Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appealed to NATO on Tuesday to speed up promised training for his country’s security forces and to provide border security support and military equipment as well.
“We need this training you promised us in Istanbul to be carried out as soon as possible. We need it, in fact we are in a race against time and it’s a matter of urgency,” Zebari told a news conference after meeting ambassadors of the 26-nation alliance.
The U.S.-dominated alliance agreed at a summit in Turkey last month to help train the interim Iraqi government’s security forces, facing a violent post-war insurgency, but France and Germany object to any collective NATO presence inside Iraq.
However, the wording of the summit agreement was left vague because France resisted a U.S. push for the alliance to be a central agency for training inside the country.
No decisions have been made yet on whether the training will be a collective mission under NATO’s banner or whether the alliance will simply help coordinate individual allies’ efforts.
A NATO delegation visited Iraq last week to establish what Baghdad requires, and the alliance hopes to decide before the end of this month what its mission will entail.
The issue is sensitive because French President Jacques Chirac made clear at the Istanbul summit that he did not want the training program to develop into a NATO presence inside Iraq. He suggested the instruction should be done outside the country or be handled by nations on a bilateral level. U.S. officials say a meaningful training operation must include NATO involvement on the ground in Iraq.
Without indicating how NATO would resolve those differences, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer insisted Monday that the training mission would have a significant impact.
“NATO is going to contribute in an area that is critical to Iraq’s future and where the alliance has valuable experience and expertise to share,” he said.
Until now, NATO’s role in Iraq has been limited to providing logistical backup to the Polish-led multinational division working with the U.S.-led coalition in south-central Iraq. Opposition led by France and Germany ruled out any wider role before the United States handed power to the Iraqi government last month.
European Union cites security issue
On the first day of a heavily guarded trip to Brussels, Zebari won assurances Monday from European Union foreign ministers of more direct EU involvement in rebuilding his country.
The EU is already the largest donor of humanitarian aid, but officials said plans for dispatching EU personnel were dependent on improved security in Iraq.
EU ministers said they would send an exploratory mission to Iraq “if conditions permit” to determine the best way for the EU to promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights there.
The EU has committed to spend $371 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq this year. A similar commitment is expected next year.
Proposals being considered by EU include helping train Iraqi police and civil servants, preparing for elections and assisting in reconstruction and administration.