France withdraws all troops from Iraq amid coronavirus and militia attacks

UK announced last week that it was withdrawing some of its 400 troops from Iraq

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rance will withdraw its contingent of troops from Iraq, mostly trainers to local armed forces
France will withdraw its contingent of troops from Iraq, mostly trainers to local armed forces Credit: Photo by DAPHNE BENOIT/AFP via Getty Images

France is withdrawing all 200 of its troops from Iraq in the latest Western drawdown in the face of the coronavirus outbreak and attacks by Iranian-backed militia forces.

French soldiers and officers were deployed either to train Iraqi forces or at the Baghdad headquarters of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS).

Iraq’s military has suspended all training since early March in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The French high command said Wednesday that the halt in training exercises meant its forces were no longer needed.  

"In coordination with the Iraqi government, the coalition has decided to adjust its deployments in Iraq and provisionally suspend training activities," the French military said. It added that it would continue airstrikes against IS as part of coalition operations. 

The UK announced last week that it was withdrawing some of its 400 troops from Iraq for the same reason. 

Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon was killed by militia rocket fire in Iraq Credit: Corporal Rob Kane/MoD Crown Copyright/British Army/PA

“In recent months the tempo of training has significantly declined, which means that I am in a position to bring back the current training unit to the UK,” said Ben Wallace, the defence minister. 

A number of British troops, including special forces, remain in Iraq to support the anti-IS operations. 

The US has withdrawn a small number of its 5,000 troops but is consolidating them into a few large bases rather than spread them across Iraq in smaller outposts. 

On Thursday, US forces handed Qayyarah airfield near Mosul back to full Iraqi control.

The withdrawals and consolidation of forces come amid increased attacks by Iranian-backed Shia militias in the months since the US assassinated Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general. 

Two Americans and one British soldier were killed on March 11 when militia forces bombarded Camp Taji with rockets. 

The US responded with airstrikes against Kata’ib Hizbollah, one of the leading militia groups. 

Two rockets were fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone on Wednesday night. No casualties were reported.