Defense Department can't figure out whether US troops are leaving Iraq

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper disputed a letter from a top military official saying the country would respect the Iraqi Parliament's vote to expel American troops from the country.

An unsigned letter signaling what appeared to be a withdrawal of troops from Iraq threw Washington into chaos on Monday, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper disputed its authenticity.
In the letter, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said the United States is preparing to withdraw troops from Iraq after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the American military from the country following the deadly attack last week that led to the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

"We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure," Seely wrote in a letter to an Iraqi military official, according to Washington Post reporter Mustafa Salim.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Monday that the letter is "inconsistent with where we are now," according to defense reporter Paul McCleary.

After that first statement, Esper returned to tell reporters that the letter was real but that it was never meant to be seen as it was a draft.

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The letter signaling the United States' possible decision to pull troops from the country belies Donald Trump's warning that if Iraq did vote to expel American troops, he would hit the country with "very big sanctions."

"We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it," Trump said Sunday night from Air Force One, according to the New York Times.

Trump added, "If they do ask us to leave, if we don't do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before ever. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, who has covered wars across the world, said that expelling American troops from Iraq is "what Soleimani always wanted."

"Maybe Iran gets its revenge without spilling a drop of blood," Engel tweeted.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) echoed Engel's sentiments. In a series of tweets on Monday, Merkley said that Trump's attack, "strengthened the role of Iranian militias in Iraq, expanding Iranian influence — the exact opposite of our goal of reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.