Four abducted employees of French Christian NGO released in Iraq
Four employees working with a French Christian charity who were kidnapped in Iraq in January have been released, France's presidency said on Thursday.
The release of the four men with SOS Chretiens d'Orient (Christians of the Middle East) comes just a day after France said it would withdraw its troops from Iraq due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The presidential Elysee Palace in Paris said that France had made "every effort to reach this outcome". "The president expresses his gratitude to the Iraqi authorities for their cooperation," the presidency said in a statement without adding details.
SOS Chretiens d'Orient said on Twitter it welcomed the release of its four employees - three French nationals and one Iraqi. The charity also said it "warmly thanked the French authorities for their work, as well as the Iraqi authorities".
Last week, SOS Chretiens d'Orient said that there had been no news of its four employees and they had received no ransom demand nor had any group claimed responsibility for their abduction.
Violence erupts during protests in Iraq
Iraqis ushered in October with anti-government protests in Baghdad. These quickly deteriorated into violent confrontations resulting in hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths. Unease remains in several cities. By Cristina Burack
Days of violence: despite promises of reform by the government, protests against corruption and mismanagement in Iraq continue. Once again on Friday people gathered in central locations in the capital Baghdad, as well as in the south of the country
Protests without end: following days of violent protests, a curfew was supposed to provide peace and quiet - after all, at least 100 people have died and some 1,600 have been injured. However, many demonstrators ignored the curfew and spent the night outside to protest further
Protests without a party: these are by no means the first protests against the difficult living conditions in Iraq. In some places, there are only four hours of electricity a day, and according to the World Bank, youth unemployment stands at 25 percent. Iraq's most senior Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani called for "serious reforms" before it was too late
Lockdown: there is already talk of the first protests "without flag, without posters and without party slogan". They were, however, obviously fanned by the dismissal of a popular general, Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi. In Baghdad, the demonstrators tried to enter the so-called Green Zone. Numerous government buildings and embassies are located in the high-security district
Allegations of police violence: security forces have been using tear gas against demonstrators since the beginning of the protests. The UN Human Rights Office in Geneva also fears that police officers have been using live ammunition and rubber bullets. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi came under fire when he praised the security forces and blamed the unspecified "attackers" for the violence
The country's president, Barham Saleh (photo, March 2019), reiterated his condemnation of the violence and called for "restraint and respect for the law". "Peaceful protest is a constitutional right granted to citizens," Saleh stressed. The Human Rights Committee of the Iraqi Parliament criticised the "repression" of the protests
Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy and Tariq Mattoka were kidnapped in Baghdad on 20 January, as the Iraqi capital was gripped by demonstrations.
The months of protests were initially against the government, but America's military presence in Iraq became a hot-button issue after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on 3 January.
SOS Chretiens d'Orient has been working with persecuted Christians in Iraq since 2014 when Islamic State jihadists overran the province of Mosul, displacing tens of thousands of minority Christians and Yazidis. The organisation, which is fiercely critical of Islam, portraying it as a threat to Christianity in the Middle East, has drawn criticism in the past for sending young French volunteers to Syria and Iraq for months at a time.
France said on Wednesday it would withdraw its 200 military personnel working in Iraq, which are mostly trainers to local armed forces, blaming complications arising from the COVID-19 crisis.
Iraq's military halted all training in early March to minimise the risk of the illness spreading among its forces, including from the US-led coalition helping fight remnants of Islamic State.
The U.S., whose military represents the vast majority of foreign troops in Iraq, has announced the coalition will be temporarily reducing its forces. (AFP)