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"Withdrawal Not What's Happening": Joint Chiefs Chairman Says Letter Announcing US Troops Leaving Iraq Was a Mistake

"That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released," said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

U.S. military personnel are leaving Iraq.

U.S. military personnel are leaving Iraq. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster/U.S. Army/U.S. Department of Defense/Flickr)

U.S. and coalition forces are not leaving Iraq, despite a letter to that effect published Monday by a number of news outlets. 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the letter was a draft, according to Axios.

"That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released," said Milley, adding the letter was, "poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what's happening."

The letter claimed that coalition forces will leave Iraq and came a day after Iraqi lawmakers voted to expel the American military from the country.

"Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement," says the letter, signed by U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General William H. Seely III.

"We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure," said Seely.

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The authenticity of the letter was reported on Monday by Reuters and a number of other outlets, but the Pentagon quickly made clear the content was not accurate.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper rushed to tell reporters Monday that "there's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq." 

As Common Dreams reported, the Iraqi Parliament voted Sunday to expel U.S. forces from the country. That declaration was met with anger from President Donald Trump, who threatened to hammer the war-torn country with sanctions. 

Withdrawing troops from Iraq at the country's request marks a major moment for the U.S. occupation. U.S. personnel and military have been in the country since the invasion of and war on Iraq that began in 2003 and has continued in one form or another ever since. 

Last week, U.S. forces assassinated Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike near the Baghdad airport. The attack came after other strikes in the region by U.S. forces and after protests at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq nearly overran the facility. 

In a statement minutes after the announcement, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, questioned the point of the war after 16 years of conflict.

"After 16 years of war in Iraq, after the expenditure of trillions of dollars, after the deaths of 4500 U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the Iraqi government is now trying to throw us out of their country," said Sanders. "All of that suffering, all of that death, all of that huge expenditure of money, for what?"

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