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.


Former European leaders slam Trump peace plan

Updated 35 min 46 sec ago

Former European leaders slam Trump peace plan

  • The letter expresses deep concern over the plan

LONDON: The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) has gathered 50 former European leaders and foreign ministers to jointly sign a letter condemning US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

British signatories include former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, former International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, and former Foreign Ministers Sir Alan Duncan, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Peter Hain and Ben Bradshaw.

The sharply critical letter, published in British newspaper The Guardian, expresses deep concern over the plan, saying that “instead of promoting peace, it risks fueling the conflict.”

The signatories note that the plan has been met with “widespread opposition in the region, in Europe and in the US.”

The plan “allows for annexation of large and vital parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and legitimizes and encourages illegal Israeli settlement activity,” the letter reads.

The plan “is not a roadmap to a viable two-state solution, nor to any other legitimate solution to the conflict.”

The letter adds: “The plan envisages a formalization of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory, in which two peoples are living side by side without equal rights. Such an outcome has characteristics similar to apartheid — a term we don’t use lightly.”

The signatories believe that the annexation could lead to Palestinian enclaves reminiscent of South Africa’s bantustans during the apartheid era.

The letter follows increased tensions between the White House and the Palestinian Authority, with Washington threatening to withhold aid as part of a diplomatic pressure campaign at the UN.

Chris Doyle, director of Caabu, told Arab News: “We’re delighted to see so many distinguished former European political figures signing up to what is historically a very strong letter about the plans for annexation. It also clearly references that it would produce apartheid-like conditions.”

He said: “That brings into sharp focus exactly how disastrous this plan is. Even if it isn’t implemented as per the document, the plans on the ground have already been enacted effectively.”

He added: “The only way forward are talks based on international resolutions and consensus that envisage a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines with a shared capital in Jerusalem and fair resolution of the refugee issue.”