The Iraqi government is now taking legal action against the uninvited presence of the U.S. forces in Iraq.
The U.S. forces entered western Iraq without authorization as it withdrew from Syria.
The Iraqi government is also seeking international help after U.S. troops entered western Iraq without any authorization from the Iraq government.
Baghdad did not give permission for U.S. forces to stay in Iraq, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi reaffirmed on Wednesday. The Iraqi PM said: “We ask the international community and the United Nations to perform their roles in this matter.”
Iraqi PM said the U.S. troops withdrawing from northeast Syria do not have permission to stay in Iraq, adding that his government is taking “all international legal measures” in response to their unauthorized entry into the country.
“We have [already] issued an official statement saying that and are taking all international legal measures. We ask the international community and the United Nations to perform their roles in this matter,” the premier said.
The statement comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in the country on Wednesday in an unannounced visit while reaffirming Tuesday’s statement from the Iraqi military which only allowed transit through Iraq for the U.S. troops.
“All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria have received approval to enter the Kurdistan region to be transported out of Iraq, however, there is no permission for these forces to stay,” the statement read.
The Iraqi military statement 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 the Islamic State group (IS) and to help “defend” Iraq.
Esper said Tuesday that U.S. troops transiting from Syria would use Iraq to make preparations to go home and assured that the aim is not to “stay in Iraq interminably.”
Esper did not specify how long the U.S. troops would be staying.
In addition, Esper said Tuesday during his visit to Saudi Arabia that the troops will be prepared in Iraq to return to their homeland, without specifying the deadline for their return.
“The goal is not to stay in Iraq endlessly but to withdraw our soldiers and eventually bring them back home,” Esper said at Prince Sultan Air Force Base near Riyadh.
U.S. removed its troops from northern Syria on foot of a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias in the region.
The U.S. already has 5,000 troops in Iraq under an arrangement with the Iraqi government, but the agreement is a controversial one, with many Iraqis regarding it as continued occupation after the disastrous 2003 U.S. invasion.
Hundreds of vehicles carrying U.S. troops crossed the Syrian-Iraqi border through the Kurdish region of northern Iraq on Monday, and it is estimated that more than 5,000 troops are currently stationed in that Arab country under a bilateral agreement.
After the end of the war in 2011, the U.S. military presence in Iraq had diminished considerably, a fact that changed in 2014 with the threat of IS.
The U.S. military presence continues to be a sensitive and politicized issue as part of Iraqi society considers it an occupation.
Transit only, says Iraqi military
The U.S. forces that crossed into Iraq after pulling out from Syria can only use its territory for transit and do not have permission to stay, the Iraqi military said on Tuesday.
The Iraqi statement adds more uncertainty to a vision of what will actually happen to the troops after their withdrawal from Syria.
In the last few days, the U.S. military were simultaneously reported to be “going home” – that’s according to President Trump – and continuing their mission in Iraq to conduct operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in a plan outlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He also mentioned some soldiers may remain in Syria to protect oil fields from IS takeover.
The U.S. pulled its forces out of Iraq in 2011 ending nine years of war that started with missile strikes on Baghdad to oust President Saddam Hussein, but they went back after IS began to gain ground in 2014. The number of US forces in the country remains a sensitive and politicized issue after the war that some Iraqis considered to be a US occupation.
U.S. forces leaving Syria for Iraq, not returning home: Pentagon
But an earlier report said:
Esper told reporters traveling with him as he left Washington Saturday heading for Afghanistan, that all U.S. troops currently leaving Syria would be sent to Iraq in order to pursue operations against the IS.
The Pentagon chief’s statements came as U.S. President Donald Trump claimed he was bringing U.S. soldiers home from “endless wars” in the Middle East.
Before he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday, Esper made clear that, according to current plans, the militaries are not going back to their country and the U.S. is not departing from the region, suggesting that counterterrorism missions could be conducted from Iraq into Syria.
The official’s remarks were the first to layout where U.S. troops will go as they walk out from Syria. He also said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift around 1,000 troops from Syria into western Iraq.
Yet, Trump tweeted “USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!”
The president declared the past week that Washington had no stake in defending the Kurdish fighters as Turkey conducted a launched an offensive into northeastern Syria against them before a military truce.
“It’s time for us to come home,” Trump said, defending his removal of U.S. troops from that part of Syria and praising his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.
When asked about the fact that his comments were contradicting those of the president and the troops were not coming home, Esper said “Well, they will eventually,” adding that the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”