Germany is reducing its troop numbers in Iraq for security reasons after the death of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad last week.
It is the first coalition withdrawal since the Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to call for the withdrawal of US forces from the country. The non-binding resolution has prompted a chaotic response from US officials.
The German decision underlines the extent to which the assassination may have weakened the years-long efforts of the coalition forces to fight Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Nato has already announced that all training of Iraqi forces has been suspended.
Germany said its two bases in Baghdad and Camp Taji, north of the Iraqi capital, in particular would be “temporarily thinned out”, with the forces transferred to Jordan and Kuwait. It said the transfer had been agreed with the US-led coalition.
UK sources confirmed on Tuesday morning that about 50 British personnel had been relocated out of Baghdad’s secure Green Zone, either to nearby Taji or out of the country. Meanwhile, about 20 military planners have flown in to help prepare for different scenarios, ranging from a deepening of the conflict with Iran to a full departure from the country.
The redeployment – which has already been completed – means the UK’s overall contribution to coalition troop numbers in Iraq remains at about 400, with the majority based with Australian forces at Taji. British forces stopped training Iraqi soldiers in countering Islamic State terrorism on Sunday and the forces are focused on “force protection” – defending themselves from local reprisals, particularly pro-Iran militias.
The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, is due to meet his French and German counterparts on Tuesday in Brussels to discuss the Iran crisis, including their collective response to the Iranian decision on Sunday to pull out of its commitments to the nuclear deal, except continued inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog.
France has been hinting strongly that it believes the three European signatories to the deal can no longer stay in the deal, and will instead have to reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
Germany has about 120 soldiers in Iraq with a brief to train its security forces in the fight against Isis. Just under 30 are based in Taji military camp, a handful are in the headquarters in the Iraqi capital and just under 90 are in the relatively safe Kurdish area in northern Iraq.
Maas denied any suggestion that Germany may be on the brink of pulling out of Iraq but said it would accept any decision by the Iraqi government. “If training is to be resumed, these forces can be relocated,” he said.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is due to meet Vladimir Putin in Russia on Saturday to discuss the Iran crisis.
The Iraqi parliament has classified all US soldiers as terrorists, making them legitimate targets and there are there are fears that some Iraqi cadets might turn on their Nato trainers, so contact is being minimised.
The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has repeatedly urged the Iranians not to respond to the Suleimani killing by mounting reprisals, but the rhetoric emerging from Iran appears to suggest this warning will be ignored.
Croatia’s defence ministry has said the country’s 14 troops in Iraq have been moved to Kuwait.
Italian troops were moved out of the US Union 3 base in Baghdad overnight, La Stampa newspaper reported on Tuesday. The evacuation of 50 officers, who had been training Iraqi security forces, came after they spent a day in a bunker to shield themselves from mortar shells.
Canada has 500 troops in Iraq and so far its foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, has insisted they will remain. “The minister reiterated Canada’s ongoing commitment to a stable and united Iraq and to ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh [Isis],” Champagne’s office said.
The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, speaking in Tehran, said the inevitable consequence of Suleimani’s killing would be the removal of US troops from the region. He urged Europe not to support the US actions and said Donald Trump’s advisers simply did not understand the region.
Referring to the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, he said: “You saw Mr Pompeo’s tweet showing a picture of seven, eight people in Iraq, saying that the Iraqi people were dancing after the killing of Suleimani which is a result of his misunderstanding of the region.
“In our region, there is a misunderstanding that some people think security is buyable, but it is a weapon that is not buyable.”