Washington Failed to Brief Key Anti-ISIS Partners on Iraq Emergency Exit Plan

Matthew Petti

The U.S. military has been making preparations to comply with a request to leave Iraq by the country’s parliament and acting prime minister, leaving the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition without a backup plan for continuing its war against the deadly terror group.

The assassination of high-level Iranian commander Gen. Qassim Suleimani by a U.S. drone on the road to Baghdad International Airport on January 2 enraged political leaders in Iraq, who demanded an end to the U.S. presence. U.S. counterterrorism partners on the ground were left unprepared for the Iraqi reaction, as the Trump administration had never discussed the possibility that Iraq would oust U.S. troops.

The National Interest has learned from four different people involved with U.S. counterterrorism planning that U.S. officials had not previously discussed with partners participating in its counter-ISIS coalition, which relies on U.S. supply lines running through Iraq, what the next steps would be if those supply routes were dismantled.

This new layer of chaos is surfacing just as the coalition has suspended its counter-ISIS operations inside Iraq in the wake of a decision by Iraq’s outgoing prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, to ask U.S. troops to leave the country. In response, Brig. Gen. William H. Seeley III wrote a letter about “repositioning forces over the coming days” to the Iraqi ministry of defense. The letter leaked to social media on Monday.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” Seeley stated.

Reuters and Agence France Presse confirmed the authenticity of the letter with both U.S. and Iraqi sources, but U.S. officials soon walked back its contents. Soon after American press verified that the letter existed, Gen. Mark Milley told reporters that it was an unsigned draft sent out for coordination purposes—but he did not deny its authenticity. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sought out reporters at the Pentagon and informed them that there had been no “decision to leave Iraq.”

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