WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leaked letter from the U.S. military to Iraq that created impressions of an imminent U.S. withdrawal on Monday was a poorly worded draft document meant only to underscore increased movement of forces, the top U.S. military officer told reporters.
“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of reporters, stressing there was no withdrawal in the works.
The leaked letter came a day after Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country. Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both nations needed to implement the resolution, the premier’s office said in a statement.
Milley said the United States wanted to explain to the Iraqi military that there had been increased movement of aircraft, including transporting forces between bases in Iraq and also moving them into Iraq from Kuwait.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have heightened since a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport on Friday.
Milley declined to say how many forces were in Iraq currently. The U.S. military has said the number is around 5,000.
“It (the draft letter) was sent over to some key Iraqi military guys in order to get things coordinated for air movements, etc. Then it went from that guy’s hands to another guy’s hands and then it went to your hands. Now it’s a kerfuffle,” Milley said.
Milley said the unsigned draft document was sent around to get input from Iraqi officials, the kind of thing he said he does regularly.
“I send drafts all over Washington D.C. that aren’t signed to get people’s input and feedback,” Milley said.
“The long and short of it is: It’s an honest mistake by people trying to do the right things in highly dynamic situations, etc. It should not have been sent.”
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Chris Reese and Rosalba O'Brien