Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul al-Mahdi on Tuesday ridiculed a draft US letter that implied US troops might withdraw from the country, a blunder by US officials that has fueled tensions in Baghdad.
The document in question was an unsigned draft of a memo from the US Command in Baghdad notifying the Iraqi government that some US forces in the country would be repositioned.
Al-Mahdi confirmed he received the letter that the US’ top general, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, admitted on Monday was released “by mistake” and described as “poorly worded.”
“Yesterday, we received the letter from the US Command that addressed the withdrawal. Four or five hours later, it was announced it was a mistake. The letter clearly indicates withdrawal from Iraq,” al-Mahdi said during his speech addressing the Iraqi cabinet on Tuesday.
He added that they received the letter in English and Arabic, and that the two contradicted each other in parts.
“When we told them the Arabic text is different from the English, they sent us another version that matched the English version,” al-Mahdi said.
“This is not a paper that fell out of a photocopy machine or something that came by accident. They told us this is a draft but this is what [we] received. How do we act as a state?” al-Mahdi said.
Since the letter’s publication, US officials have denied that their troops will withdraw from Iraq, while US President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied knowledge of the letter.
“What was said yesterday, I didn’t know about. I really don’t know about it,” Trump said
A White House official told CNN that Trump was “concerned” about the mistake and that he “wanted it cleaned up.”
The letter caused a flurry of confusion on Monday, as military officials in Washington and Baghdad were initially unable to offer a definitive answer about the letter’s veracity or whether it indicated that US troops were, in fact, about to be moved out of Iraq.
The letter’s existence was revealed after the Iraqi Parliament voted Sunday to work towards removing all foreign troops from the country, following a fatal US drone strike on Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani on Iraqi soil that dramatically escalated tensions between Baghdad and Washington.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper would not say directly whether US forces would leave if asked to by the Iraqi government, instead telling reporters Tuesday that he believed most Iraqis wanted a continued US presence.
When asked whether the US would withdraw at the request of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Esper highlighted the “strategic importance” of the US-Iraqi partnership.
“So we’ll take all those one step at a time,” he said. “There’s a few procedural mechanisms, hurdles if you will, that the Iraqi government would need to go through. We remain in constant contact with them on that.”