January 7, 2020 / 7:24 AM / 16 days ago

Germany cuts troop numbers in Iraq after Soleimani killing

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is moving some of its military personnel from Iraq to neighboring countries over security concerns, days after the killing of a top Iranian military commander in a U.S. drone strike.

Other countries, including Slovakia and Croatia, also said they were relocating from Iraq soldiers involved in a NATO training mission, as tensions in the region rise.

About 30 of the 120 German soldiers in Iraq who mainly train Iraqi security forces will be redeployed to Jordan and Kuwait, the German government told parliament on Monday.

Iraq’s parliament called on Sunday for the United States and other foreign troops to leave after Iran’s most prominent general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at a Baghdad airport.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Berlin wanted an international military alliance fighting Islamic State militants to continue but made clear it was waiting for a final decision from Iraq.

“Whether we can continue our work depends principally on the decision of the Iraqi government. Talks on that are currently ongoing and until then we’re reading tea leaves,” she said.

The U.S. defense secretary denied reports the American military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq. About 5,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

The drawdown of German troops was ordered by the U.S.-led joint command for fighting Islamic State, the German government said. This would apply mainly to troops in Baghdad and Taji, a city just north of the Iraqi capital where close to 30 German troops are deployed.

Out of the 120 German soldiers, about 90 are stationed in the Kurdish area in the north of the country. The German government said the forces could be moved back to Iraq if their training mission resumes.

Kramp-Karrenbauer urged Iran, which has vowed to respond to Soleimani’s killing, to avoid escalation in the Middle East.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told public broadcaster ZDF he was concerned about a possible resurgence of Islamic State should foreign troops leave Iraq quickly. “Nobody really wants that,” he said.

Croatia transferred 14 soldiers to Kuwait for safety reasons and Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said Slovakia had temporarily relocated its seven soldiers in Iraq “in view of the current situation.”

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Additional reporting by Jason Hovet in Prague, Igor Ilic; Writing by Thomas Seythal and Joseph Nasr; Editing by William Maclean

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