UPDATE: The Department of Defense has pushed back on the letter from AFP and Reuters.
The United States military has informed Iraq this week that it is preparing to “move out” of the country, according to an official letter.
In a letter verified by AFP and Reuters, William H. Seely III, Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps, wrote to Iraq’s Minister of Defense:
Sir, in due 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.
In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner.
During this time, there will be an increase in helicopter travel in and around the International Zone (IZ) of Baghdad. This increased traffic will include CH-47, UH-60, and AH-64 security escort helicopters.
Coalition Forces will take appropriate measures to minimize and mitigate the disturbance to the public. In addition, we will conduct these operations during hours of darkness to help alleviate and perception that we may be bringing more Coalition Forces into the IZ.
As we begin implementing this next phase of operations, I want to reiterate the value of our friendship and partnership. We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.
President Donald Trump stated over the weekend that if Iraq forces the U.S. military to leave that it will be hit very tough sanctions.
“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there,” Trump said of Iraq. “It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” Trump continued. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
The move comes after Trump last week ordered the U.S. military to take out Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, which is a designated terrorist organization.
Soleimani was killed when an American military drone fired a missile at a convoy that he was traveling in, along with Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, who headed the Iranian-linked Popular Mobilization Forces, as the convoy left Baghdad International Airport.
In a non-binding vote, the Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to expel all foreign forces out of the country.
The U.S. and its allies across the region have been embracing for anticipated retaliatory attacks by Iran, which is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Trump has since issued a series of stern warnings to Iran, saying that any retaliatory attacks will be met with severe consequences.
Trump tweeted on Saturday, “Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters.”
“He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations,” Trump continued. “Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
This report has been updated to include additional information.