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Germany suspends training operations in Iraq amid Iran tensions

Germany has assisted Kurdish forces battling 'Islamic State' militants in northern Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 May, 2019

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Germany has suspended training operations in Iraq, hours after the US State Department decision to remove all non-emergency staff from its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil.
Germany announced on Wednesday it is suspending military training operations in Iraq due to increasing tensions in the region, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said.

Training programs could resume in a couple of days, Reuters reported, but are temporarily suspended due to indications of potential attacks supported by Iran.

There are 60 Germany soldiers stationed north of Baghdad to assist in training Iraqi security forces, according to DW, as well as 100 soldiers in the northern Iraqi Kurdish regions.

The decision comes as the US State Department ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil, as tensions mount between the United States and Iraq's neighbour Iran.

Washington has ramped up pressure on Tehran in recent days, accusing Iran of planning "imminent" attacks in the region, and bolstering the American military presence in the Gulf.

"Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians," a travel advisory warned.

"Anti-US sectarian militias may also threaten US citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq."

The US last year shut its consulate in the protest-hit southern Iraqi city of Basra, blaming "indirect fire" by Iran-backed forces and warning its rival of retaliation for any damage.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week paid a surprise trip to Baghdad in a move to bolster ties with Iraq as it pushes ahead with its "maximum pressure" against Tehran - a US arch-rival, but an ally of Iraq.

Pompeo met with Iraq President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, and spoke to them "about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it's able to adequately protect Americans in their country."He told reporters he had made the trip because Iranian forces are "escalating their activity" and said the threat of attacks were "very specific."

The Pentagon said it was sending several massive, nuclear-capable B-52s to the region in response to "recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces."

Both Pompeo and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have this week played down fears that their countries were seeking conflict.

But National Security Advisor John Bolton warned Iran that Washington would respond with "unrelenting force" to any attack by Tehran, including by its regional allies.

Blasts involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, the advisory added. Erbil is the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, in northern Iraq.

Tensions in the region

The move comes amid days of rising tensions in the Gulf, which has witnessed at least two attacks.

On Tuesday, drone attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels shut down one of Saudi Arabia's major oil pipelines, further ratcheting up Gulf tensions after the sabotage of the ships.

Houthi rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam wrote on Twitter that the attacks were "a response to the aggressors continuing to commit genocide" against the Yemeni people.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the Yemen war to bolster the internationally recognised government's efforts against the Houthis in March 2015.

The reported pipeline attacks came after the UAE said four ships were damaged in "sabotage attacks" off the emirate of Fujairah, close to the Hormuz, on Sunday.

While Washington and its Gulf allies stopped short of blaming Riyadh's regional arch-rival Tehran for the sabotage, US President Donald Trump warned Iran against doing anything to harm US interests.

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