IRAQ: Kidnapped French and Syriac aid workers released after France announces withdrawal of forces from Iraq

PARIS / BAGHDAD — French authorities on Thursday said four aid workers of French Christian non-governmental organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient were released shortly after the French government announced the (partial) withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. The four were missing since January 20. The office of the French president issued a statement that the French authorities did everything in their power to get the four released and expressed its thanks to the Iraqi authorities for their help in this matter.

T. Mattoqa. Image: Assyrian Policy Institute
Image: Assyrian Policy Institute

The statement further said that, “The President of the Republic welcomes the release of our three nationals Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy and Iraqi Tariq Mattoka”. Tariq Mattoka (picture) is a Syriac from the Syriac-majority town of Baghdede in the Nineveh Plains and worked for the NGO as a translator and driver. Only last week did SOS Chrétiens d’Orient say in a statement that there were no new developments in the case, that no group had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping nor was any ransom demanded.

SOS Chrétiens d’Orient provides aid in the Middle East and in northern Iraq since 2014. The French nationals and Syriac Iraqi were kidnapped in Baghdad on January 20 where they disappeared on their way to the French embassy in the center of the city. It was a time when the city and country saw massive protests over corruption, clientelism, governmental incompetence, failing public services and the influence of Iran and its proxy militias. General Qassem Suleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was killed by the Americans in Baghdad on 3 January 2020.

French newspaper Le Figaro suspects the perpetrators are to be sought in the camp of Shiite militias. The most serious lead was the hypothesis of a kidnapping by a Shiite militia, linked to (proxy) centers of Iraqi power and Iranian influence. The Shiite militias have made the departure of foreign forces from Iraq – and not just American soldiers – one of their main goals. It is hard to ignore a “causal link” between the French withdrawal – officially over the outbreak of the coronavirus – and the release of the French and Syriac aid workers.