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
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

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate