NATO to agree larger Iraq training force as violence rises

NATO to agree larger Iraq training force as violence rises

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO defence ministers are set to expand the military alliance’s training mission in Iraq once the coronavirus pandemic eases, senior officials and diplomats said, potentially cementing a broader role for the Atlantic alliance in the Middle East.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday he expected defence ministers to agree to an expanded mission, with more allied personnel working in more security institutions across Iraq.

“The mission will expand gradually, in response to the situation,” he said.

NATO has had a non-combat, “train-and-advise” mission in Baghdad since October 2018 but plans to expand it were delayed, in part, by Covid-19 and also due to concerns about regional stability after a U.S. drone killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad on Jan. 3. 2020.

Earlier expansion plans were mainly in response to a demand by then-U.S. President Donald Trump for NATO to do more in the Middle East. This time, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief and U.S. ally who took office in May, is eager to have a greater NATO presence in the country at a time of rising insecurity, diplomats said.

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