Bizarre letter adds to US-Iraq chaos
A LETTER from senior officials detailing an imminent withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq has added confusion to the increasingly tense situation on the ground.
The correspondence from US Command in Baghdad to the Iraqi government, which was confirmed as being authentic after its leak overnight, indicated that forces would be moved out of the country.
Its emergence raised concern about the strategic position of America in the region in the wake of the assassination of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week in a drone strike at Baghdad Airport.
That followed days of unrest outside the US Embassy in the Iraqi capital, which the White House blamed on Iranian-backed militia.
President Donald Trump ordered the deployment of additional troops to quell the unrest.
All of that made the letter about the withdrawal of American forces highly confusing, adding to an already chaotic and fast-moving situation.
Overnight, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley insisted the letter didn't represent America's position.
"We are repositioning forces throughout the region," Mr Esper told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon. "That letter is inconsistent of where we are right now."
But as confusion continued, he and General Milley were forced to return a short time later to better explain the letter's origin.
"That letter is a draft," General Milley said.
"It was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released … (it was) poorly worded, (it) implies withdrawal, (but) that is not what's happening."
He described the sending of the letter to the Iraqi Government as "an honest mistake" and conceded it should never have been distributed.
"There's been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period."
The US has not ordered the withdrawal of troops in Iraq, General Milley clarified, but instead is repositioning some of them.
That is what the letter should've given notice of - a type of correspondence that's standard practice in the country.
General Milley seemed to blame the error on General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the US Central Command in Iraq.
"The long and short of it is, it's an honest mistake by people trying to do the right things in highly dynamic situations, et cetera. It should not have been sent."
"It) was sent over to some key Iraqi military guys in order to get things co-ordinated for air movements, etc. Then it went from that guy's hands to another guy's hands and then it went to your hands. Now it's a kerfuffle."
Iraq's parliament at the weekend voted unanimously to urgently work towards a total removal of US forces, which foreign policy pundits see as a clear response to the Soleimani killing.
Mr Esper said America remained committed to its military presence in Iraq to counter Islamic State's movements.
Some 5000 US troops are currently on the ground in Iraq.