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Iraq:US Troops From Syria Have 4 Weeks 10/23 06:11

   U.S troops withdrawing from northeastern Syria to Iraq are "transiting" and 
will leave the country within four weeks, Iraq's defense minister said 
Wednesday.

   BAGHDAD (AP) -- U.S troops withdrawing from northeastern Syria to Iraq are 
"transiting" and will leave the country within four weeks, Iraq's defense 
minister said Wednesday.

   Najah al-Shammari made the remarks to The Associated Press following a 
meeting in Baghdad with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who arrived 
as Iraqi leaders chafed over reports the U.S. may want to increase the number 
of troops based in Iraq, at least temporarily.

   Iraq's military said Tuesday that American troops leaving northeastern Syria 
don't have permission to stay in Iraq in a statement that appeared to 
contradict Esper, who has said that all U.S. troops leaving Syria would 
continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group from Iraq to 
prevent its resurgence in the region.

   He later added that the troops would be there temporarily until they are 
able to go home, but no time period has been set.

   Esper said earlier on Wednesday that the U.S. has no plans to leave those 
troops in Iraq "interminably" and that he plans to talk with Iraqi leaders 
about the matter.

   Al-Shammari said Esper traveled to Iraq based on an invitation from the 
Iraqis. In Wednesday's talks, he said the two sides agreed that the American 
troops crossing from Syria are "transiting" through Iraq and will then head to 
either Kuwait, Qatar or the United States "within a time frame not exceeding 
four weeks."

   The Iraqi minister said the planes that would transport the American troops 
out of Iraq have already arrived.

   Esper's visit to Baghdad came a day after Russia and Turkey reached an 
agreement that would deploy their forces along nearly the entire northeastern 
border to fill the void left after President Donald Trump's abrupt withdrawal 
of U.S. forces from the area, a move that essentially cleared the way for the 
Turkish invasion earlier this month.

   It was unclear Wednesday what that means for U.S. forces.

   Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to 
withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated in a phone call 
that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters 
whom Ankara considers terrorists.

   The pullout largely abandons the Kurdish allies who have fought the Islamic 
State group alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. 
troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.

   Esper said the troops going into Iraq would have two missions, one to help 
defend Iraq against a resurgence of Islamic State militants and another to 
monitor and perform a counter-IS mission.

   The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an 
agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 
2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after the 
Islamic State group began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014.

   The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political 
sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. 
occupation during the war that began in 2003. Iraqi leaders may privately 
condone more U.S. forces to battle IS, but worry if it's widely known that 
there will be backlash from the citizens.

   U.S. troops in Syria fought for five years alongside Kurdish-led forces in 
northeast Syria and succeeded in bringing down the rule of IS militants --- at 
the cost of thousands of Kurdish fighters' lives. Under the new agreement, much 
of that territory would be handed over to U.S. rivals.

   The biggest winners are Turkey and Russia. Turkey would get sole control 
over areas of the Syrian border captured in its invasion, while Turkish, 
Russian and Syrian government forces would oversee the rest of the border 
region. America's former U.S. allies, the Kurdish fighters, are left hoping 
Moscow and Damascus will preserve some pieces of the Syrian Kurdish autonomy in 
the region.


(KR)

 
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