ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The US-led Global Coalition against Islamic State (ISIS) will limit it operations against the group in Iraq, a US official said on Saturday, amid skyrocketing tensions after the United States killed senior Iranian and Iraqi military commanders in Baghdad on Friday. The coalition will also temporarily suspend its training of Iraqi forces, according to media reports.
“We will conduct limited anti-IS group ops with our security partners where it mutually supports our force protection efforts,” a US defence official told AFP on Saturday, qualifying that this is “not a halt,” but their first priority is protecting their personnel.
“We have increased security and defensive measures at Iraqi bases that host coalition troops,” the official added.
The coalition forces are on alert after the US killed Qasem Soleimani commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds force, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), locally known as Hashd al-Shaabi, and eight others. They were killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport.
Iran and the Hashd al-Shaabi have vowed to avenge the deaths.
Fearing possible violence, Western countries to issue travel advisories to their citizens against visiting Iraq or attending public gatherings. Some of them excluded the Kurdistan Region.
Earlier on Saturday, Reuters reported that the coalition has temporarily suspended training of Iraqi forces following the increased threat they face after the US strike.
“Thus, the training for the Iraqi security and armed forces throughout Iraq is temporarily suspended,” German Lieutenant General Erich Pfeffer wrote in a letter to German lawmakers, seen by Reuters. “The directive is binding for all partner nations involved in OIR [coalition] at the training sites in Iraq.”
A source from the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs confirmed to Rudaw English that the coalition had suspended training of Peshmerga as well.
Formed in 2014 after ISIS swept across large areas of Syria and Iraq, the 81-country coalition has supported Iraqi and Peshmerga forces militarily, including training and providing weapons.
ISIS was declared defeated in Iraq in December 2017, but the coalition continues training Iraqi and Kurdish forces and carries out operations against ISIS, mainly in areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad.
One of the latest training programmes for Peshmerga wrapped up on December 19. It provided 11 Kurdish fighters and an officer with chemical-grade training. “The program was administered by a chemical team from Germany, conducting this 7-week training where the participants were familiarized with chemical material detection, chemical material disposal & cleaning, and a variety of protective measures,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs.
About 120 German troops are currently deployed in Iraq.
The Netherlands government announced in late October it was extending its training mission of Iraqi and Kurdish forces through 2021. The extended mission will focus on “training Iraqi military aimed at the long term stability of Iraq,” tweeted Geoffrey van Leeuwen, director of Middle East affairs at the Netherlands foreign ministry.