International AffairsMilitary

Iraq: US troops leaving Syria don’t have permission to stay in country

U.S. forces that crossed into Iraq as part of a pull-out from Syria do not have permission to stay and can only be there in transit, the Iraqi military said on Tuesday.

Syrians threw stones and yelled at US military vehicles as they drove through the border town of Qamishli. They were leaving northeast Syria, part of the withdrawal ordered by President Donald Trump.

Iraq’s military says U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country.

The Iraqi statement contradicts the Pentagon’s announcement that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants and “to help defend Iraq”.

A senior U.S. defense official later clarified that the situation was still fluid and plans could change.

“All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdistan Region so that they may be transported outside Iraq. There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq,” the Iraqi military said in a statement.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said under the current plan, all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence.

Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.

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