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NATO to Consider Helping Iraqi Security Forces - 2004-06-24

NATO's top civilian official says the 26-member alliance should not reject a request from Iraq's interim prime minister for NATO to help train Iraqi security forces. The alliance's secretary-general says NATO leaders could agree at a summit in Istanbul early next week to provide such assistance.

Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters at NATO headquarters Thursday that the alliance cannot simply turn down a request for help from interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Mr. Allawi wrote a letter to the secretary-general earlier this week asking for assistance in training and requesting unspecified technical aid for Iraqi security forces.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer says NATO heads of state and government will discuss how to respond to Mr. Allawi's request at their summit in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday. He says he expects that, if the allies agree, and he has no doubt that they can, NATO could honor the request. As far as the secretary-general is concerned, helping Iraq would be the right thing to do.

"There is a [U.N.] Security Council resolution. There is a fully legitimized interim government in Iraq, with a prime minister who writes a letter to NATO. NATO should never slam the door in this prime minister's or this government's face," he said.

Italy said Thursday that it and other countries are available to train Iraqi security forces. And Germany, which opposed the Iraq war and still refuses to send troops to the embattled country, indicated through diplomatic channels that it would be willing to help train a new Iraqi military under NATO's direction as long as such training occurs outside of Iraq. Germany is already training Iraqi police in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer would not specifically say what NATO can do in terms of training, but he says it could take place either inside or outside Iraq. He also says he does not know what kind of technical assistance Mr. Allawi wants from the alliance.

NATO's role in Iraq has been limited to providing logistical support to a Polish-led multinational division in the south-central part of the country, though 16 of the 26 allies have troops there.

The secretary-general says NATO's main priority is still Afghanistan, where it commands the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. But he concedes the alliance has run into embarrassing problems trying to expand its operations to the country's provinces because many member countries have not made good on their pledges to supply helicopters and transport aircraft.

"It is not an ideal situation, to put it mildly, that the secretary-general goes around with his begging bowl for helicopters and C-130s [transport aircraft]. I hear the roar of their engines in my dreams from time to time," he said.

But he told reporters that NATO leaders will commit themselves at the summit to fulfilling those pledges. And he says he hopes they will also review the way the alliance finances its military operations to avoid a repeat of its difficult experience in generating the resources it needs in Afghanistan.