US defence chief in Iraq for talks amid troop pullout from northern Syria

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said American forces were leaving Syria in phases.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said American forces were leaving Syria in phases.

BAGHDAD • US Defence Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Baghdad for talks yesterday as Washington pulled out its remaining troops from northern Syria through Iraq.

Mr Esper was due to meet his Iraqi counterpart Najah al-Shammari to address concerns among some in the government that the US troops might stay in Iraq.

Iraq's high command said on Tuesday that "no authorisation has been given for these troops to remain on Iraqi soil".

"All of the US troops who have withdrawn from Syria have obtained authorisation to enter Iraqi Kurdistan in order to leave Iraq."

On an earlier leg of his tour in Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, Mr Esper said that the redeploying troops would stay in Iraq "temporarily" before returning to the United States.

He said US forces were pulling out of Syria in phases, and had now moved from the "immediate zone of attack" to a north-eastern corridor out of the country.

"Then we'll have another phase that will draw all the forces out. We will temporarily position in Iraq before bringing the troops home. They will be coming home," Mr Esper told CNN in an interview.

The US has 5,200 troops in Iraq, part of an American-led international coalition fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group.

Their presence at several bases in Iraq has been the subject of debate, with pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias and politicians making frequent demands for their withdrawal.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2019, with the headline 'US defence chief in Iraq for talks amid troop pullout from northern Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe