NATO working on plan to advise Iraq on reforming its army

By Adrian Croft
A member from the Iraqi security forces guards as smoke rises from Baiji oil refinery, north of Baghdad, Iraq May 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

By Adrian Croft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO is expected to announce soon a plan to advise the Iraqi government on reforming its security forces which are fighting back after collapsing in the face of an offensive by Islamic State fighters, NATO diplomats said on Tuesday.

Iraq asked NATO for help training its security forces last December after Islamic State captured large parts of Iraq.

A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria but NATO as an organization has so far taken little part.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute said a plan under discussion at NATO could include advising Iraq on reforming its security sector and helping the government write a national security program.

NATO could also advise Iraq on logistics and on its military command structure, Lute told a news conference before a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday.

"That program is not yet complete but it is nearly complete so I would say in the coming weeks we would expect an announcement that NATO has finalised with the government of Iraq this defense capacity-building program," he said.

NATO sources said the package could include some training of the Iraqi army in specialized fields, though this was likely to be for only a small number of officers rather than large numbers of troops.

Lute said it had not yet been decided if any training would be carried out inside Iraq or in another country.

A second NATO diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aim was to approve a package of advice and support for Iraqi security sector reform by August.

Senior officials from the defense ministries of countries in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State would meet in Brussels on the sidelines of the defense ministers' meeting to discuss training, among other issues, the diplomat said.

No decision on the advice package is expected this week.

The NATO package is designed to complement what NATO allies are doing individually to assist Iraq with training.

President Barack Obama earlier this month ordered the deployment of 450 more U.S. troops to Iraq's Sunni heartland to advise and assist Iraqi forces, expanding the 3,100-strong U.S. contingent in Iraq.

NATO previously had a team training Iraqi security forces but it was withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011 when no agreement could be reached on the legal status of NATO troops operating in the country.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Dominic Evans)