U.S. troops will not be withdrawing from Iraq, Esper tells reporters
WASHINGTON — Esper, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon for the second day in a row, called the letter a “draft.” He said that he had asked whether a signed copy had been sent to Iraqi officials and that, “to the best of my knowledge,” it had not.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned in November but is operating in a caretaker capacity, said earlier in the day in Baghdad that he had received a copy. A U.S. military official with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, also said Tuesday that a signed copy was sent.
The letter does not say explicitly that the U.S. military will withdraw forces, but it appears to leave open the possibility. Marine Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III wrote in it that U.S. forces “will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement” and that “we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”
Esper said Tuesday that “there may be some people trying to create confusion” in regard to the letter.
On Monday, the Pentagon’s top officer, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, said sending the letter was “a mistake.”