Czech foreign minister: Decisive word on NATO’s training mission in Iraq must come from country’s government

Mourners holding posters of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani attend a funeral ceremony for him and his comrades, Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020, photo: ČTK/AP/Ebrahim Noroozi

Amidst growing tension over the latest developments in the Middle East, following the killing of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, the Czech foreign minister has joined calls for a level-headed approach to the crisis, warning that a further escalation of tension will not only destabilize the region, but put at risk the progress made in the war on terror.

Tomáš Petříček, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
In an interview for public broadcaster Czech Television, Foreign Minister Petříček welcomed Friday’s scheduled meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on the crisis, saying there was still a chance to get the situation under control.

“I am naturally concerned about the fact that our ally acted unpredictably and without warning, but the consultations in NATO that have taken place since suggest there is still a possibility to calm the situation. I hope that can be achieved and that NATO forces will able to conclude their training mission in Iraq, which is primarily to ensure that Iraqi security forces will be able to maintain law and order in the country when we leave.”

In the wake of a call from the Iraqi Parliament for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country and rumours that such a step might be imminent on Monday night, the Czech foreign minister said it would be premature to discuss this scenario.

“After NATO suspended its training mission for Iraqi security forces, in which the Czech Republic has soldiers and police officers, it was understood that we would remain in place and await the outcome of consultations with the Iraqi government on how to proceed. The Iraqi Parliament’s appeal was made without the presence of Kurdish and Sunni deputies and is moreover not legally binding. The decisive word must come from the Iraqi government which invited the allied forces, not just to help in the fight against Islamic State militants but to train the local security forces. Of course, it is a government in demise, which makes things more complicated.”

Mourners holding posters of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani attend a funeral ceremony for him and his comrades, Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020, photo: ČTK/AP/Ebrahim Noroozi
Further commenting on the crisis, Foreign Minister Petříček said he hoped to see the EU play a constructive role in diffusing the tension and helping to save the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, saying that consultations between the key players and NATO and EU officials suggested that neither side wanted to let the situation spiral out of control.

Speaking of the Czech Republic’s international commitments in fighting terrorism, Minister Petříček said he supported the Czech Defence Ministry’s proposal for 60 Czech soldiers to be deployed in anti-terrorist operations in Mali, Niger and Chad, saying the region is key to European security and Czech participation is important both for foreign policy and security reasons. The Czech Republic currently has 120 soldiers helping to train the armed services in Mali and will take command of the EU’s training mission there later this year.