Iraq military: American troops leaving Syria cannot stay in the country

A convoy of US military vehicles arrives near the Iraqi Kurdish town of Bardarash in the Dohuk governorate after withdrawing from northern Syria on October 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Iraq military: American troops leaving Syria cannot stay in the country

  • Iraqi military statement appears to contradict US Defense Secretary Mark Esper
  • ‘These forces do not have any approval to remain in Iraq’

BAGHDAD: US troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country, Iraq’s military said Tuesday.
The statement appears to contradict US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has said that under the current plan, all US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military would continue to conduct operations against the Daesh group to prevent its resurgence in the region.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to the Middle East, Esper did not rule out the idea that US forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he said those details will be worked out over time.
His comments were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-Daesh fight could look like. Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the estimated 1,000 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.
The statement by the Iraqi military, however, said that all American troops that withdrew from Syria have permission to enter northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and then from there to be relocated out of Iraq.
“These forces do not have any approval to remain in Iraq,” it said. The statement did not specify a time limit for how long the troops can stay there.
President Donald Trump ordered the bulk of US troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers terrorists.
The pullout largely abandons the Syrian Kurdish allies who have fought the Daesh group alongside US troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 US troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Meanwhile, US troops continued to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes have continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the US-allied Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out on Thursday between US and Turkish leaders. The cease-fire expires Tuesday night.
Esper has said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-Daesh mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the Daesh group. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”
The US currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The US pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after IS began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014.
The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider US occupation during the war that began in 2003.


Turkey probes dozens over quake social media posts

Updated 10 min 3 sec ago

Turkey probes dozens over quake social media posts

  • Suspects accused of sharing fake images about the quake on social media
  • Death toll from Friday’s quake had reached 39 people as hopes dimmed of finding more survivors

ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors are investigating dozens of people for “provocative” social media messages about the deadly earthquake in eastern Turkey, reports said Monday.
The death toll from Friday’s quake in Elazig province had reached 39 people as hopes dimmed of finding more survivors amid the rubble.
The Ankara prosecutor’s office is checking 50 individuals on suspicion of “spreading fear and panic” and “insulting the Turkish people, the Turkish republic and the state institutions,” the Hurriyet daily said.
The suspects are accused of sharing fake images about the quake on social media.
Turkish authorities were winding up their rescue efforts on Monday.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters that 24,000 tents had been provided, 1,000 container shelters were being built, and funds released to repair damaged buildings.
Thirty-five of the victims died in Elazig and four in the neighboring province of Malatya, officials said.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 86 injured were still being treated in hospitals — 18 of them in intensive care units.