There was a remarkable turn of events late last night which exposes the US government’s stark policy options for Iraq in the wake of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
A letter by America’s top general in Iraq to his Iraqi counterpart emerged on the pro-Iranian media outlet Al Ahed in Iraq.
On headed Pentagon paper, it announced that the US military would be repositioning forces… prepare for onward movement… we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.
The letter from Brigadier General William Seely III said: Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR [the US-led coalition] will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.
It added that the US military would take measures to ensure that movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner, and concluded: We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.
A huge announcement. The end of a 17-year presence in the country and a key demand of Iran.
Calls to the Pentagon were met with a statement that they were looking into it.
About 45 minutes later, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon that the letter was inaccurate.
There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq, he said.
Our own sources in Baghdad confirmed that the letter was genuine and that they too had seen it.
One source said their understanding of the US position was that a partial withdrawal or repositioning of some troops to Kuwait was taking place.
Then, back at the Pentagon, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in front of reporters.
It was a mistake, he said. That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released… poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening.
Except, it doesn’t imply withdrawal; it states it explicitly.
A mistake then.
But a hint of a genuine withdrawal to come? Certainly it demonstrates policy options and confusion.
(c) Sky News 2020: Letter saying US troops will pull out of Baghdad was ‘an honest mistake’