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NATO Allies Reach Compromise on Training Iraqi Troops - 2004-07-30

NATO has agreed to begin training Iraqi security forces next month, but has postponed until September a decision on whether the alliance's mission should come under the U.S.-led coalition. The deal, reached after three days of negotiations, overcame for the time being, a dispute between France and the United States about the relationship between the NATO unit and coalition forces.

Even though NATO's chiefs of state and government agreed at a summit last month in Istanbul that the alliance should train Iraqi forces, France has been wary of any arrangement that might establish a relationship between NATO and the coalition.

France, which opposed the war and refuses to send its own troops to Iraq under any circumstances, at first objected to a NATO presence on Iraqi soil, saying those allies who wished to be involved in the training mission inside Iraq should do so as individual nations.

On Friday, it backed away from that position but insisted that the commander of the NATO mission should have no ties to the coalition.

The United States has argued that the NATO mission should be under the wing of the coalition to ensure its safety and protection. It proposed that the NATO unit be placed under the operational command of the senior U.S. general in Iraq.

With the impasse threatening to block the start of the mission, which the new Iraqi government has said is urgently needed, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer came up with a compromise Friday that one diplomat described as a typical NATO fudge.

Under the arrangement, an advance team of about 40 NATO officers will leave for Iraq next month to begin training courses. The team will report back to NATO headquarters in September on what kind of relationship an enlarged training mission should have with the U.S.-led multinational force.

A statement issued by the secretary-general says the advance team will immediately begin training Iraqi headquarters personnel in Iraq and select Iraqi personnel to be trained outside the country. The statement says the advance team will be under the political control of NATO ambassadors, but will closely coordinate its activities with the coalition.

An aide to Mr. De Hoop Scheffer says the secretary-general wants the training mission to start immediately so NATO can fulfill its pledge to the new Iraqi government. With NATO under fire for acting too slowly in fulfilling a promise to boost its forces in Afghanistan, the aide says the last thing the alliance needs is another blow to its credibility.