Czech PM says no immediate plans for withdrawal of Czech soldiers from Iraq

Soldats tchèques en Irak, photo: Jakub Novák / Armée tchèque

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Defence Ministry officials have moved to quell concerns over the security of Czech soldiers and police officers serving in Iraq. The general chief of staff said precautions had been taken to ensure the safety of the 40-member-strong Czech team and an emergency evacuation plan was in place should the need arise.

Czech soldiers in Iraq, photo: Jakub Novák / Czech Army
The Czech Republic has 13 anti-chemical warfare specialists helping to train Iraqi soldiers in dealing with the consequences of a chemical attack at the Al-Taji military base in Iraq, another 24 military police officers are helping to train Iraqi police at Dublin Base in Baghdad and another two groups of soldiers from the country’s rapid-deployment force are guarding the Czech Embassy in Baghdad and the Czech consulate in Irbil.

The NATO mission was suspended in the wake of the killing of Iran’s military leader in Iraq and NATO has been taking precautions to protect its soldiers from retaliatory strikes by Iran. This includes the temporary repositioning of some personnel to different locations both inside and outside Iraq. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said at a press briefing in Prague on Thursday the Czech contingent in Iraq was safe and there were no plans for its withdrawal at present.

“The soldiers and police officers we have in Iraq are safe. The Czech Defence Ministry and the army are consulting security matters and future steps closely with the NATO leadership and under the present circumstances we are not considering a withdrawal.”

Although individual measures to safeguard allied troops are not being disclosed, NATO has confirmed that Canadian, German, Croatian and Slovak troops have been moved out of Iraq at these countries’ request. NATO, which has roughly 500 soldiers in Iraq, also lifted some of them out of Baghdad’s high-risk Green Zone in helicopters on Monday night.

The head of operations of the Czech Armed Forces, Josef Kopecký, confirmed that Czech soldiers who had been stationed right next to the US Embassy in Baghdad had also been relocated to another site in Iraq for security reasons.

Al-Taji military base, Iraq, photo: archive of Czech Army
On the domestic front, the majority of parliamentary parties have supported this course of action, saying they expect the government to take all possible measures to protest the Czech contingent.

Only the Communist Party and the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, which generally opposes Czech participation in foreign missions, have called for the withdrawal of Czech troops from Iraq.

General Major Josef Kopecký says that, given the security measures undertaken, there is no call for an immediate withdrawal or relocation.

“In the event of a crisis we are able to respond in a matter of hours or days at the most. We have an evacuation plan in place and can get our soldiers out very fast should the need arise.”

Meanwhile the Czech Foreign Ministry has reiterated a travel warning to Czech citizens regarding trips to Iraq, and extended its warning to Iran.