WASHINGTON — Iraq's prime minister said that the U.S. military sent a letter regarding American troop withdrawal from the country, Reuters reported Tuesday, further deepening confusion over plans for troops in the region.
It's the latest in a messy string of events sparked by a U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's top general.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said that his country received an English and Arabic version of the letter but that they were not identical. Therefore, Iraq requested clarifications on U.S. plans.
The news comes on the heels of the Pentagon's admission that the letter informing Iraq's Defense Ministry that U.S.-led coalition troops would leave Iraq "was a mistake."
"A draft unsigned letter that was acquired by an Iraqi official has no import. It has no value whatsoever," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday in an interview with CNN.
"I will say this, the United States is not withdrawing from Iraq. In fact, in my conversations with my counterpart, the Iraqi defense minister, I conveyed to him that we do want to stay in Iraq and we want to continue the important defeat ISIS mission," he added.
"That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should never have been released," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.
"Poorly worded, implies withdrawal," Milley said. "That is not what's happening," he continued.
Alongside Milley, Esper told reporters earlier in the day that the U.S. was "repositioning forces throughout the region."
"Beyond that with regard to the letter, which I've read once, I can't tell you the veracity of that letter," Esper said, adding that the "letter is inconsistent of where we are right now."
"There has been no decision whatsoever to leave," he said.
The letter to Iraq's Defense Ministry came to light a day after Iraq's parliament voted to expel all foreign forces from the country.
Iraq's parliament on Sunday passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the removal of American forces and other foreign troops in the wake of a U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's top general, Qasem Soleimani.