US presses NATO for Iraq
Washington reduces troops, pushes its European allies for long-term training mission
9 February, 2018
The US forces began to reduce their numbers in Iraq while Washington pushes for long-term mission of NATO in the country, news wires reported. Iraqi government spokesman said last Monday that the reducing of the US troops follows the victory over IS. Iraqi forces, backed by a US-led international coalition, last year captured all the territory that fell under IS control in 2014 and 2015, including the northern city of Mosul. Iraq declared full victory over IS in December.
An international coalition spokesman declined to confirm or deny that the US drawdown had begun, adding that the continued coalition presence will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq, Reuters reported.
One senior Iraqi official close to PM Haider al-Abadi said 60% of all US troops still in Iraq will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with Washington. The plan would leave about 4,000 US troops to continue training the Iraqi military. The US troops reduction also comes about three months ahead of Iraqi national elections. While the US has closely supported key Iraqi military victories over IS in places like the city of Mosul, some of the Shiite-led paramilitary forces with close ties to Iran called for the withdrawal of US forces. Some in Iraq's Sunni minority community view the US presence in Iraq as a buffer against the country's Shiite-dominated central government.
Meanwhile, news wires reported last week that Washington has renewed pressure on its European NATO allies to establish a long-term train-and-advise mission in Iraq. US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis has sent a letter to NATO headquarters in January calling for a formal NATO mission to Iraq with a semi-permanent or permanent command to train Iraqi forces, senior NATO diplomats said.
Mattis suggested developing military academies and a military doctrine for the Iraqi defence ministry. Other ideas include bomb disposal training, maintenance of Soviet-era vehicles and medical training.
“The US is pushing hard for a NATO role in Iraq, not in a combat role, but for a long-term assignment,” one senior NATO diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan,” the diplomat added, referring to the long-running conflict where NATO is funding and training Afghan forces. “Few allies want that.”
The US push is part of President Donald Trump's demand that the Western alliance go beyond its core task of defending its territory and help stem Islamic militancy. Trump scolded allies last May at a summit in Brussels, warning of more attacks in Europe if NATO did not do more to stop militants. Then, US officials had raised the possibility of NATO taking over the running of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, as it did of the US-led mission in Afghanistan in 2003. But European allies fear being pulled into another open-ended foreign assignment that is costly, unpopular at home and potentially dangerous.