US Forces ‘Transiting’ from Syria Will Leave Iraq in 4 Weeks
Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari revealed on Wednesday that US troops withdrawing from northeastern Syria to Iraq are "transiting" and will leave the country within four weeks.
He made his remarks to The Associated Press after meeting with his American counterpart Mark Esper, who was in Baghdad on an unannounced visit.
Iraqi leaders had chafed over reports the US 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 do not have permission to stay in Iraq in a statement that appeared to contradict Esper, who has said that all US troops leaving Syria would continue to conduct operations against the ISIS 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 US 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 four weeks."
The Iraqi minister said the planes that would transport the American troops out of Iraq have already arrived.
Esper’s trip also follows an agreement on Tuesday between Ankara and Moscow that Syrian and Russian forces will deploy in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey.
Hours after that deal was announced, the Turkish defense ministry said the United States had told Turkey the withdrawal of Kurdish militants was complete from the “safe zone” Ankara demands in northern Syria.
The Russia-Turkey agreement struck in the Black Sea resort of Sochi endorses the return of Syrian regime forces to the border alongside Russian troops, replacing the Americans who had patrolled the region for years with their Kurdish allies.
President Donald Trump decided earlier this month to withdraw all 1,000 US troops from the region, a move widely criticized as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside US forces against ISIS.
Since then, the Pentagon has said the Trump administration is considering keeping some troops in northeastern Syria to help ensure ISIS and others do not profit from oil fields in the region.