Slovenian soldiers to be temporarily pulled out of Iraq


The evacuation was first announced by the Defence Ministry, with Minister Karl Erjavec later saying that the troops would be pulled out together with the German contingent and would first be safely transported to a third country.

They will then be brought to Germany and then to Slovenia, which could happen tomorrow. "The temporary withdrawal of Slovenian soldiers into the third country is expected to be carried out by evening and they should be home tomorrow," Erjavec said.

He stressed the withdrawal would be only temporary, as the participation in the German-led operation Inherent Resolve did not depend on decisions made by the government or the National Assembly. The principle applying was "together in, together out".

Erjavec and Major General Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces, said the soldiers would be evacuated as soon as the security situation allowed. Erjavec expects no difficulties other than perhaps technical.

The chair of the parliamentary Defence Committee, Samo Bevk, told the Val 202 radio that he had been informed that the evacuation was currently running smoothly. He said these procedures had been carefully planned in advance at the start of the mission.

Erjavec said the soldiers were being pulled out for two reasons: the security situation following last night's attack on the base, and the suspension of the training of Iraqi security forces, which is the main purpose of the mission.

Since the mission is not suspended or concluded, no government measures are needed for the withdrawal, the ministry's order is enough. But Erjavec still decided to inform President Borut Pahor, PM Marjan Šarec and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar of the decision.

Ermenc and Erjavec said the general headquarters had constructed and played out several possible scenarios last week, including the one that in fact happened. Erjavec also commended the military on its advice, and the military intelligence for supplying relevant information promptly.

Erjavec said Slovenia was currently not considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mali or Lebanon despite the risks involved, or its officer with the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

Cerar welcomed the decision and again called for easing of tensions. "It is important that the soldiers are not injured and are feeling fine," he wrote, announcing a meeting on Friday of EU's foreign ministers where they would determine further action.

The Foreign Ministry subsequently issued a statement condemning the attack on army bases and called on all sides to refrain from any activities that would escalate tensions in the region.

Parliamentary parties supported the troop pull-out, with several calling for a de-escalation of tensions and representatives of the ruling coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Social Democrats (SD) calling on the EU to take on a more active role as an intermediary between the US and Iran.

The opposition Democrats (SDS) expressed their support for the US's "determined response to the provocations of the extremist regime of ayatollahs," condemning what they described as "irrational support thrown by the left political forces behind the Iranian regime".

By contrast, the Left called for a more active condemnation of the US escalation of aggression against Iran, which it said was not aimed at achieving peace, security and political stability, but rather threatened to push the region into a new war that would benefit the arms lobby.

An economic expert has assessed that while Slovenia has had minimum business presence in Iran, which is the subject of strict sanctions, the latest escalation of tensions in the Middle East is seen as bad for business in the entire region.

The escalation will make it more difficult to do business in the region, Jure Stojan, a partner at the Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank, told the STA.

National security expert Iztok Prezelj has meanwhile told the STA that in the wake of Wednesday's Iranian missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, it is most likely that the conflict between will escalate in Iraq, as the country is weak.

He added that it was difficult to predict any future developments or outcomes, while the fact that firing missiles at US targets in Iraq as retaliation for the assassination of Soleimani could be seen as the lesser evil since other possible scenarios were much worse.

Prezelj believes that escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran could affect Europe as well. "A restless Middle East has always led to refugees and economic damage."