Minister: Crucial that flights between Iraq, Belarus remain grounded

Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) with members of the volunteer Defense League during his recent visit to Iraq.
Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) with members of the volunteer Defense League during his recent visit to Iraq. Source: Ministry of Defense

Moves in Iraq to cut flight links to Belarus are key in avoiding Iraqi citizens getting caught up in human trafficking over the Belarusian border into the European Union, and in particular to Lithuania and Latvia, defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says.

Laanet said Monday that: "President Salih and the representatives of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior have comprehended that a situation where the Iraqi people are being used to carry out a hybrid attack has come about as a result of the Belarusian regime, while, in the end, their compatriots are suffering."

Laanet made his remarks while on an official visit to Iraq, where he met volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) personnel serving there, as well as President of Iraq Barham Salih and other government members.

The defense minister also noted the significance of the Defense League serving in Iraq, which they are doing as a part of NATO.

He said: "The Defense League team conducts its tasks within the NATO advisory and training mission in a highly professional manner, while the deputy commander of mission has recognized Estonian volunteers as being on an equal footing with regular Estonian Defense Forces members."

Estonia's one-off Defense League deployment followed an invitation from fellow NATO member stage Denmark, to take part in the NATO Mission in Iraq, established in 2018 and in which advises and supports Iraqi security forces in their defense of their country and its institutions.

The mission is the first time the Defense League has taken part in a foreign mission in over a decade; it is tasked with defending and securing the NATO training mission in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. 

Estonia also contributes one member towards the EU mission to Iraq, and Laanet met with Maj. Gen. Christoph Buik, Commander of the European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM)Iraq.

Regional security issues and the contribution of the allies to ensuring the security of Iraq were also discussed, while President Salih thanked Laanet for Estonia's contribution, and stressed the importance of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

In turn, Laanet thanked Iraqi representatives for the suspension of flights to Belarus, which, it is reported, had been used as a vector for migrants crossing the Belarusian border with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, a phenomenon Laanet has repeatedly referred to as a form of hybrid warfare.

Keeping this flight-link suspension in place was also necessary, to prevent further Iraqis from falling victim to human trafficking, the defense ministry says.

Iraqi government representatives also highlighted benefits it had gained from Estonia's experiences in the cyber field.

Laanet also met the Defense League's commander, Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi while the situation in Afghanistan was also discussed and described as a very serious situation, one which has a wider effect on the security situation as a whole.

The EDF also contributes one staff officer to Operation Resolute Support, a U.S.-led international military operation launched in 2015.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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