Interim Iraqi leader Iyad Allawi called on NATO on Friday to rapidly expand its security forces training mission in his insurgency-hit country, warning that delays could cost lives.
The 26-nation alliance agreed at a summit in Istanbul last June to set up a military academy outside Baghdad, overcoming misgivings from France and other opponents of the U.S.-led war over whether NATO should have a role in Iraq at all.
"The more help NATO can give us, the quicker the Iraqi forces will develop," the interim prime minister told NATO ambassadors at the alliance's headquarters.
"Time is of the essence. There is a real battle in Iraq today. Delays measured even in hours and days can cost lives."
NATO's academy will complement a much larger U.S.-led operation whose goal is to train some 150,000 security personnel before Iraq's national elections, which are due in January.
The mission also envisages the alliance coordinating offers of military equipment from both NATO and non-NATO countries to the Iraqi security forces.
"Please use the solidarity that you expressed in Istanbul to move forward your plans as quickly as possible," Allawi said, adding that NATO's support would help democracy spread across the Middle East.
"A stable, peaceful, strong ... democratic Iraq would spill over to the whole region and create a much more stable and peaceful region. That is why we ... believe very strongly that NATO should provide help and continue to support us in our bid to build democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Iraq."
Allawi went on from NATO to a summit of European Union leaders, some of whom expressed dismay when -- on a visit to Rome on Thursday -- he described states that opposed the war to oust Saddam Hussein as "spectators."