France's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq under pretext of the pandemic may result in other nations taking same measures, which eventually could lead to the Islamic State terror group (IS or ISIS, banned in Russia) regaining its positions in the unprotected Middle East country, experts told Sputnik
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 28th March, 2020) France's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq under pretext of the pandemic may result in other nations taking same measures, which eventually could lead to the Islamic State terror group (IS or ISIS, banned in Russia) regaining its positions in the unprotected middle East country, experts told Sputnik.
On Wednesday, the withdrawal of the French military contingent from Iraq was reported by the Iraqi military command. Paris has confirmed the decision, citing the pandemic as the reason, and announced that the military would be engaged in anti-coronavirus operation Resilience back home.
The United States is in the process of "disengaging" from Iraq, and Germany, together with other European countries, can also withdraw its troops from Iraq following France's announcement, despite the fact that the fight against IS is ongoing and the "sleeper cells" of the organization are active in the Middle Eastern region, experts representing the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) have said.
"The situation in Iraq is still worrying. I am one of those who believe that ISIS was considerably weakened by its military defeats, but it's not dead. ISIS still has clandestine, or 'sleeping' organizational structures ... The battle against ISIS is not complete. And that is why French decision is problematic, because if France made such a decision, it means that other military forces on the ground in Iraq could do the same. We know that the US is already in the process of disengaging, there are just some European states, including Germany, that have their troops there, who can now do the same," Didier Billion, the deputy director of IRIS, told Sputnik.
"We must keep in mind direct and indirect consequences of this withdrawal, which symbolically could encourage ISIS or affiliated groups to re-establish itself in Iraq, or make it profit from the current circumstances ... as [the Iraqi] government is further weakened by the current health crisis, [IS] can carry out terror attacks targeting sensitive places," Oumansour told Sputnik, adding that the stability in Iraq would be under serious threat if the international coalition would leave the country.
FRENCH WITHDRAWAL INSIGNIFICANT FOR SITUATION ON GROUND IN IRAQ
Both experts highlighted the fact that France only had roughly 200 troops stationed in Iraq, and they were mainly involved in the training of the Iraqi army, meaning that their withdrawal would not seriously affect the situation on the ground. However, according to Billion, the withdrawal represented a change in France's priorities.
"I think that from the military point of view, in terms of the balance of power on the ground it will not change much. On the ground, the French troops consisted mostly of the Special Forces and military consultants, training the Iraqi army. It is not good news, but it will not change much. But it is more of a political rather than strictly military question. The signal sent by France to bring its men back to the national territory is a priority indicator," billion said.
Oumansour argued that France's decision might mean a long-term strategy change after the tensions increased in the region following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the prominent Iranian military commander, by the US forces in Iraq.
"This pandemic adds to the diplomatic crisis, to diplomatic tensions between Washington and Tehran, which escalated on the Iraqi territory after Soleimani's assassination by the US forces. We must also remember the vote of the Iraqi parliament, asking for the withdrawal of the foreign forces, mainly the US forces.... So this withdrawal could be a sign, or a step toward a long-term change of strategy in Iraq - limiting the presence of forces on the ground and directly supporting it by training the army, providing equipment and arms instead of direct presence," Oumansour said.
CORONAVIRUS USED AS PRETEXT FOR TROOPS WITHDRAWAL
"I do not believe it is really the case. France has enough soldiers, who are in France and not abroad, who can play a real positive role trying to tackle the pandemic we are all victims of. If the French Special Forces that are in Iraq are repatriated, and they are now, they will not be the most effective ones," Billion said.
According to Oumansour, 200 soldiers could not change "anything" in France or play a vital role in confronting the virus.