Top American general denies troop withdrawal from Iraq amid heightening tensions between Iran and the United States

According to top American general Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a validated letter from the US Department of Defense to the Iraqui Defense Ministry “incorrectly suggested that the US was withdrawing troops” from Iraq Monday, just a day after Iraqui lawmakers voted unanimously on an unbinding act to expel the US military from their country (CNN, 2020). General Milley sought to clarify confusion Monday by calling the letter a “mistake” and “poorly worded” and furthermore stating that “it should not have been released.” According to the New York Times, the Iraqui government is also reconsidering its vote for American expulsion from the country, with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi stating he is open to the idea of something less than a complete departure. ~

According to USA Today, the current tensions began in late December after the Shiite Muslim militia Kata’ib Hezbollah, backed by Iran, killed a US civillian contractor in a rocket-attack on an Iraqui military base in Kirkuk, which was used by American and foreign contractors to train Iraqui security personnel. The US military responded to this two days later by bombing three sites in Iraq, including command posts and weapons storage sites used by Kata’ib Hezbollah. Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militiamen and their PMF supporters, angry about the US airstrikes on Iraq, then proceeded to attack the American embassy in Baghdad early last week, resulting in a quick reaction by the US government to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani via airstrike in Baghdad last Friday. Soleimani – who is the head of Iran’s elite Quds military force, a terrorist under American law as of 2011, and one of the most powerful figures in Iran and the Islamic Republic – was reportedly actively plotting actions that “would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk” in imminent fashion, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The killing of the Iranian general sparked outrage among Iraqi and Iranian mourners, as well as controversy among American lawmakers, with approving Republicans applauding President Trump’s actions and fearful Democrats warning of the repercussions and legality of such an action. ~

The killing of Soleimani was met with a fiery response from Iranian officials Friday, with Iran’s Defense Minister, Amir Hatami, stating that the Islamic Republic will take “crushing revenge” for Soleimani’s assassination “from all those involved and responsible.” President Trump responded to these threats by moving over 3,000 American troops to the region and further threatening to strike 52 cultural sites if Iran retaliates. This was followed by Iran announcing Sunday they will be pulling out of all nuclear deal commitments pledged in the Iranian Nuclear Deal of 2015, despite the country already surpassing uranium enrichment levels and stockpile limits earlier this year. Although it remains unclear when and whether Iran will retaliate for President Trump’s decision to kill General Soleimani, a US defense official stated Monday that Soleimani’s funeral, which took place Monday in Tehran, may mark the conclusion of the mourning period for Soleimani’s death, and that the next 24 to 36 hours will “most likely” reveal whether Iran intends to retaliate on revenge for the general’s death. ~

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