In a series of statements on Saturday, both NATO and the US-led coalition against Daesh announced they would scale down their activities in Iraq following the American strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, according to AFP News.
A spokesman for NATO said on Saturday morning that the alliance would be suspending its training missions in Iraq.
"NATO's mission is continuing, but training activities are currently suspended," Dylan White said, adding that the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had talked over the phone with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper about the situation in Iraq.
NATO's announcement comes on the heels of the US coalition saying it had scaled down its operation in Iraq. An unnamed defence official was quoted by AFP as saying that, “our first priority is protecting coalition personnel.” He added that the US had “limited” its counter-Daesh efforts.
The official told AFP that the US-led coalition force’s surveillance efforts are now focused on possible attacks from Iran-backed proxy forces in Iraq, rather than on Daesh.
Tensions Run High in Middle East After the Killing of Commander Soleimani
The anonymous defence official’s comments come amidst an increasingly turbulent security environment in Iraq, and potentially between the US and Iran. In recent months, the number of alleged rocket attacks by Iran-backed groups on Iraqi bases housing US soldiers have been creeping up.
Last month, hostilities hit a crescendo when an American contractor was reportedly killed and four other Americans wounded in one of the rocket attacks, which Washington blamed on Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militia group that was instrumental in the fight against Daesh.
This week, the already tense situation culminated in a US airstrike on a convoy of cars leaving Baghdad International Airport, which killed the now-former leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, a coalition of Iraqi Shia militia that includes Katai’b Hezbollah among its ranks.
Following the attack, it was widely reported that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. Later on, Iran declared in a statement that, “this was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences.” The country’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also slammed in the US in a Tweet, calling its move an “act of international terrorism.”
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) 3 January 2020
For its part, the US has continued to defend the move, saying that it had evidence suggesting Mr Soleimani was plotting to kill Americans, and that its preemptive action therefore saved lives.
On Saturday morning, large-scale funeral processions began in downtown Baghdad for Mr Soleimani and Mr Muhandis. The following day, it is expected that the farewell ceremony will move to Tehran.