After meeting the US military leader, Iraq’s defence minister said on Wednesday American forces withdrawing from Syria into Iraq will depart the country within four weeks.
Defence Minister Najah al-Shammari made the remarks to The Associated Press following a meeting with Mark Esper, who arrived in Baghdad to discuss the status of the US troops.
He said the American troops are “transiting” in Iraq and will then head either to Kuwait, Qatar, or back to the United States.
Iraq’s military said Tuesday that US forces leaving northeastern Syria don’t have permission to stay in Iraq in a statement that appeared to contradict Esper, who had said American forces would continue operations against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) to prevent its resurgence in the region.
Esper said on Tuesday that Washington plans to eventually bring US troops withdrawing from Syria back to the United States. He did not provide any timelines.
“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.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said the problem stemmed from “the language that the US used”.
“The US said that the forces will come back to Ain al-Assad in western Iraq, and mount operations against Syria and ISIL from there. And that seems to have angered the Iraqis.
“The prime minister … will meet Esper, and we are hoping for some more clarity on exactly what these deals mean,” he said.
US President Donald Trump has been widely criticised for abandoning the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia – which spearheaded the American-led ground war against ISIL – by pulling out American forces and allowing Turkey to launch a cross-border military operation against the group in northeast Syria.
Late on Tuesday, Russia and Turkey announced a deal to allow the YPG to evacuate 30km (19 miles) away from the border with Turkey, and then Moscow and Ankara will then launch joint military patrols in a “safe zone”.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey will then be sent home.