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Esper in Iraq to Discuss Troops        10/23 06:22

   Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Baghdad Wednesday, as chaos swirled 
along the Turkey-Syria border and Iraqi leaders chafed over reports the U.S. 
may want to increase the number of troops based in Iraq at least temporarily.

   BAGHDAD (AP) -- Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Baghdad Wednesday, 
as chaos swirled along the Turkey-Syria border and Iraqi leaders chafed over 
reports the U.S. may want to increase the number of troops based in Iraq at 
least temporarily.

   Esper has said that under the current plan, all U.S. troops leaving Syria 
will go to western Iraq and the military would continue to conduct operations 
against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence in the region. He 
later added that the troops would be there temporarily until they are able to 
go home, but no time period has been set. He said Wednesday that the U.S. has 
no plans to leave those troops in Iraq "interminably."

   Iraq's military, however, said Tuesday that U.S. troops leaving Syria and 
heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country, even 
as the American forces continue to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey's 
invasion of the border region. Esper said Wednesday he plans to talk with Iraqi 
leaders about the matter.

   Meanwhile, Russia and Turkey reached an agreement on Tuesday that would 
deploy their forces across nearly its entire northeastern border to fill the 
void left by President Donald Trump's abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces. It was 
unclear Wednesday what that means for U.S. forces.

   Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to 
withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone 
call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces 
that Turkey considers terrorists. The pullout largely abandons the Kurdish 
allies who have fought the Islamic State group alongside U.S. troops for 
several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern 
Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.

   Esper said the troops going into Iraq would have two missions, one to help 
defend Iraq against a resurgence of Islamic State militants and another to 
monitor and perform a counter-IS mission.

   The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an 
agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 
2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after the 
Islamic State group began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014.

   The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political 
sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. 
occupation during the war that began in 2003.  Iraqi leaders may privately 
condone more U.S. forces to battle IS, but worry if it's widely known that 
there will be backlash from the citizens.

   U.S. troops in Syria fought for five years alongside Kurdish-led forces in 
northeast Syria and succeeded in bringing down the rule of the Islamic State 
group there at the cost of thousands of Kurdish fighters' lives. Under the new 
agreement, much of that territory would be handed over to U.S. rivals.

   The biggest winners are Turkey and Russia. Turkey would get sole control 
over areas of the Syrian border captured in its invasion, while Turkish, 
Russian and Syrian government forces would oversee the rest of the border 
region. America's former U.S. allies, the Kurdish fighters, are left hoping 
Moscow and Damascus will preserve some pieces of their autonomy dreams.


(KR)

 
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