No Decision On Leaving Iraq; Prepared For Any Contingency: US Defense Secretary

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has made it clear that the United States remain prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran, and that no decision has been made for the U.S. forces to leave Iraq.

The United States continues to deploy and reposition troops throughout the region of Iraq and Iran to bolster U.S. security and force protection and to be prepared for any contingency, Esper said at an impromptu Pentagon news conference Monday.

He said he had many conversations with Washington’s partners and allies about the situation in Iraq and the region, and claimed that he received uniform support for U.S. position and action regarding the U.S. drone attack that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.

He called the strike that killed the Quds Force leader a matter of self-defense carried out to protect Americans.

“When we looked at this operation, we knew there would be consequences; we knew there’d be risks,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Esper in briefing reporters.

Deterring Iran from its bad behavior and standing up to that behavior has been going on for 40-plus years, the secretary added. “And … we remain prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran,” the secretary told reporters.

The U.S. message is that the ball is in Iran’s court, and the United States encourages Iran to de-escalate the situation, Esper said, adding that the United States is open to discussing issues and having a more normal relationship with Iran. “But if Iran chooses to go the other path, we are prepared to deal with that and will respond forcefully”.

No decision whatsoever has been made for the United States to leave Iraq, the secretary said, reemphasizing the U.S. commitment to Iraq to defeat ISIS and noting the escalation of attacks by Iranian and proxy groups attacking U.S. forces.

When asked to clarify President Donald Trump’s threat to attack Iran’s cultural sites, Esper said U.S. forces will follow the laws of armed conflict.

The U.S. military leader said there are increased levels of U.S. troops movements in rotary-wing helicopters “We have increased helicopter movement in Iraq between Baghdad and Taji and other camps and stations, and we are bringing in forces from Kuwait,” he explained.

In a resolution presented by the pro-Iranian Shia Muslim bloc on Sunday, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel the US troops from its territory.

Trump has threatened to impose severe sanctions on Iraq in response to the demand.

Around 5,200 US soldiers have been deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition to help the country’s security forces fight the Islamic State.

The coalition forces have already suspended its operations against the dreaded terrorist group in the war-torn country.

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