US forces that crossed into Iraq as part of a pullout from northeastern Syria do not have permission to stay and can only be there in transit, Iraq’s military said.
An Iraqi statement on Tuesday contradicted the Pentagon’s announcement that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) and “to help defend Iraq”.
“All US forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdish region so that they may be transported outside Iraq. There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq,” the statement said.
US defence chief Mark Esper said he had spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.
A senior US defence official later clarified the situation was still fluid and plans could change.
Esper said on Tuesday that Washington aimed to bring US troops withdrawing from Syria back to the United States.
“The aim isn’t to stay in Iraq interminably. The aim is to pull our soldiers out and eventually get them back home,” Esper said in front of a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
On Monday, a convoy of US troops crossed from Syria into Iraq’s northern province of Dohuk, in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
It was unclear whether the US troops will use Iraq as a base to launch ground raids into Syria and carry out air attacks against ISIL fighters.
The additional US troops would add to the more than 5,000 American forces already based in the country, training Iraqi forces and helping to ensure ISIL does not make a comeback.
US President Donald Trump has been widely criticised for abandoning the Kurdish Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia – which spearheaded the American-led ground war against ISIL – and allowing Turkey to launch a cross-border military operation against the group.
Residents of a Kurdish-dominated Syrian city pelted US troops with potatoes and shouted expletives at them as they drove through.
A video posted on Monday by the Kurdish news agency showed a convoy of armoured vehicles driving through Qamishli.
Angry residents hurled potatoes and shouted “no America” and “America liar” in English. One vehicle backed up over the pavement, in an attempt to get away from the people.
“Just like rats, America, run away. Long live the resistance and long live the YPG,” a man holding a photo shouted.
Some US military members, current and former, have also publicly denounced the YPG’s abandonment.
Mark Giaconia, a 46-year-old former US Army Special Forces soldier, recalled camaraderie with the Kurds he fought alongside in Iraq more than 10 years ago.
“I trusted them with my life,” said Giaconia. “I fought with these guys and watched them die for us.”
The Trump administration’s decision to “leave them hanging” stirred deep emotions, Giaconia said.
“It’s like a violation of trust,” he said.
The White House declined to comment.