An Iraqi government delegation visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium to discuss the thirty-nation military bloc’s continued role in the Middle East nation.
In what is perhaps an unprecedentedly high-level visit, Iraq’s prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister – Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Jumaah Saadoon and Fuad Hussein, respectively – met with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The foreign minister was at NATO headquarters this March as well.
As the U.S. has drawn down its military forces in Iraq to some 2,500 troops, NATO is boosting its troop presence from 500 to 5,000.
Although the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain in 2003 was not a NATO operation, the military alliance became involved immediately afterward in assisting Poland to administer one of four zones the occupation forces divided the nation into: the South Central or South Center zone.
The NATO Training Mission – Iraq was launched in 2005 and trained thousands of Iraqi officers and men including the nation’s oil police. Its first commander was then Lieutenant General David Petraeus, who subsequently became head of U.S. Central Command and later commander of 150,000 American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. He was already the commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq when he took over the NATO role.
Among George W. Bush’s and Tony Blair’s “coalition of the willing” allies contributing troops for the war in Iraq in 2003 were new NATO members the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; those that would join the following year, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia; ones that would be presented with full membership in 2009, Albania and Croatia; and partners and candidates Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine. Iraq was used to groom new NATO members as the Korean War was to prepare Greece and Turkey for induction into the alliance. Iraq, like Afghanistan, has been used to develop NATO’s global multinational, expeditionary, warfighting force.
In 2012 Iraq became one of the first eight members of the bloc’s Partners Across the Globe.
Three years later NATO inaugurated a Defence Capacity Building Package for Iraq. The former NATO Training Mission – Iraq is now the NATO Mission Iraq.
The communiqué issued at the NATO summit on June 14 identified Iraq as a key partner the bloc would consolidate military ties with. One thing NATO-trained Iraqi troops will not be permitted to do is confront Turkish invasion forces in the north of their country. The latter are protected by the military alliance.
The recent visit by the three Iraqi ministers included their meeting with the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s main decision-making body, and with NATO Mission Iraq operational partners Australia, Finland and Sweden, all three now also NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partners.
The bloc’s tentacles reach from the High North to the South Pacific to the Persian Gulf.