” he told reporters.

Esper on Monday also contradicted his boss, rejecting the president’s threat to target 52 cultural sites in Iran—one for every American held hostage by Iran in 1979—if Iran attacked Americans or U.S. interests.  The defense secretary told Pentagon press conference that targeting cultural sites is a war crime and that such targets have been ruled out. “We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Esper said.

Trump had tweeted on Saturday:

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have……..targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”

In response, Iranians splashed on Twiter, under the hashtag #IranianCulturalSites, photos of Iranian cultural landmarks, demonstrating unity against Trump’s threat.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted:






27 comments for “Esper Denies US Troops are Leaving Iraq; Rules Out Hitting Iranian Cultural Targets

  1. Jill
    January 7, 2020 at 19:39

    International Community-call in every marker you have, NOW. Bring this war to a halt and get to a negotiated settlement now. Our “allies” should be first in line calling on the US to negotiate and not bomb Iran. Do it and do it now-EVERY FREAKING MARKER, NOW.

  2. bardamu
    January 7, 2020 at 14:24

    It’s interesting the sorts of apparent madness and stupidity that appear in what seems to be an internecine struggle between camps within and around the American imperial and paramilitary establishment. It feels almost as though the empire had forgotten how to do an efficient false flag operation. And it has just not been that long.

    There is the drop-dead shocker of assassinating an Iranian military officer engaged in diplomatic business along with several officers of an Iraqi government-under-occupation that is, supposedly, in an allied and cooperative position. It’s not that the insularity of this is so foreign to American politics in itself. But there is nothing so much as resembling a reasonable pretext for such action. even within public mythologies Supporters can only appear disingenuous or shrill.

    Obviously this is an abuse and an act of aggression by the US. Less obviously, who is messing with whom within US command hierarchy, and what are the roles in the hierarchy that are generally not acknowledged or specified?

  3. Deniz
    January 7, 2020 at 13:37

    Overemphasizing Trump role in this turns this hugely consequential event into the typical Left vs Right charade only enables our criminal oligarchy to destroy and loot another country. This is entirely predictable because the MIC has been gunning for war with Iran long before anyone in their wildest fantasy thought this game show host would become President.

    If Hillary was in office she would have undoubtedly done something similar. Trump, Obama, Clinton, Bush, vastly different personalities, all make the same decision – WAR. The system is now designed so that only one person, the President can start a war, and all the incentives, whether it is money, political prestige are based around the President starting the war. If you don’t start a war in the Middle East, AIPAC, Big Oil, Defence, the Media, the Intelligence Agencies, will do everything they can to crush you by ensuring you are are a one-term President with a tarnished legacy. These forces are now salivating over their chance to make money or gain power over the next war in Iran.

    Trump was advised by Pompeo and Esper to start a war undoubtedly at the behest of Netanyaho, Oil, and the MIC. He was probably assured that Solemani was a legitimate target based on his previous terrorist activities in the region. The reason that this is important is that, while specious, it is a perspective that Trump supporters latch onto. So, if you ignore it, and say Trump and his followers are just deplorable demons, you will not understand their perspective you will have limited influence on their thinking. I follow the right and many are ex veterans who want nothing to do with these phony wars.

  4. rosemerry
    January 7, 2020 at 12:49

    “We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Esper said. Considering there is NO possible reason for further attacks on Iran, after the tossing out of a UN agreement and the reintroduction of cruel, vicious, ILLEGAL punishment of Iran for daring to disobey Big Brother, there can be no possible war with laws to follow. The USA ignores international laws anyway.

  5. Uncle Bob
    January 7, 2020 at 12:05

    Bureaucratic Propaganda Illustrated
    The General on the ground vs. the suits 7,000 miles away in front of the media.

  6. Rob Roy
    January 7, 2020 at 11:54

    To all the commenters before me, I agree with your thoughtful and intelligent remarks. I would just add that we should all gather to elect a president who also agrees. Tulsi Gabbard will stop these illegal murderous wars. She and Bernie Sanders will be a team that can withstand the pressure from the bad actors. We need this new leadership as much as any time in history.

    • Linda Furr
      January 7, 2020 at 13:18

      If we’ve given up prayer, now’s the time to take it up again in support of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard…. and for earth, humanity and international law!!!

  7. Jeff Rudisill
    January 7, 2020 at 11:46

    In response to Trump’s claim re: the airbase costs, Iraq could easily claim rights to that base as reparations for the major damage the US caused in 2003.

  8. January 7, 2020 at 10:31

    Since when has Zion followed any rules

  9. Steve
    January 7, 2020 at 09:59

    The fact it’s gotten to this point over the last 30+ years of sociopaths in the Oval office is astounding if you think about it. What happened to the peace movement? To rational thinking and common decency? Respect for human life? Respect for the plight of avg US citizens? This country doesn’t deserve to survive, we’ve become the Nazi’s and that ain’t an exaggeration. The only sane foreign policies put forth are from 2 Dem candidates that the Democratic party is wholly rejecting so both parties form one, the party of war. The domestic policy differences in the two could be real but I don’t know cause beyond all else, they understand the illusion of effective govt has to be upheld, however poorly they’re doing it. It’s just sickening to think of the global good that the US could have created but instead it’s become an economic and military machine of global murder and destruction. This is The Matrix, maybe humanity is a virus.

    • 24-Hours Drama
      January 8, 2020 at 16:56

      “What happened to the peace movement?”

      Good question!

      On 15 February 2003, a coordinated day of protests started across the world in which people in more than 600 cities expressed opposition to the imminent Iraq War. Social movement researchers have described the 15 February protest as “the largest protest event in human history.” Not so much so in the USA, though. As a point of comparison the 2017 “pussy-hat” march in New York City rallied a greater number of protesters than the Iraq anti-war protest managed to gather in that same city in 2003.

      Which brings up the next question: what happened to the so-called #Resistance?
      It looks like it is easier nowadays, or more politically opportunistic to the #Resistance, to mobilize protesters over what was, at the time, some 12 year old recording of Donald Trump talking about women in vulgar terms to the host of “Access Hollywood,” than it is to make a stance of any kind over reckless foreign policies, as environmental catastrophes are looming.

      In their defense, nothing much is happening anywhere else in the world either.

      The peace movement is dead.

  10. michael
    January 7, 2020 at 06:39

    Seem stupid to build something expensive on someone else’s land. Obviously Trump has not been in DC long enough, it’s JUST taxpayers’ money, easy come, easy go.

    Gen. Seely is my hero. Get the hell out of Dodge while the getting’s good.

    Gen. Esper and Gen. Milley should move to Iraq, or Israel, to continue their Zionist policies, which are frankly out of control.

    We all know Iraq has no real national sovereignty, but would save face for them to withdraw most US troops.

  11. alley cat
    January 7, 2020 at 01:34

    President Trump is behaving like a madman and it’s the duty of Congress to stop him before he starts WWIII. First, he assassinates an Iranian leader on the basis of lies and innuendo, without a declaration of war from Congress, constituting an act of war and blatant provocation that Iran cannot ignore, and then tweets an unhinged rant about attacking Iranian cultural sites.

    The problem is that the president has just demonstrated to the world that we can no longer dismiss his threats as posturing or bluster; we are now forced to take them seriously. No stable, balanced person would threaten to destroy Iranian cultural sites if Iranians react to an act of war against them.

    If the President carries out his barbaric threats, as he has shown he is fully capable of doing, we may very well find ourselves on the brink of WWIII, because China and Russia will move to stop him if Congress won’t.

    When challenged, the president doubled down on the insanity, revealing to the world why someone who is obviously detached from reality cannot be allowed to remain in control of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal:

    “They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

    It (apparently meaning “the world”) doesn’t work that way? On the contrary, what is obvious to any rational observer is that the world does not—and should not—work the way the president imagines it works. To begin with, his premises are patently, demonstrably false. But much more chilling, the conclusion he draws from those false premises reveals a cruel and twisted mentality.

    Attempts at damage control by the Secretary of Defense cannot hide the awful truth that our president has become a loose cannon who represents an imminent threat to all of us.

    • Pedro del grifos
      January 7, 2020 at 10:03

      You are correct I fear. Russia and China will stop him because in 3 horrible years Congress has not. He has broken so many US laws that the nation is now a ghost. Congress is like a subway car full of onlookers watching a vicious mugging and doing nothing.

  12. David
    January 7, 2020 at 01:07

    “”We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Esper said.” Our just being there is illegal, so no, they won’t.

    • Piotr Berman
      January 7, 2020 at 09:27

      The fact that guys like Esper lie without blinking made me think that Trump could be right. He was shown a slide show or a list, and it could contain, say, mausoleum of Imam Khomeini. Not an Unesco list — does US even recognize Unesco? Bombing universities in Gaza did not prompt any official American objections (I guess, not even from Canada).

      More broadly, how many civilian structures were destroyed in Yugoslavia?

  13. January 6, 2020 at 23:52

    The US empire will not only leave Iraq but will leave the entire Middle East. It’s armed forces will leave either through diplomatic persuasion or forcibly leave when the locals resort to armed struggle. Either way they will leave.

  14. Jill
    January 6, 2020 at 20:42

    Esper says no decision to leave Iraq has been made, period. I beg to differ. The govt. of Iraq has made the decision.

    It will take the concerted will of many nations to make the US leave but Esper is wrong to say the decision has not been made. Imperial hubris is at work here. This is not our decision to make or ignore.

    • Nathan Mulcahy
      January 7, 2020 at 08:14

      Esper probably means that no decision has been made in Tel Aviv. That’s where decisions are made for the US government.

  15. Peter
    January 6, 2020 at 19:59

    The disarray at the top is really quite frightening. Factional infighting chaotic. This makes the gravity of the “Cuban Missile Crisis” during the Kennedy administration pale in comparison.

    • January 7, 2020 at 11:47

      No it does not. I am eighty and lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis. believe me when I tell you, this does not compare in any way. The world was days away from being ended during that crisis with two nuclear powers losing control of their militaries the situation was completely out of hand. it was a miracle that humanity made it through. This situation is a long way away from that by many orders of magnitude. It all came down to one Russian officer refusing an order to nuke the US Navy. Thats how close we all were.

  16. January 6, 2020 at 19:22

    Since when has the US ever bothered about the sovereignty of the nations it occupies? The Iraqi parlt could have 100% behind such a resolution and theyd still ignore it.

  17. JWalters
    January 6, 2020 at 18:42

    This reminds me of when Bolton was Trumps national security advisor and Trump said he would remove troops from Syria. Bolton then flew to Israel, met with Netanyahu, and emerged to announce that Trump would not be withdrawing the troops from Syria after all.

  18. John Moffett
    January 6, 2020 at 17:36

    This entire episode has demonstrated that the US government and constitution are not up to the task of dealing effectively with a rogue President. It was not apparent to the framers that corporations and the military could become so large and so integrated into society, and therefore they could not have envisioned appropriate checks and balances based on their experience. Our reality is different wherein corporations, the military and the media all combine forces to push agendas that bypass congress and the courts completely. Then layer that on top of the fact that congress has been abdicating their war powers responsibilities for decades. Throw in a rogue President who is irrational, vein and petty, and you have a recipe for disaster. The disarray inside this dysfunctional system reminds me of the infighting among organized crime families. I sure hope that our European allies disassociate from the Trump administration, rather than playing lapdogs. That might turn the tide.

    • TS
      January 8, 2020 at 12:20

      > I sure hope that our European allies disassociate from the Trump administration, rather than playing lapdogs.

      I am afraid your hopes are doomed to be disappointed. Those who are not lapdogs are co-conspirators…

  19. Drew Hunkins
    January 6, 2020 at 16:47

    This circus would be amusing if hundreds of thousands of lives weren’t at stake.

    • tpmco
      January 7, 2020 at 03:24

      I think the navy and the Air Force are pretty much obsolete given the geography. And the bear and the dragon look like they’ve become locked and loaded against the missiles. USA will be leaving. I think it’s check—and checkmate.

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