Iraq denies MP’s claim that France, Germany and Australia requested to withdraw troops

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iraq’s Joint Operations Command has denied a claim by a member of its security and defence committee that France, Germany and Australia asked Baghdad to prepare for their forces to leave.

The office of Badr Al Ziyadi told The National on Monday that Paris, Berlin and Canberra had officially submitted a letter to set a timetable for the exit of their troops.

“Their request has been to set up a timetable for the withdrawal of their troops. The next government will take the responsibility of setting the timetable and the exit strategy for foreign troops.”

But Major General Tahsin Al Khafaji, the spokesperson of the Joint Operations Command, denied Mr Al Ziyadi’s claim that the three nations had submitted any such request.

When contacted again by The National, Mr Al Ziyadi’s office said the request was only made verbally by commanders from the three countries to the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, and not communicated by letter.

There was no immediate confirmation of the verbal request from Paris, Berlin or Canberra, and the proposed timetable for the withdrawal remains unknown. The National has contacted the French, German and Australian foreign ministries for comment.

Germany has a training mission in the country and its Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer visited Baghdad on January 15 in a surprise visit to meet with Iraqi military chiefs amid uncertainty over Berlin’s military presence in the country.

Speculation about the presence of foreign militaries in Iraq comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Iran. Those have centred on Iraq after the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, last month in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.

The killing prompted mass protests and revenge attacks against US bases in the country. The US and protesters have for months railed against Iran’s growing influence in Baghdad.

Protesters set fire to an entry control point at the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Reuters

Members of Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces and their supporters help their comrade who was wounded during their attempt to attack the US embassy in Baghdad. EPA

US embassy staff and guards are seen through the barbed wire fence as members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces and their supporters attack the entrance of the US embassy in Baghdad. EPA

A US Army Apache helicopter from 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, prepares to conduct overflights of the US embassy in Baghdad. AP

A US soldier mans an observation post at Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad. Reuters

US soldiers man a defensive position at Forward Operating Base Union III in Baghdad. Reuters

US Apache helicopters launch flares as they conduct overflights of the US embassy in Baghdad. Reuters

US Marines arrive from an Osprey transport aircraft at the US embassy in Baghdad. Reuters

US Marines prepare to fly into Iraq from Kuwait in support of a crisis response mission. AP

Members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces and their supporters attack the entrance of the US embassy in Baghdad. EPA

Members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, which is comprised of some Iran-backed militias, and their supporters throw stones as they attack the US embassy during a protest in Baghdad. EPA

Suleimani is believed to have ordered the brutal crackdown on protesters that massed in Baghdad and in southern cities that threatened the rule of the government.

The Iraqi parliament voted last month to call for the withdrawal of US forces from the country. Germany said it would reduce its troop numbers in Iraq for security reasons following the death of Suleimani. Canada said it would move some of its 500 troops out of Iraq and relocate them to Kuwait.

The US sent a letter to the Iraqi military joint operations command last month concerning a possible withdrawal of its troops from the country, but it did not state that all of its troops would be immediately withdrawn.

Updated: February 10, 2020 03:12 PM

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