How long could a nagging war of attrition between Iran and U.S. military forces in Iraq go on? Judging by the gap between President Donald Trump’s pronouncements and his actions, it seems that Iran has plenty of time to play in the Iraqi arena. One working assumption has already taken root: Trump is not interested in all-out war, and neither is Iran.
But between all-out war and tense quiet there is still ample – and dangerous – room for activity by the two adversaries, particularly when neither one has a well thought out plan for resolving the crisis between them. The resounding farce about the intention to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in conjunction with the deployment of additional forces elsewhere in the Middle East will attest to that.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered an interesting explanation for a letter publicized on Monday concerning the intention to withdraw from Iraq. “It was an honest mistake,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon. “That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released. Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening.”
Milley admitted that the letter, draft or not, was shared with the Iraqi military for coordination purposes. But it was never sent as a formal memorandum, he stated.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was more decisive. “We have no plans to leave Iraq,” he declared. Someone else, none other than commander of U.S. forces in Iraq Brig. Gen. William Seely, was apparently the individual who drafted the letter, and it’s doubtful that he simply invented its contents from his fervid imagination.
Is the United States truly intending to withdraw from Iraq? Trump made it clear only one day earlier that he doesn’t intend to do so. After the Iraqi parliament passed a law compelling the government to remove foreign forces from its territory, Trump said his administration would impose harshsanctions if U.S. troops were expelled. “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,” Trump said on Air Force One. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
Trump also threatened that in the event that Iraq would insist on the withdrawal of American troops, it would have to pay the U.S. huge amounts of money as compensation for the construction of an air force base in Iraq and for other investments the U.S. had made in the county.