Iraq:US Troops From Syria Have 4 Weeks 10/23 06:11
U.S troops withdrawing from northeastern Syria to Iraq are "transiting" and
will leave the country within four weeks, Iraq's defense minister said
BAGHDAD (AP) -- U.S troops withdrawing from northeastern Syria to Iraq are
"transiting" and will leave the country within four weeks, Iraq's defense
minister said Wednesday.
Najah al-Shammari made the remarks to The Associated Press following a
meeting in Baghdad with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who arrived
as Iraqi leaders chafed over reports the U.S. may want to increase the number
of troops based in Iraq, at least temporarily.
Iraq's military said Tuesday that American troops leaving northeastern Syria
don't have permission to stay in Iraq in a statement that appeared to
contradict Esper, who has said that all U.S. troops leaving Syria would
continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group from Iraq 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.
Esper said earlier on Wednesday that the U.S. has no plans to leave those
troops in Iraq "interminably" and that he plans to talk with Iraqi leaders
about the matter.
Al-Shammari said Esper traveled to Iraq based on an invitation from the
Iraqis. In Wednesday's talks, he said the two sides agreed that the American
troops crossing from Syria are "transiting" through Iraq and will then head to
either Kuwait, Qatar or the United States "within a time frame not exceeding
The Iraqi minister said the planes that would transport the American troops
out of Iraq have already arrived.
Esper's visit to Baghdad came a day after Russia and Turkey reached an
agreement that would deploy their forces along nearly the entire northeastern
border to fill the void left after President Donald Trump's abrupt withdrawal
of U.S. forces from the area, a move that essentially cleared the way for the
Turkish invasion earlier this month.
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 stated in a phone call
that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters
whom Ankara 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 IS militants --- 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 the Syrian Kurdish autonomy in