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Iraq: Foreign Minister Says NATO Assistance Needed Urgently

Brussels, 13 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said today it is a matter of "urgency" for NATO to fulfill the promise it made at last month's Istanbul summit to begin training and equipping Iraqi troops.

The Iraqi foreign minister made the plea after meeting NATO ambassadors this morning in Brussels:

"Our request has been that we need this training you promised us in Istanbul as soon as possible. We need it. In fact, we're in a race against time and it's a matter of urgency. Also, we requested equipment for our military and our security forces, and we want both components to be carried out as a package, just to save time," Zebari said.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said alliance members remain "committed" to helping Iraq. But he said the alliance is still discussing who should conduct the training, and how it should be conducted:

"Of course, we are looking at options at this very moment. These options can include, for instance, training for border security, training [by NATO nations] collectively or individually in Iraq, helping to establish an Iraq-wide command-and-control capability, and opportunities for training -- as I said [earlier] -- outside Iraq," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Some NATO allies, led by France, have said they will only participate in training that takes place outside Iraq. They also say only individual NATO member states -- not the alliance as a whole -- can act in Iraq

De Hoop Scheffer told reporters today he expects the implementation of the Istanbul decision to be approved before August. He said a team of military NATO experts has recently returned from Iraq and will report to the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's highest decision-making body.

Zebari today said the interim Iraqi government would prefer for all the training to take place inside Iraq, and with the collective participation of NATO troops. But he added that Iraq would welcome some training abroad by individual countries.

Zebari also said NATO could assist Iraq in improving what he said were serious problems with border control. De Hoop Scheffer indicated such assistance would be limited to the provision of specialist training. Zebari also said Iraq has asked NATO to set up direct links with the Iraqi Embassy in Brussels. He said a specialist liaison officer would be appointed on the Iraqi side.

Asked by journalists to describe the current condition of the Iraqi armed forces, Zebari said he was unable to give precise details. But he said Iraq's ultimate goal was to have a professional army capable of answering to a civilian leadership and of defending Iraq's borders and national interests.