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NATO Leaders Agree to Train Iraqi Forces

NATO Leaders Agree to Iraqi Government Request to Help Train Iraq's Armed Forces

The Associated Press/June 28, 2004

NATO leaders opened a summit Monday and agreed to help train Iraq's armed forces just hours after the new government in Baghdad took over sovereignty from the U.S.-led administration.

"We are united in our support for the Iraqi people and offer full cooperation to the new sovereign interim government as it seeks to strengthen internal security," said a statement adopted in the opening session of the two-day summit.

The decision came hours after the United States transferred power two days ahead of schedule to the Iraqi administration. President Bush marked the transfer with a whispered comment and a handshake with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, gathered with other leaders around a table at the summit.

A statement called on alliance officials to "urgently" discuss details of the training plan with the Iraqi authorities, who are struggling to contain a wave of deadly insurgent attacks. NATO said it would also urgently consider "further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions."

It was unclear how many NATO instructors would be sent to Iraq or when they would leave. The leaders called on their representatives to work out the details "on an urgent basis" with the Iraqi leadership.

The decision falls well short of U.S. hopes that NATO would assume a major military role in Iraq, perhaps by taking over the multinational division currently run by Poland.

"There was no appetite for sending additional peacekeeping forces," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after meeting with NATO ministers.

Despite their speed in agreeing to the training, the allies remain divided over how to go ahead with the plan. France and Germany want a lower profile operation with NATO playing a coordinating role for national training programs.

Both countries said they would not send military instructors to Iraq, preferring to train officers outside the country.

NATO officials said the alliance may start out by offering instruction to senior Iraqi offices at elite allied military schools in Rome and Oberammergau, Germany, and then expand to included training in Iraq.

"A formal NATO presence in Iraq is possible," a senior NATO official said.

Sixteen member nations have sent troops individually to Iraq.

The NATO summit said allies would "consider, as a matter of urgency ... further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions."

Alliance leaders also agreed to expand the NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, raising the level of troops to 10,000 during the September elections from the current 6,500.

"Contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan is NATO's key priority," the leaders said.

Officials said the expansion would include four more permanent peacekeeping teams deployed in northern cities, as well as a temporary increase in troop levels to provide election security.

The alliance peacekeeping mission is currently limited to the capital, Kabul, and the northern city of Kunduz.

The agreement follows months of delays as allied nations have been reluctant to provide troops and equipment for the expensive and dangerous mission.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned ahead of the summit that the failure to meet commitments in Afghanistan was jeopardizing NATO's credibility.

The NATO peacekeeping operation is separate from the U.S.-led counterinsurgency force fighting remnants of the Taliban regime and its al-Qaida allies, mainly in the south and east.

NATO leaders also agreed to end their mission in Bosnia by Dec. 31 and turn over responsibility for peacekeeping to a European Union force.

NATO said it had "agreed to conclude the alliance's successful ... operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and welcomed the readiness of the European Union to deploy a new and distinct U.N.-mandated ... mission in the country."

The European Union has agreed to take over the 7,500-member mission, which will be the bloc's most ambitious military operation to date.

NATO, which began the mission nine years ago, will maintain a presence in Bosnia to help the country with defense reforms, fight terrorism and continue searching for war crimes suspects. It will keep a headquarters in the capital, Sarajevo.

Bush said Sunday the alliance was poised to "meet the threats of the 21st century."

Earlier Sunday, he sought to strengthen ties with vital ally Turkey, a task complicated by threats from Iraqi militants to decapitate three Turks unless the country's companies stop aiding U.S. forces in Iraq.

Turks overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq. Bush is widely unpopular here more than 40,000 Turks turned out for a peaceful protest Sunday against his visit and the NATO summit.

On Monday, police used tear gas to stop hundreds of protesters from approaching the conference center where NATO leaders met.

The protesters threw firebombs and several police and protesters were injured and were evacuated to local hospitals.

Another 2,000 members of a small communist party later gathered near Istanbul's central Taksim square, about a mile from the summit zone, shouting, "Down with NATO Get out!" The group dispersed peacefully.

Turkish security forces sealed off a large sections of Istanbul amid fears of terrorist attacks and violent protests. Fighter planes flew overhead and 23,000 police and security forces patrolled the streets.

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