France will withdraw troops from Iraq, where they were participating in training missions, the French General Staff announced on Wednesday “especially” of the coronavirus pandemic, which thus hampered one of its external operations.
On the border with Iran, where the virus has already killed nearly 1,700 people, Iraq imposed nationwide very stringent measures against the new coronavirus on Sunday, reporting 20 deaths and 233 confirmed cases of Covid- 19.
“In coordination with the Iraqi government, the coalition (international anti-Islamic state led by Washington, editor’s note) has decided to adjust its system in Iraq and to temporarily suspend its training activities for the Iraqi security forces, particularly in view of the health crisis“, Underlines the French general staff in a press release. So, “France has decided to repatriate the personnel of Operation Chammal until further notice (French part of the international operation Inherent Resolve) deployed to Iraq “, nearly 200 soldiers, hitherto engaged in the training of the Iraqi army or working in the headquarters of the coalition in Baghdad.
“A priori temporary” withdrawal
From this Thursday, date of the start of the repatriation, “There are no more Chammal troops in Iraq”, commented to AFP the spokesman for the French general staff, Colonel Frédéric Barbry, stating that this withdrawal was “A priori temporary”.
The US military, which represents the vast majority of the foreign forces deployed in Iraq, announced last weekend a temporary reduction in the coalition’s wing.
“To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the Iraqi army suspended all training. Consequently, the coalition will temporarily return to their countries in the coming days some of its specialized training elements ”, indicated Friday the central command of the American army (Centcom), which covers in particular Iraq and Syria. The British and the Czechs have already announced a partial or total withdrawal of their forces from Iraq.
Continue to fight Daesh
“In the future, we expect the coalition to support Iraqi forces from fewer bases, with fewer people”, warned Centcom, while saying that the coalition remained “Committed for the long term” in the fight against IS, while Iraq is also at the heart of the rivalry between Washington and Tehran, which has important relays and levers in the country. After the assassination in Baghdad of a senior Iranian military official and his Iraqi lieutenant by Washington in January, the Iraqi parliament had voted in favor of the departure of foreign troops from Iraq, including 5,200 American soldiers.
The withdrawal sounds like a blow to Paris, which has been insisting for months on the importance of not letting the Islamic State group, the sponsor of a series of attacks on French soil since the end, not reconstitute in neighboring Syria and Iraq. 2015.
“Daesh has remained strong in Syria, in particular in the areas allegedly controlled by the regime (…) As for Iraq, it is troubled by its internal situation and by the upheavals of international rivalries. Daesh continues to reorganize there and harass government forces there ”, warned the French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly in mid-February.
“France will remain resolutely committed to its coalition partners to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh”, promises the French general staff on Wednesday, evoking the maintenance of its soldiers in the headquarters of the international coalition in Kuwait and Qatar, the French maritime deployments in the Syria channel and the continuation of its support missions from its regional bases in Jordan and Qatar.
If the coronavirus pandemic comes to hamper the operations of the French army in the Middle East, “The missions continue” in the Sahel, where 5,100 soldiers are currently deployed in the anti-jihadist operation Barkhane, ensures the French general staff.
The coronavirus has started to appear in Sahelian countries. Mali at war announced on Wednesday its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus, on two Malians who returned from France in mid-March. Niger announced its first case last Thursday. Neighboring Burkina Faso is the most affected country in West Africa with 4 dead and 75 people infected, according to a last official report published on Sunday.