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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory