Pentagon triggers widespread confusion as conflicting messages clash about a US pullout from Iraq

Pentagon triggers widespread confusion as conflicting messages clash about a US pullout from Iraq
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, participates in an Armed Forced Welcome Ceremony in honor of the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Monday, Sept. 30, 2019, at Summerall Field, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, VA (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper tried to tamp down reports that U.S. forces are pulling out of Iraq on Monday afternoon, but he only served to foster widespread confusion.

Multiple outlets initially reported on a letter from Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, informing the country that the U.S. and its allies "will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement." It concluded by saying: "We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure."

This was interpreted to mean that, following a weekend vote of the Iraqi parliament to expel U.S. forces in response to the killing of a top Iranian leader, the American military would be pulling out of the region. But Esper quick tried to rebut these claims, saying: "There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq. Period."

Esper said he's not sure where the letter came from but it is "inconsistent with where we are right now," reported BBC News' Paul Danahar. The Chairman of  the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley then told reporters that the letter was a "draft" and releasing it was a "mistake." He also said that it was "poorly worded" and noted that it had not been signed.

The Washington Post reported had already reported: "A U.S. military official confirmed the letter's authenticity." Bureau Chief Liz Sly said on Twitter that the letter was "delivered to the Iraqi military. It seems the U.S. military is as confused as everyone else about what their intentions are."

Many noted that the letter seemed to conflict with Trump's own stated position on the issue. He lashed out after the Iraqi parliamentary vote, saying: "If they do ask us to leave, if we don't do it on a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before."

But the parliament vote, for which many members were not present, was non-binding, and it remains unclear if the tumultuous Iraqi government even has the capacity in its current state to expel the United States' forces.

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