NATO chief vows troops will stay in post-IS Iraq
The secretary general of NATO says the alliance plans to step up training of Iraq’s armed forces, including by setting up military academies.
Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that the goal of training is to ensure that the extremist Islamic State group “is never able to come back in the way we have seen before.”
NATO is part of a global alliance that drove IS from large areas in Syria and Iraq.
After declaring victory over IS in December, Iraqi officials said they will focus on training the armed forces with the help of NATO and Western nations.
Despite of billions of dollars spent on training Iraqi forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the military suffered a humiliating defeat when IS militants swept through nearly one-third of Iraq in mid-2014.
On Monday, Stoltenberg said NATO forces are staying in Iraq at the country's request, as he kicked off a rare visit to Baghdad after parliament called for a foreign troop pullout.
"We are here because Iraq wants us to be here, we are not here without the consent and without an invitation from Iraq," Stoltenberg told AFP.
"We should not stay longer than necessary, we will train the trainers as long as necessary to make sure IS does not reemerge," he said of the extremist group.
His comments come days after the Iraqi parliament called for the government to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
"The Iraqi parliament expresses its gratitude to all countries which have supported Iraq in its fight against Daesh and calls for the government to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops," it said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared in December the end of the war to expel IS militants from the country, three years after they seized a third of Iraq, sweeping aside security forces.
Stoltenberg said NATO received a "written request" from Abadi to keep its troops in the country.
He said troops from 19 member countries have stepped up training Iraqi forces in several fields.
NATO "is scaling up its training, like countering IEDs (improvised explosive devices), military medicine, maintenance of equipment and in some other areas," he said.
"We are also planning to help Iraqis to establish military schools and academies to educate their trainers to improve its capacity to form its own trainers," Stoltenberg said.
In addition, NATO will work with Iraq "on institutional reform, including fighting corruption," he added.
He also praised the "enormous transformation" of Iraqi forces since 2014, when Daesh launched its lightening offensive and seized swathes of territory.
"The Iraqi forces in 2014 are totally different from the Iraqi forces in 2018, there was an enormous transformation," the NATO chief said.