BERLIN – Germany moved 35 soldiers serving in Iraq to neighboring Jordan and Kuwait on Tuesday, while NATO said it was also shifting some of its troops out of the country amid tensions over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general in an airstrike in Baghdad last week.
The killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani has drastically raised regional tensions and escalated a crisis between Washington and Tehran.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote to lawmakers that the troops in the Iraqi bases in Baghdad and Taji would be “temporarily thinned out,” news agency dpa reported Tuesday. The two officials stressed that talks with the Iraqi government on a continuation of the mission to train Iraqi troops would go on.
Germany has a small contingent of some 120 soldiers in Iraq, though the majority are not stationed in Taji and Baghdad but elsewhere in Iraq.
NATO, meanwhile, said it was shifting some of its troops out of Iraq after Baghdad called for foreign forces to leave the country, but the U.S.-led military alliance hopes to return to continue training the Iraqi military if asked once calm is restored.
The 29-nation military organization has around 500 troops in Iraq — mostly from Canada, Spain and Turkey — who are helping to train and build Iraq’s security forces so they can combat the Islamic State group alone. It wasn't immediately clear how many troops would be moved out.
“We have temporarily suspended our training on the ground, and we are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people," NATO said. "This includes the temporary re-positioning of some personnel to different locations both inside and outside of Iraq.”
Separate from the NATO contingent, Germany's Defense Ministry said its 32 soldiers stationed at Taji were flown overnight to the Azraq air base in Jordan, where German planes helping in the fight against the Islamic State group are based. Three soldiers in Baghdad were taken along with colleagues from other countries to Kuwait by the headquarters of the anti-I.S. Operation Inherent Resolve, it added.
“These forces can be moved back at any time if training in Iraq resumes,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Our soldiers are staying in the region and the mission is being kept in place for now, even though it is suspended this week pending further consultation,” Roderich Kiesewetter, a lawmaker with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party who is on the parliament's foreign affairs committee, told Deutschlandfunk radio.
He said this was “a very good step to give the Iraqi government time to evaluate the situation” after Iraq's parliament called for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The international coalition fighting IS will have to discuss how to proceed, he added.
Germany had already ordered its soldiers in Taji and Baghdad not to leave their bases after the killing of Soleimani last week near the Baghdad airport.