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Germany suspends Iraq training mission

May 15, 2019

Germany's Bundeswehr has halted its military training exercises in Iraq amid heightened tensions in the region. The US has put troops on high alert and removed nonemergency diplomatic staff from Baghdad and Erbil.

A Bundeswehr soldier and Kurdish Peshmerga troops in northern Iraq
Image: picture alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

The German army has suspended its training operations in Iraq as regional tension grows, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

"The German army has suspended the training," ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said. There was "generally heightened alert, awareness" for soldiers currently operating in the region, he added, but said training could be resumed within a few days as there was "no concrete threat" at the moment. 

Germany was "orienting itself toward our partner countries, which have taken this step," Flosdorff said.

Germany has some 60 soldiers stationed north of Baghdad to train Iraq security forces as well as 100 more troops in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. Germany's decision to call a halt to the training missions follows steps from Washington to put US troops on high alert and remove some diplomatic staff.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said: "Obviously, we are watching the increasing tensions in the region with considerable concern and welcome any measure that is aimed at a peaceful solution." The German government has not reduced staff at its
embassies in Iraq or in Iran.

A Bundeswehr soldier and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters training in northern Iraq in 2014
A Bundeswehr soldier and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters training in northern Iraq in 2014Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Bundeswehr/Sebastian Wilke

State broadcaster NOS reported on Wednesday that the Netherlands had suspended its military training mission because of a security threat. The 50-person mission which primarily trains Kurdish forces in Iraq has been halted "until further orders."

On the other hand, military alliance NATO said it would continue its training missing in Iraq, despite security concerns. The situation remains under constant evaluation, according to the organization.

US embassy personnel

The US Embassy in Baghdad said on Wednesday it was moving non-emergency personnel out of Iraq, with the staff serving in the Erbil consulate also ordered to leave the embassy. The move comes as the US boosts its military presence in the region amid rapidly escalating tensions with Iran.

The US urged its embassy employees to leave Iraq "as soon as possible." Separately, the US State Department warned of "anti-US sectarian militias" active in the Middle Eastern state.

The partial pullout comes a day after the US Central Command placed its troops in Iraq and Syria on high alert over "credible threats" from Iranian forces.

UK general disputes threat level

Washington has ramped up aggressive rhetoric against Iran since US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the internationally backed nuclear deal last year. Although US officials repeatedly stated that they did not want a war with Iran, the US has recently deployed an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and started flying B-52 bombers to "deterrence missions" in the region.

According to the Pentagon, deployment of the strategic bombers is a response to plans of "Iranian and Iranian proxy forces" to attack US troops.

The US military also responded harshly to remarks made by UK General Chris Chika, a spokesman for the US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" milita, who said there was "no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria."

Khamenei hints at uranium enrichment

In Tehran, the Iranian government officially stopped some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. Specifically, it said Iran was no longer pledged to keep its national stock of enriched uranium below 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and heavy water below 130 tons.

The nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said neither Iran nor the US was "seeking war." At the same time, Iran has threatened to start enriching uranium to higher levels than under the terms of the current deal, if the UK, Germany, and France did not provide a new deal to offset reimposed US sanctions within a 60-day deadline. The deal currently allows Iran to enrich uranium up to 3.67%, which is way below the 90% needed to weaponize the material.

Scientists say the time needed to reach the 90% threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20%.

In remarks published by the state-run "IRAN" newspaper on Wednesday, Khamenei said that "achieving 20% enrichment is the most difficult part."

"The next steps are easier than this step," Iran's top cleric told a group of Iranian officials.

dj/sms (AP, dpa, AFP)

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