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Iraq: US Forces Crossing over from Syria Cannot Stay

Iraq: US Forces Crossing over from Syria Cannot Stay

Tuesday, 22 October, 2019 - 08:45
Boys wave towards a convoy of US vehicles withdrawing from northern Syria, in Erbil, Iraq October 21, 2019. (Reuters)

The Iraqi military said on Tuesday that US forces pulling out from Syria and crossing over into neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country.

American troops currently withdrawing from Syria have acquired permission from the Iraqi Kurdish regional government to enter Iraq to later be transferred out of the country, the army said in a statement.

It added that these troops do not have any approval to stay in Iraq.

The statement appears to contradict US Defense Secretary Mark Esper who has said that under the current plan, all US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct operations against the ISIS group to prevent its resurgence.

Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.

The additional US troops would add to the more than 5,000 American troops already based in the country, training Iraqi forces and helping to ensure that ISIS militants do not make a comeback.

On Monday, Iraqi Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani said the US pullout from Syria was “undesirable” but that the semi-autonomous region appreciated the US historical role in protecting it.

US troops had “played a major role” protecting the Kurdistan region over the past three decades, he said.

“They have fought and bled alongside the Peshmerga forces in defending the Kurdistan region.”

The statement underscored the cautious reaction from Iraqi Kurdish leaders who did not condemn neighboring Turkey for an assault on northeastern Syria that has sent thousands of Kurds fleeing. Iraqi Kurdistan relies on Turkish pipelines to export oil and the countries have close political ties.

The Turkish border offensive, following a US troop pullback that in effect gave Turkey a green light, ended Syrian Kurdish rule of “Rojava” - their name for northeastern Syria - and left Iraqi Kurdistan as the Kurds’ only self-governed land.

US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision earlier this month to withdraw troops from northern Syria has been criticized in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of loyal Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside US troops against ISIS.

Outraged that their Syrian kin were betrayed by another US policy decision, protesters in Iraqi Kurdish cities burned Turkish flags last week and some said that America had betrayed the Kurds yet again.

Iraqi Kurds are still reeling from a failed independence bid in 2017. They say the attempt was wrecked by US criticism of their referendum on full Kurdish self-rule, a stance they see as a betrayal by Washington.

The US criticism, plus Turkish and Iranian condemnation, paved the way for Iraqi government forces to retake areas under Kurdish control since ISIS seized vast parts of Iraq.

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