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.
— Mustafa Salim (@Mustafa_salimb) January 6, 2020
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.
5 minutes after leaving press room at DodD, Gen. Milley turned around and came back in, telling us the letter US sent to Iraqis about withdrawal was a "draft" and it was a "mistake." Wasn't meant to be sent. No US troops are leaving.
— paul mcleary (@paulmcleary) January 6, 2020
“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:
A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage:
Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries.
Where are they now?
We’re still here, & standing tall.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 5, 2020