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NATO: Iraq Asks Alliance For Greater Assistance

Prime Minister al-Maliki at NATO headquarters in Brussels (AFP) BRUSSELS -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has urged NATO countries to expand the alliance's training effort in his country and to donate more equipment to Iraq's fledgling army.

After using the first day of his historic trip to Brussels to lay groundwork for enhanced trade and cooperation, al-Maliki turned his attention to security for talks with NATO's leadership.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance will consider the request, but added that NATO will not "replace" the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

NATO is currently running a relatively modest training program for Iraqi Army and police officers. Individual NATO countries have also donated weapons and other equipment. NATO's low-key involvement in Iraq largely stems from the fact that France and Germany, among others, opposed the U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

However, there are indications the alliance might be ready to extend its cooperation with Iraq.

Prime Minister al-Maliki emerged from a meeting with NATO ambassadors in Brussels on April 17 saying that, at least for the time being, his government's ambitions remain limited.

"We did not come here to request extra troops that would replace the Iraqi troops in confrontations against the challenges," al-Maliki said. "We came here to ask for more training and more equipment. The major security responsibility in Iraq will remain on the shoulders of the Iraqi troops."

But the Iraqi leader also noted that his country is at the forefront of a global battle with terrorism. In what some might read as a veiled criticism of NATO's contribution so far, he said Iraq feels "there should be more effort [and] more speed."

But al-Maliki said assistance provided by NATO had been "a major factor" in shaping the actions of the Iraqi army in the recent "crucial confrontations" in Al-Basrah, Baghdad, and elsewhere.

Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer did not elucidate on the alliance's possible response to the Iraqi requests. He did say, however, that the all allies are committed to securing Iraq's stability and prosperity.

"It was crystal clear around the [North Atlantic Council] table this morning that all the NATO allies would like to see a stable, secure, and prosperous Iraq -- where we all have a lot at stake in the fight against those people who do not want only not to see stability and security in Iraq, but also would like to inflict damage on our societies," de Hoop Scheffer said.

De Hoop Scheffer said a NATO delegation will soon visit Baghdad to discuss Iraqi proposals for a new cooperation treaty between the two sides. NATO leaders agreed at their Bucharest summit on April 2-4 to develop a "structured cooperation framework" for Iraq.

The NATO chief also noted that the summit had extended the remit of the NATO training mission in Iraq until the end of 2009, and quoted a recent Italian contribution of police trainers as an example of the alliance's commitment to continue expanding it.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO will not replace U.S. or other coalition troops in Iraq, but will provide assistance within the confines of its "toolbox" of experience and resources according to Iraq's requests and "what is feasible within the alliance."

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