France quits watch over northern Iraq

France is pulling out of allied surveillance operations over northern Iraq following what it says is a change in the brief. A foreign ministry statement in Paris yesterday said the decision had been taken because the "humanitarian aspect originally envisaged" for the mission had been dropped.

"Operation Provide Comfort" will be continued jointly by the other participants, the United States, Turkey and Britain. It was started in 1991 after the end of the Gulf War with the joint aim of protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq and ensuring that Iraq observed the terms of the cease-fire. Its mandate expires on 31 December, after which France will no longer be involved.

The Turkish parliament met on Christmas Day to consider whether it should continue in the light of changed circumstances. These include Saddam Hussein's attack on Arbil, which forced the withdrawal of some of the multinational ground forces in northern Iraq, and fighting between the Kurdish factions which the international operation was protecting. Some of these factions went over to Saddam's side.

While allowing Provide Comfort to continue from its base at Incirlik, the Turks still refuse British aid agencies access to northern Iraq. They have also discontinued the provision for ground reconnaissance. French officials had argued that without this provision, the operation would be purely military and as such France would be unlikely to approve it.

France's concern to improve its diplomatic and commercial relations with Iraq is believed to lie at the heart of its decision. Paris was recently instrumental in persuading Baghdad to meet UN conditions for recommencing oil exports.

Heavy over-spending on its overseas military budget, which includes participation in the expensive peace-keeping operation in Bosnia, may be another factor. Air force training flights were recently suspended because the annual fuel budget had been exhausted. France is retrenching its military presence around the world because its forces are over-stretched and it must pay for the costly transition to an all-professional military on the British model to which President Chirac has committed himself.

The French decision was seized on by Iraq yesterday as marking a split in the six-and-a-half-year-old Gulf War coalition. Although the operation is nominally humanitarian, it has clearly become a surveillance mission enabling the Gulf War allies to hit Saddam Hussein any time he moves.

The British Foreign Office yesterday said it "noted the French position" but that the air surveillance operation continued to do useful work and should continue. In practice, France, like Britain, provides only a small air force - six planes - as its contribution to the operation, which is overwhelmingly American. France's contribution to the operation over southern Iraq, south of 33rd parallel, remains unaffected.

Although the French Foreign Ministry said France continued to enjoy "excellent" relations with Washington, France's decision to pull out of Operation Provide Comfort has annoyed the Clinton administration.

France and the US have clashed recently over command arrangements in Nato's Southern Command, based in Naples. The French said a "European" - probably a Frenchman - should have command. Other recent differences between the two allies range from the Middle East to the handling of the Zaire refugee crisis, the US-led ousting of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as UN Secretary General and what Washington insists was a snub by France to the outgoing Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?