Germany, NATO withdraw 'some personnel' from Iraq

NATO, Germany say they will take some personnel out of Iraq because of the increased danger there after the US killing of Qassem Soleimani.

BRUSSELS - 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 US killing of a top Iranian general in an airstrike in Baghdad last week.

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 would take "some personnel" out of Iraq because of the increased danger there after the US killing of Qassem Soleimani triggered revenge threats.

The withdrawal is temporary but "the safety of our personnel is paramount", a NATO official said in a statement.

US and allied foreign troops in Iraq are concerned they might be targeted by Iran or allied Iraqi militias in retaliation for Friday's killing of the Revolutionary Guards General, who commanded Iran's military and guerrilla operations across the Middle East.

NATO announced on Saturday that it had suspended its training mission in Iraq, which fields 500 instructors.

The NATO official said other mission personnel were being moved to other parts of Iraq, and emphasised that "NATO maintains a presence".

The alliance plans to resume its training there "when the situation permits".

He declined to give details on how many personnel were being moved or to where.

"The temporary repositioning of some personnel" was "to different locations both inside and outside of Iraq.

"To protect the safety of our personnel on the ground, we cannot go into operational details," he said.

Romania's defence ministry said separately that its 14 soldiers taking part in the NATO deployment "will be temporarily relocated to another coalition base".

Fear of Iranian retaliation

The NATO training mission in Iraq is separate to a far bigger foreign military deployment in the country led by the US, which has 5,200 soldiers stationed in Iraqi bases.

The US general in charge of that force has sent a letter to Iraqi authorities saying the American troops were preparing to leave.

But he and US officials in Washington later said the "draft" letter had been mistakenly sent and that the troops are staying.

Soleimani was hit by a US drone on orders of President Donald Trump, who has warned Iran not to strike back.

NATO's chief, Jens Stoltenberg, on Monday warned Tehran to avoid "further violence and provocations".

Iran's leaders have sworn to avenge Soleimani's death at a time and place of their choosing.

They are also intent on solidifying their hold on Iraq and Syria, which they view as part of an "axis of resistance" stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said "we will take our revenge" and added that the process of "expelling the United States from the region has begun".