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Pentagon’s confusion on Iraq: Staying or leaving?

Within the short time frame between the killing of Soleimani and today, the US leadership has confronted a series of conflicts amongst themselves on the matter. The US forces in Iraq announced their intended departure, contrary to Trump's statements, which was challenged by the Pentagon but later confirmed by the US army public affairs. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi and Congress look to limit Trump's war powers.

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Citing a vote in the Iraqi parliament, the head of US forces in Iraq has informed the government in Baghdad that the US-led coalition will be leaving the country, in a letter that contradicts President Trump’s earlier statements.

“In due deference to the sovereignty” of Iraq, the Combined Joint Task Force Iraq will be “repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement,” Marine General William H. Seely III wrote in a letter to the Iraqi Defense Ministry on Monday, which has surfaced online.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” Seely wrote, explaining that the process will involve increased helicopter traffic into and out of Baghdad’s “green zone,” mainly during the night-time, with the Coalition seeking to “minimize and mitigate” disturbances to civilians.

There was initially some confusion about the letter’s authenticity, with the Pentagon declining to confirm it was real. There’s been no decision to leave Iraq. Period,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.

https://twitter.com/rabrowne75/status/1214294196493914118

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that the letter Seely had sent was only a draft and that releasing it was a “mistake.”

However, US Army public affairs officer Rick Dickson stated shortly after the news broke that the letter is “official and accurate.”

The Iraqi parliament adopted a resolution on Sunday seeking to “end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil,” prompted by last week’s US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and a number of Iraqi Shia militia officials at the Baghdad International Airport.

Read more: US killing of Soleimani: what we know

US President Donald Trump responded by threatening sanctions and saying the US will not leave until the Iraqis “pay us back” for an airbase that he said cost billions of dollars to build.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo likewise dismissed the non-binding resolution, saying that he was “confident that the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign.”

The US-led coalition forces were sent to Iraq in 2014, to help the government in Baghdad confront Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists that had taken a significant portion of Iraqi territory, all of which has since been liberated.

Even members of the “Gang of Eight,” the group of lawmakers who are supposed to be regularly briefed on classified intelligence matters, do not appear to have received information about the strike before it occurred.

Within the short time frame between the killing of Soleimani and today, the US leadership has confronted a series of conflicts amongst themselves on the matter.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues that members would soon vote on a War Powers resolution aimed at limiting the president’s military actions in Iran.

“Last week, the Trump administration conducted a provocative and disproportionate military airstrike targeting high-level Iranian military officials,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. “This action endangered our servicemembers, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.

“As members of Congress, our first responsibility is to keep the American people safe. For this reason, we are concerned that the administration took this action without the consultation of Congress and without respect for Congress’s war powers granted to it by the Constitution.”

After news of the strike broke, Democratic leaders in Congress complained that they were not given advance notice of the strike.

Even members of the “Gang of Eight,” the group of lawmakers who are supposed to be regularly briefed on classified intelligence matters, do not appear to have received information about the strike before it occurred.

The department of defense and the state department reportedly plan to brief members of Congress Wednesday on the drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Due to the chaos that accompanied Iraq conflict, trump’s impeachment trial has been put on the back seat. It’s unclear when Nancy Pelosi will transmit the two articles of impeachment passed by the House last month, but many expect the speaker to do so later this week.

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