US insists no plans to pull out of Iraq
In this file photo taken on June 21, 2017 a US soldier advising Iraqi forces is seen in the city of Mosul, during the ongoing offensive by Iraqi troops to retake the last district still held by the Islamic State (IS) group. The US military could face its second forced exit from Iraq in a decade after the parliament in Baghdad voted on January 5, 2020 in support of the expulsion of American forces. The Iraqi parliament held an extraordinary session after the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards leader who wielded influence in Iraqi politics and was popular among the majority Shiites.But the risk of withdrawal could be high: the US pullout in 2011 left a security vacuum that allowed the rise of the Islamic State jihadist group -- and led to the US military's return.

US insists no plans to pull out of Iraq

Paul Handley (Agence France-Presse) - January 8, 2020 - 8:56am

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States has no plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq, the White House and Pentagon insisted Tuesday, as Iraq premier Adel Abdel Mahdi said he had received a US letter signalling a pullout.

President Donald Trump said withdrawing the more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq would be the "worst thing" for that country.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper underscored that US policy has not changed, dismissing as a mere "draft" the unsigned letter from a US general to Iraq's government saying Washington would redeploy troops "in due deference to the sovereignty" of the country.

"At some point we want to get out, but this isn't the right point," Trump said. "It's the worst thing that could happen to Iraq."

"Our policy has not changed. We are not leaving Iraq," Esper told reporters.

"There is no signed letter, to the best of my knowledge," Esper added.

Fallout from drone strike

Washington continued to defend itself from the fallout from its drone strike last Friday killing powerful Iranian General Qasem Soleimani just after he arrived in Baghdad from Damascus.

The killing of the key Iranian player in regional politics and security drew outrage from Iran and Soleimani's many supporters in Iraq.

On Sunday the Iraqi parliament voted to support expelling US troops, and the idea gained force Monday when the letter from the head of Task Force-Iraq, US Brigadier General William Seely, announcing a US exit was revealed.

Seely wrote the US-led coalition would "be repositioning forces in the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement."

Trump and Esper strongly denied pullout plans, and Trump even suggested the letter could be a "hoax."

Mystery letter

But its existence continued to ripple through Iraqi and US politics, with no explanation of why it was circulated.

"It was an official letter written in such a manner," Abdel Mahdi told a televised cabinet meeting Tuesday. 

"It's not a piece of paper that fell off the printer or reached us by coincidence," he said.

The letter discussed "redeploying with an aim to withdraw from the country. The expressions were very clear," he said.

But Trump warned that a US departure would leave a gap that would be filled by Iran, whose powerful political influence in Iraq was spearheaded by Soleimani.

"If we leave, that would mean that Iran would have a much bigger foothold, and the people of Iraq do not want to see Iran run the country. That I can tell you," Trump told reporters.

"The Iraqi people were not happy when the suggestion was made yesterday that we were thinking about leaving at some point," he said.

"But at some point, we will want to leave."

US officials also defended the decision to kill Soleimani, who was a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in charge of Middle East regional affairs, and who was considered one of the most powerful people in Iran.

While the White House and Pentagon continued to withhold details of the rationale for Friday's drone strike, Esper said Soleimani was planning imminent attacks against US assets.

"I think it's more fair to say days, for sure," Esper said.

Not a vacation

"They weren't there to discuss a vacation. They weren't there to go to a nice resort some place in Baghdad," Trump said of Soleimani and top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, also killed in the strike.

"They were there to discuss bad business, and we saved a lot of lives by terminating his life."

Esper said he fully expected Tehran to retaliate, and cautioned that while the United States "is not seeking a war with Iran, we are prepared to finish one."

"We are seeking a diplomatic solution but first, this will require Iran to de-escalate," he said.

"It will require the regime to come to the table with the goal of preventing further bloodshed."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 2, 2020 - 8:13am

Saudi Arabia reveals extensive damage to key oil facilities following weekend aerial strikes that were blamed on Iran, but vows to quickly restore full production even as regional tensions soar.

Yemen's Tehran-linked Huthi rebels, who announced a sudden halt to attacks on Saudi Arabia, claims the strikes on state giant Aramco's facilities in Khurais and the world's largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq.

But Washington has pointed the finger at Tehran, condemning an "act of war" which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia's oil production and on Friday prompted US President Donald Trump to sketch out the latest in a series of economic sanctions against Iran. — AFP

March 2, 2020 - 8:13am

Two rockets crashes overnight near the US embassy in the Iraqi capital's Green Zone, a security source said, in the 20th attack against US assets in the country in four months. 

None of the multiple attacks since October targeting either the Baghdad embassy or the roughly 5,200 US troops stationed across Iraq has been claimed.

But the US has pointed the finger at Iran-backed groups within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network officially incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces. — AFP

February 2, 2020 - 2:39pm

Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell is expected in Tehran Monday, Iran's foreign ministry announces a day ahead of the visit, amid new tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue.

Borrell "will visit Iran tomorrow for the first time since taking office (in early December). He is set to meet the foreign minister (Mohammad Javad Zarif) and other Iranian senior officials for consultations," foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Moussavi says in a statement. — AFP

January 29, 2020 - 12:33pm

The number of US troops injured by an Iranian missile strike in Iraq this month has risen to 50, according to new figures released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The personnel have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI), Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

The military had said on Friday that 34 troops were injured in the strike on the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on January 8.

US President Donald Trump had initially said no Americans were hurt by the missiles, and Democrats later accused him of trying to downplay the injuries.

Iran fired on Iraqi bases housing US troops in retaliation for an American drone attack that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, raising fears of war. — AFP

January 21, 2020 - 9:09am

Three rockets hit near the US embassy in the Iraqi capital's high-security Green Zone, security sources told AFP, with no immediate reports of casualties. 

Sirens could be heard across the zone immediately after the rockets made impact. 

The US has blamed Iran-backed paramilitary groups for a spate of similar attacks in recent months on the Green Zone, but there has never been a claim of responsibility.

January 18, 2020 - 2:46pm

President Donald Trump warns Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to be "very careful with his words."

"The so-called 'Supreme Leader' of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe," Trump tweets of Khamenei's comments in Tehran.

According to Trump, Khamenei's blistering speech, in which he attacked the "vicious" United States and described Britain, France and Germany as "America's lackey's," is a mistake.

"Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering. He should be very careful with his words!" Trump tweets.

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