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2020.01.08 12:00

Baltic states mull withdrawing military personnel from Iraq

updated
LRT.lt2020.01.08 12:00

The Baltic states have a limited number of military instructors deployed in Iraq as part of US and NATO-led training missions, and are now considering options following escalation in the region.

"If hostilities break out, the personnel should be brought home," Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik told the country’s public broadcaster ERR, adding that there are no signs of this happening yet.

"We have the impression that an attempt is being made to de-escalate the situation, as evidenced by US President Donald Trump's latest tweet," he said. "Estonia, as a new member of the [UN Securiy Council], is working with other countries to reduce tensions in the Middle East and prevent further conflict.”

Meanwhile MP Laurynas Kasčiūnas, vice chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Security and Defence Committee, has said it’s too early to consider withdrawing Lithuanian troops from Iraq.

Read more: Lithuania suspends Iraq training mission after Baghdad's 'changing position'

“We need to coordinate our position with our NATO allies,” he told LRT.lt. “NATO has a lot of internal information on what Iran can do, and maybe [the missile strike] is everything that it could do.”

“There is a [partial] withdrawal of NATO training mission to Kuwait,” said Kasčiūnas. “On a regional level, there is a possibility to withdraw from the hotspots, but there can be no political decisions to leave.”

"Lithuania is not proposing to unilaterally withdraw troops from Iraq, at least not the Ministry [of Defence] or the military,” Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said.

Jonas Vytautas Žukas, the former Lithuania's chief of defence and now an adviser to President Gitanas Nausėda, said Lithuania will not take unilateral action.

"Everything will depend on the decision made at the top level," he added.

Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said the country’s instructors will leave Iraq only if requested by Baghdad.

“We’re there with a clear mandate, to help in the fight against the Islamic State,” Kariņš told Latvian public broadcaster LSM.

Meanwhile, the Latvian military instructors ceased their training activities along with partners form the Baltics, Scandinavia and the US, Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabrliks told Latvian public television LTV on January 6, according to LSM.

Iran launched missile strikes on January 8 against two US bases in Iraq in retaliation to the US killing of General Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad earlier this month. In response, the Iraqi parliament voted to end foreign troop presence in the country. Lithuania and other Western states have now halted all military training missions in Iraq.

One of the targeted bases, Al Asad, also hosted Lithuanian military personnel that were unharmed in the attack.

Read more: Lithuanian troops unharmed in base targeted by Iran