Norwegian soldiers remain in Iraq for the time being

soldiersSoldiers.Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB scanpix

Germany has started withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, but the Norwegian force will remain for the time being.

Norway has around 70 soldiers in Iraq, where they have participated in the US-led coalition against IS since 2015.

The Norwegian force contribution was initially stationed in Arbil in northern Iraq, but in 2017 was moved to the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province in western Iraq, about 200 kilometers from the border to Syria.

The US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday has created a whole new situation in Iraq, where the National Assembly on Sunday decided to oust the US-led coalition.

German withdrawal
Germany, which has about 120 soldiers in Iraq, began the retreat on Tuesday.

32 German soldiers, stationed at Taji base just north of the Iraqi capital, were flown to Jordan on Tuesday, the Bundeswehr said.

Three other German soldiers and several officers from other countries were evacuated from Baghdad to Kuwait on Monday, it was further informed.

The remaining 117 German soldiers in Iraq are stationed in Kurdish northern Iraq and will remain there for the time being.

Not binding
Norway is awaiting further information from the Baghdad authorities and maintains that the Norwegian soldiers are in Iraq at the invitation of the country’s authorities.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (Høyre/Conservative Party) questions whether the decision in the Iraqi National Assembly is binding.

“As the resolution is, as far as we understand, not a binding legislative decision, there is uncertainty about how this will be followed up further from the Iraqi side,” she says to NTB.

“We are therefore awaiting further feedback from the Iraqi authorities regarding what the specific outcome and the way forward will be,” she says.

Political dialogue
According to Søreide, Norway is in dialogue with both coalition partners and the Iraqi authorities, but will not say at what level or how this dialogue is taking place.

Norway has no embassy in Baghdad, and contact with the country’s authorities is therefore usually handled by diplomats at the Norwegian embassy in Jordan’s capital Amman.

The Ministry of Defense refers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the case, and the Defense’s operational headquarters is also silent.

“The dialogue takes place at the political level,” says Major Brynjar Stordal to NTB.

“The Iraqi authorities have invited us, and the agreement is still on hold for the time being,” he adds.

Stationed in several places
Most of the Norwegian force contribution comes from the armored battalion in Troms and has now entrenched itself in the camp at the Ain al-Asad air base.

However, single officers are also stationed elsewhere in the country, but the Armed Forces do not want to disclose whether they are in Baghdad or at the Taji base, which German soldiers are now leaving.

“There’s a small number. We don’t want to go into detail about how many they are or where they are,” says Stordal.

Soldiers now in Iraq are scheduled to return home in February. Then soldiers from the Telemark battalion are expected to follow, but it is unclear if any of this will be carried out.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today


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