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NATO: Visiting Iraqi President Underscores 'Urgency' Of Assistance

Iraq's interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir was in Brussels yesterday to urge NATO member states to expand their current modest training mission in the country. Hinting that Iraq needs more than limited training for its security forces, al-Yawir indicated the conduct of parliamentary elections in January depends largely on outside assistance. NATO ambassadors are due to discuss the extension the Iraqi training mission today, but officials see little chance of a quick breakthrough.

Brussles, 15 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The central message delivered to NATO ambassadors yesterday by interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir was that time is running out to stabilize the country.

It was essentially the same message the Iraqi government delivered to the NATO alliance in June, asking for training and equipment for its security forces.

However, NATO governments are still wrangling over the details of the aid scheme in another re-run of the rift created by the war in Iraq, pitching the United States against France and a few other European nations.

Today, the ambassadors will again consider the issue after a month's break. Meanwhile, a small mission of about 40 men remains in Baghdad, offering training to Iraqi headquarters personnel. This falls far short of what Iraqi officials see as the country's real needs.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer supports full NATO assistance to Iraq. After meeting al-Yawir yesterday, he borrowed lines from the Iraqi president to publicly increase pressure on the French government and its allies who resist a collective role for the alliance in Iraq.
In a display of optimism, de Hoop Scheffer said he is drawing up a report on what NATO can do beyond training to further support the government in Baghdad.

"Two remarks [of al-Yawir's] stick in my mind. The first remark made by the president was 'Iraqi people are looking at you,' and I think the president is very right. From this remark stems the notion that I think NATO should speedily further implement this decision on the training of Iraqi security institutions and this is exactly what [NATO] ambassadors under my chairmanship are actually doing," de Hoop Scheffer said.

De Hoop Scheffer said the second point made by the president turned on the word "urgency." Speaking to journalists after the meeting, de Hoop Scheffer said it is "urgent" that Iraqi people take responsibility for their country. He said a full NATO training mission was one of "the most essential things" the alliance can do in present-day Iraq.

In a display of optimism, de Hoop Scheffer said he is drawing up a report on what NATO can do beyond training to further support the government in Baghdad.

President al-Yawir underlined yesterday the seriousness of the terrorist threat to the interim Iraqi government. He said "nameless, faceless groups" were out to undermine the stability of the country and the future of its people. "The situation in Iraq is not war between factions, no," he said. "It is the Iraqi public and the Iraqi government on one side, and these groups of people who are making it their mission to undermine the political process and to take Iraq into chaos on the other side."

Al-Yawir said Iraq is "very appreciative" of NATO countries for providing what help they already do to train its security forces. But, he said, much more is needed, especially in light of the need to secure the upcoming elections in January. The polls, he said, must have a "safe and sound environment," without intimidation.

He discounted reports that the government might not hold polls in troubled cities: "It's a national election, you cannot have it in certain areas and not others."

Al-Yawir said he had heard yesterday a lot of "words of support," and repeated the need for support is urgency, and time is short as the elections draw near.

Asked what additional help Iraq would require, al-Yawir appeared mindful of the political sensitivity of the current debate within NATO. He reiterated needs already under discussion -- military expertise, expansion of the current training mission, equipment, and "moral support."

Currently, the stickiest issues between the United States and France involve the lines of command of any NATO-constituted mission in Iraq. The United States has been pushing for the lines to run at least partially through the multinational forces headed by itself. The argument has been that a NATO mission will need extensive military protection and the multinational force remains the only realistic option for the task.

De Hoop Scheffer acknowledged yesterday the crucial nature of this quandary. "NATO will decide on the training mission and, as you know, the force protection for the training mission will be provided for the multinational force," he said. "That is the reason that the unity of command for this distinct NATO mission with the multinational force is of the essence."

Al-Yawir met last night with the EU's security and foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Solana reiterated the bloc's willingness to provide financial aid and launch a "rule-of-law mission" to train policemen and border guards. However, EU diplomats say the deteriorating security situation is an ever-growing obstacle to more involvement.

For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

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