German, Dutch military suspend training operations in Iraq amid US-Iran tensions
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany and the Netherlands said on Wednesday they were suspending military training operations in Iraq as the United States warned of increased threats from Iran-backed forces amid an escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran.
A German defence ministry spokesman said Berlin had no indications of its own of any impending attacks on Western interests by Iran and said the training programmes could resume in the coming days.
A Dutch government source also announced a suspension of military training operations, citing an unspecified security threat.
Germany has 160 soldiers involved in training Iraqi forces trying to contain Islamic State militants. The Netherlands has 169 military and civilian personnel in Iraq, including about 50 in Erbil, where they are helping to train Kurdish troops.
Dutch news agency ANP said Dutch forces had been ordered to remain indoors since Sunday.
Earlier on Wednesday the US State Department ordered the pullout of some employees from both its embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil.
The order came as tensions build up between the United States and Iran. Washington has applied new sanctions pressure on Tehran and sent additional forces to the Middle East, saying there is an increased threat from Iran to US interests there.
Pompeo says US does not seek war with Iran
Earlier today, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States does not seek a war with Iran, amid rapidly growing tensions between the two countries, British channel BBC reported.
Speaking in Russia, Pompeo said the US was looking for Iran to behave like a normal country but would respond if its interests were attacked. Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also said there will be no war with the US.
Last week, the US deployed warships and warplanes to the Gulf. Tensions escalated even further after an incident with four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, with US investigators reportedly believing Iran or groups it supports were involved. No evidence of Iran’s role has emerged and Tehran, which denies any involvement, has called for an investigation.
In another development, Spain withdrew a frigate from a US-led naval group in the Gulf as tensions between Washington and Tehran rose.
Pompeo, who held talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Russian city of Sochi, said the US fundamentally did not seek a conflict with Iran.
“We have also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.” The talks between Mr Pompeo and Mr Lavrov to help improve ties between Washington and Moscow have underlined continuing differences:
Pompeo said he had urged Russia to end its support for President Nicolás Maduro but Mr Lavrov rejected this, saying the US threats against Mr Maduro were undemocratic
He also said he had warned Russia against interference in the 2020 US presidential election while Mr Lavrov said he hoped that tumult over allegations of Russian influence in US elections would die down
On Ukraine, Pompeo said the US would not recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and that sanctions would remain in place
What has Iran said?
In remarks carried on state media and on his Twitter account, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated Tehran’s position that it would not negotiate with the US on a nuclear deal to replace the one President Donald Trump withdrew from last year.
But Khamenei said: “We don’t seek a war, nor do they.”
On Monday, President Hassan Rouhani told a meeting with clerics that Iran was too great to be intimidated by anyone, saying: “God willing we will pass this difficult period with glory and our heads held high, and defeat the enemy.”
What has Spain said?
Spanish frigate Mendez Nunez had been accompanying a US aircraft carrier’s strike group in the Gulf for a military exercise.
But on Tuesday, Acting Defence Minister Margarita Robles said it would be recalled because the original mission had changed. The Spanish daily El Pais said Madrid wanted to avoid being dragged into any kind of conflict with Iran.