France pulling troops from Iraq over coronavirus

Paris has around 200 experts, trainers and soldiers on the ground to support operations against ISIS

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2019 French General Jean-Marc Vigilant (L) and French Defence Minister Florence Parly (2nd L) talk to French soldiers engaged in the "Operation Chammal", the French military operation within "Operation Inherent Resolve", the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, as they stand in front of a wheeled 155 mm gun-howitzer CAESAR system (truck equipped with an artillery system), near Al-Qaim, a few kilometres away from the last scrap of territory held by IS in eastern Syria. France will withdraw its contingent of troops from Iraq, mostly trainers to local armed forces, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the chief of staff said on March 25, 2020. France has around 200 military personnel working in Iraq either as trainers or in the headquarters of coalition forces in Baghdad.

 / AFP / Daphné BENOIT

France will withdraw its contingent of troops from Iraq, mostly trainers to local armed forces, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the chief of staff said on Wednesday.

France has around 200 military personnel working in Iraq either as trainers or in the headquarters of coalition forces in Baghdad.

"In coordination with the Iraqi government, the coalition has decided to

adjust its deployments in Iraq and provisionally suspend training activities," it said in a statement.

The UK defence ministry had already announced some of its troops would come home, citing a "reduced requirement for training" Iraqi security forces.

Iraq's military had halted all training in early March to minimise the risk of the illness spreading among its forces, including from the US-led coalition helping fight remnants ISIS.

The development comes as US forces handed over control of Qayyarah Airfield West to the Iraqi Security Forces as part of the ongoing coalition drawdown in Iraq.

The US has around 5,200 troops stationed in Iraq.

They are there as part of a security agreement with the Iraqi government to advise, assist, and support that country’s troops in the fight against ISIS, the terror group that overran large parts of the country in 2014.

However, relations have been strained after parliament voted on a bill to order America to withdraw in response to the January killing of Iraqi militia deputy head Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis and Iranian Qud's Force general Qassim Sulimani near Baghdad airport.

"Today marks another milestone for the anti-ISIS international military Coalition and our Iraqi Security Forces partners," Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve director of sustainment, Brig Gen Vincent Barker, said in a statement.

The Qayyarah base served as a strategic launching point for the Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition during the Battle of Mosul, he said.

It is located 60km south of the city in Nineveh province.
"In particular, the base serves as a hub for the Iraqi air force, who continue to deliver lethal strikes on Daesh bed-down locations," he said.

Due to the success of Iraq's security forces in their fight against ISIS, and in conjunction with the Iraqi government and coalition partner forces, the coalition said it will "relocate and consolidate personnel and equipment from several Iraqi bases throughout 2020."

There was no mention of the repeated attacks by Iran-backed militia on US and international forces.

Earlier this month two American and one British soldier were killed in an attack on Taji military camp, north of Baghdad.

The attack was blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, one of Iraq's best armed Shiite milia groups.