US 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 US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who arrived as Iraqi leaders chafed over reports the US 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 all US 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 Wednesday that the US has no plans to leave those troops in Iraq “interminably” and that he plans to talk with Iraqi leaders about the matter.
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