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NATO Promises to Train Iraqi Forces, Details to Be Worked Out - 2004-06-28

The leaders of NATO's 26 nations, meeting at a summit in Istanbul, have formally agreed the alliance should help Iraq's new government train its armed forces. But differences remain among the allies over how this should be done. NATO has also agreed to boost its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

The decision to help train Iraqi security forces came just after the sooner-than-expected handover of power to Iraq's new government by the U.S.-led coalition. Help for Iraq came in response to a request last week by the country's prime minister, Iyad Allawi, for training and other technical assistance.

But there is still no agreement on whether the training will take place inside or outside Iraq, when it will begin, and how many NATO instructors will be involved.

French President Jacques Chirac says NATO should not have a presence in Iraq. His aides say France, backed by such countries as Germany, Belgium and Spain, believes individual NATO allies should conduct training programs for Iraqis. They also believe that NATO could act as a coordinator for such activities, but that, under no circumstances, should there be what they call a NATO flag in Iraq.

The United States and Britain want a NATO training mission to be a first step toward a gradually increasing presence of the alliance in Iraq. U.S. officials at the summit have spoken of a NATO command eventually being set up in Baghdad. The alliance also pledged Monday to continue giving logistical support to a Polish-led multinational division in south-central Iraq.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose responsibility it is to put together the training package for the Iraqis, says the details still have to be worked out, but that it is up to the Iraqis themselves, now that they have recovered their sovereignty, to decide just what they want NATO to give them.

"How this training is going to be worked out, I do not know yet, because, let's not forget that, after the very important moment we all witnessed this morning, it is the Iraqi government, and only the Iraqi government who's going to decide finally what's going to happen, and not a NATO capital or NATO as such," Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said.

NATO makes decisions by consensus, so it is unclear for now how soon ambassadors can come to a compromise agreement on just what kind of role the alliance will play in Iraq.

On Afghanistan, which Mr. de Hoop Scheffer considers the alliance's main priority, NATO agreed to raise the level of its peacekeeping force there from the current 6,500 troops to 10,000 to provide security for the nationwide elections later this year. The alliance has struggled to persuade its members to contribute more troops and equipment to the Afghan mission, and diplomats say that its credibility is at risk, if it fails to honor its commitments there.

NATO says its nine-year peacekeeping mission in Bosnia has been a success, and it is preparing to hand over control of the operation to the European Union later this year. But some analysts wonder if the alliance could not have done more to track down and capture war crimes suspects who are still on the run.