The past few hours have witnessed successive reports of the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq or their redeployment, as well as other measures to increase preparedness among US and Western forces across the Middle East.
The following are the most notable moves that were revealed in the last hours, days after the prominent Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in an American raid near Baghdad airport.
CNN quoted US officials as saying that Washington placed its forces in the Middle East on high alert on Monday night in anticipation of Iranian attacks, and that intelligence information indicated that Iran had moved military equipment during the past days.
The officials said that US intelligence monitored Iran’s movement of ballistic missiles and drones and that the goal might be to secure those weapons from a possible US strike or put them in suitable locations to launch attacks.
One of the sources said, “All-Patriot batteries (and missiles) and the forces in the area are on high alert” in anticipation of “an imminent attack.”
The two sources said that intelligence reports indicate possible attacks on American sites in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
The two officials said that US forces in the area were originally on alert during the past few days, but raised the level of readiness on Monday night.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
After the suspension of its mission to train Iraqi forces, the alliance announced the temporary redeployment of some of its personnel present in Iraq.
“We are taking all necessary measures to protect our employees, and this includes the temporary redeployment of some individuals to other locations, both inside and outside Iraq,” a NATO official said in a statement, adding that the alliance “nevertheless maintains its presence in Iraq.”
The official said that NATO intends to continue training in Iraq “when the situation permits,” but he refused to disclose details of the number of personnel to be transferred and the places to be transferred.
He declared that “to protect the safety of our personnel on the ground, we cannot reveal details about the operations.”
On Saturday, NATO announced the suspension of training operations in Iraq by 500 trainers.
The NATO training mission is separate from the major foreign military deployment in Iraq led by the United States, which includes 5,200 military personnel at various Iraqi bases.
The NATO mission in Iraq includes military and civilian personnel and includes a few hundred trainers, advisors, and support personnel, whether from its 29 member countries – or from outside.
The Romanian Ministry of Defense said it would “reposition” its 14 soldiers in Iraq temporarily to another NATO base.
British Minister of Defense Ben Wallace said in a speech to Parliament today that Britain has taken measures to protect its employees and citizens in Iraq and the Middle East, and that non-essential British employees have been transferred from the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to the Taji area north of the capital.
He added that “the international coalition forces in Iraq – including the British forces – suspended their training activities, and within the framework of our security plan, a small team was sent to the region to provide additional support to help with our preventive plans.”
The minister stated that Britain had placed its helicopters and warships in the Gulf region in a position to intervene if necessary.
He said, “The Ministry of Transport is reviewing the level of the threat to maritime navigation daily, and it is about to issue instructions with the support of the Ministry of Defense.”
Regarding the withdrawal from Iraq, the British Minister of Defense said, “We respect the sovereignty of Iraq, and if they ask us to leave, this is their right and we will respect it.”
On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament called on the American and other foreign forces to leave the country after the killing of Qassem Soleimani in an American raid near Baghdad airport.
German magazine Der Spiegel said that Germany has begun withdrawing its forces stationed in Iraq, and that 32 German soldiers were transferred from north Baghdad to Jordan this morning.
According to the newspaper, the defense and foreign ministers met with the head of a German parliament committee last night and conveyed to them their concerns about the safety of German soldiers in Iraq against the background of Soleimani’s death.
German Foreign Minister Haikou Maas confirmed in a television statement that Berlin is concerned that the international forces will leave Iraq quickly, which would lead to the end of the war against ISIS.
Canadian Defense Chief Gen. Jonathan Vance said today that some Canadian soldiers deployed in Iraq – numbering 500 – will be temporarily transferred to Kuwait for security reasons.
“In the coming days, as a result of the planning of the coalition and NATO, some of our personnel will be temporarily transferred from Iraq to Kuwait,” Vance said in a message to the military’s families, published on Twitter. “We are doing this to ensure their safety and security,” he added.
A French government source told Reuters today that France has no plans to cut the number of its troops in Iraq at the moment, but added that security around the French forces will be strengthened.
France provides training and logistical support to Iraq and the Kurdish forces in the scope of operations of the international coalition to fight ISIS.