Letter says U.S. coalition forces to move some troops out of Baghdad

The Iraqi Parliament and prime minister requested the removal of U.S. troops, according to a draft letter.

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By Courtney Kube, Mosheh Gains and Richard Engel

The commanding general of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq sent a letter to Iraq's Ministry of Defense on Monday stating that the task force will be "repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement."

The letter comes a day after the Iraqi Parliament voted to ask its government to end the U.S. military presence in the country. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq met with the country's prime minister Monday to discuss the topic.

But the Pentagon’s top leaders said the U.S. military has no plans to leave Iraq. “There has been no decision whatsoever to leave,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Monday afternoon.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, also denied the United States is leaving, saying the memo was “a mistake.” He called it an unsigned draft and said it was sent to the Iraqis to coordinate U.S. troop movement around Baghdad.

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Milley said the words “onward movement” from the letter were “poorly worded” and implies withdrawal, which is not the case.

A U.S. official in Baghdad also says the unsigned letter was provided to the Iraqis as a notification of increased troop movements around Baghdad in the coming days, including some who are leaving Baghdad because their mission against the Islamic State militant group and their training mission have been suspended. They will move to Kuwait. The official said, however, that this movement is preparing for the possible order to draw down the troops.

The prime minister also requested the removal of U.S. troops, according to the letter.

"We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure," William Seely, the commanding general of Task Force - Iraq, wrote.

A military official with the coalition told NBC News that the letter "is not a withdrawal" of all U.S. forces from Iraq.

“It is a repositioning of a few hundred troops mainly from Baghdad to safer areas in the region, including other locations within Iraq. Many will be going to Kuwait,” the official said.

The request comes days after a U.S. airstrike killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, early Friday local time near Baghdad International Airport. Soleimani was the leader of the Quds Force, an elite Iranian military and intelligence unit, and one of the country's most powerful military and political figures.

The troops being repositioned are involved in training and administrative duties that are currently paused because of the security situation, the coalition official said.