BAGHDAD/DUBAI – The U.S. military wrote to Iraq on Monday saying it would pull out of the country and would be repositioning forces over the next few days and weeks, a letter seen by Reuters showed, in the aftermath of an American drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
It was not immediately clear if all roughly 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would leave the country. Several helicopters could be heard flying over Baghdad on Monday night. It was not immediately clear if this was a related development. The letter said coalition forces would be using helicopters to evacuate.
The authenticity of the letter, which was addressed to the Iraqi defence ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad, was confirmed to Reuters independently by an Iraqi military source. A Pentagon spokesman said he could not immediately confirm the letter’s authenticity.
In Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wept in grief with hundreds of thousands of mourners thronging the streets of the Iranian capital on Monday at Soleimani’s funeral. He was killed by a U.S. drone at Baghdad airport on Friday on U.S. President Donald Trump’s orders.
“Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement,” the letter stated.
It was signed by U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General William Seely III, commanding general of the U.S.-led military coalition against Islamic State.
CJTF-OIR stands for Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve.
“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” the letter said.
Iran’s demand for U.S. forces to withdraw from the region gained traction on Sunday when Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.
Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both nations needed to implement the resolution, the premier’s office said in a statement. It did not give a timeline.
The letter stated, “During this time, there will be an increase in helicopter travel in and around the International Zone (IZ) of Baghdad.” The International Zone is the formal name of Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government buildings and foreign missions.
Reporting by Reuters News Agency