Government leaders: We will withdraw EDF Iraq troops if situation escalates

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu, and Minister of Defence Jüri Luik at Kadriorg.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu, and Minister of Defence Jüri Luik at Kadriorg. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Defence Jüri Luik (Isamaa) said if the situation deteriorates into armed conflict, Estonian Defence Force personnel stationed at an Iraq base targeted by the Iranian attacks would be withdrawn, after a meeting on Wednesday. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) said tensions between the United States and Iran are worrying and a full-on clash is undesirable.

Ratas was speaking to the press after the meeting at Kadriorg on Wednesday morning, following an Iranian strike which saw over a dozen missiles hit two bases in Iraq used by U.S. troop, one of which hosts Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) personnel.

Defence minister Jüri Luik was also at the meeting, along with foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), and chair of the Riigikogu's foreign affairs committee Enn Eesmaa (Centre).

Luik: If hostilities break out, EDF troops to be pulled out of Iraq

Luik told the media EDF troops were not present at the base when it was attacked and no Estonians, who only have a training role, were injured. The attack was in retaliation to last week's U.S. missile strike which killed prominent Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq.

"These men are instructors, not combat troops; they have no role in fighting," Luik said.

"If hostilities break out, the personnel should be brought home," Luik added, noting that there were no signs of this at the moment.

Withdrawal of EDF personnel from Iraq would have to be carried out in cooperation with the U.S. and Denmark, whose personnel are also active in Iraq alongside the Estonians.

Luik said the current situation was in the process of being de-escalated.

"We have the impression that an attempt is being made to de-escalate the situation, as evidenced by U.S. President Donald Trump's latest tweet," Luik said.

Trump tweeted early morning Estonian time that casualty and damage assessments were ongoing, but all was "well" and the U.S. had by far the best equipped military globally, and that he would be making a statement Wednesday morning U.S. time.

Estonia role heightened with UNSC non-permanent position

Jüri Ratas had said on his social media account ahead of the meeting that Estonia's role in the tensions was heightened by its status as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

"Estonia, as a new member of the UNSC, is working with other countries to reduce tensions in the Middle East and prevent further conflict," he said.

"It is certainly in Estonia's interest as a small country that the security situation in the world is stable, and relations between states are predictable and based on international law," he wrote.

Reinsalu: I will bring up matter at UN Thursday

The UNSC may be discussing the U.S.-Iran situation on Thursday. Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu, who will be present at the meeting, said he will certainly address the attacks even though the meeting was scheduled to discuss a different topic.

The full video of Ratas, Luik and Reinsalu's press conference (in Estonian) on the steps of the Kadriorg presidential office is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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