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As Europeans Shift Troop Positions in Middle East, They Blame US for Hurting Fight Against ISIS

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As Europeans Shift Troop Positions in Middle East, They Blame US for Hurting Fight Against ISIS

2020-01-08 16:49:45

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jens Stoltenberg (Image source: Balk/MSC via Wikimedia Commons)

What Donald Trump may not have realized when he approved the drone strike that took out Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani is that by doing so, he set in motion activity that is affecting the whole world, not just the United States' relationship with the region. Europeans are shifting troop positions in the Middle East and are blaming the U.S. for negatively affecting the fight against the Islamic State.

After the U.S. airstrike that took out the Iranian general, not only did Iran hold it against the U.S., but Iraq did as well. Iran's Middle East neighbor passed a nonbinding resolution on Sunday demanding that all foreign military leave the country. On Tuesday Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq, with many seeing it as a warning more than a desire to cause harm. 

Even before the missile strikes, U.S. European allies said they were reducing and repositioning troops inside Iraq out of fear that Iran will retaliate. Some diplomats are concerned that moving troops will reduce the ability to be able to fight ISIS.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that if a war results from tensions between the U.S. and Iran, militants "would be the only winners," pointing out that the Islamic State specifically had the most to gain. 

According to a German military spokesman, his country ordered 35 service members to leave Iraq, and a senior NATO diplomat said an international NATO training force moved more than half of its personnel away from the Baghdad area to more secure areas inside Iraq and nearby countries. 110 German military members are still stationed in Irbil, the regional capital of Iraq. They remain open to returning personnel to Baghdad and other bases to continue the fight against the Islamic State, according to the spokesman.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Tuesday, according to Piers Cazalet, a NATO spokesman. He said the secretary general "stressed that allies remain strongly committed to the NATO mission in Iraq." He added that NATO has temporarily suspended training activity on the ground but is prepared to continue when the situation permits." 

While NATO has been leading a noncombat training mission in Iraq, many NATO members also participate in a separate coalition led by the U.S. with the intent of fighting ISIS. Both of these efforts suspended activity out of concern for safety after Soleimani was taken out. Both want to resume when it is safe to do so.

"NATO Allies remain committed to the NATO training mission in Iraq and the fight against ISIS. We continue to support a safe and prosperous future for the Iraq people, and we look forward to resuming NATO's on-the-ground training with Iraqi forces once the situation permits," tweeted U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson. 

Europeans are containing their commentary on the situation to frustration with the U.S. "The way they are doing it is only jeopardizing the fight against Daesh," said a senior NATO diplomat, invoking an alternate name for the Islamic State.

The diplomat also reacted with incredulity regarding the U.S. justifications for taking out Soleimani. "The notion that the Americans are calling this a de-escalating, defensive move is frankly surreal. It's Soviet," said the diplomat. "They think they're reestablishing their deterrence while planning the withdrawal of their forces in Iraq." 

Another NATO diplomat showed concern that the U.S. actions could change boundaries of what is acceptable between non-warring countries. "This changes the rules of the game," expressed the second diplomat. "If you take out a senior military commander, why shouldn't they do the same to you?

Friday there will be an emergency meeting of E.U. foreign ministers, with a discussion on how to respond to the Iran treat. It's expected there will also be discussion of frustrations with the U.S. Europeans fear the Iran nuclear deal that European countries entered into with Iran and the U.S. in 2015 is now dead. Trump pulled the U.S. out in 2018, which was the beginning of the U.S.-Iran tensions. 

Europeans had hopes of dealing with whatever comes throughout 2020, then rebuilding the deal if Trump is not reelected, but now they will discuss whether a formal mechanism should be triggered, leading to reimposing sanctions against Iran.

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