NATO opens elite staff college to train Iraqi army officers

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – NATO’s top brass on Tuesday opened a long-awaited training academy for the Iraqi military that the alliance say will significantly increase its role in the country.Although dwarfed by the operation run by the U.S-dominated coalition forces to build up the new Iraqi army, NATO says the new institution to turn out senior Iraqi military officers is crucial to create local forces that can eventually take charge of the country’s security.”This center makes and marks a significant step toward a more secure Iraq,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after hoisting a NATO flag over the alliance’s training mission headquarters.The Bush administration welcomed the opening of the academy, saying the United States and NATO are committed to supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Iraq.”This new center … demonstrates the important role the alliance can play in support of this goal,” said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.NATO’s role in Iraq has been limited to the training mission and to supplying equipment to Iraqi forces, a result of opposition led by France and Germany to any wider role.Ten of the 26 allies refused to send soldiers to serve on the training mission in Iraq, although all have agreed to help in some way, either training outside the country or contributing to the cost, estimated to top $10.8 million this year.The new NATO academy, in the southeastern Baghdad suburb of Rustamiyah, aims to turn out 900 officers a year – either through a British-run cadet training course that is due to come under NATO command at the end of the year, or an elite joint-staff college that started courses this week for 90 junior and senior officers. NATO currently has 165 alliance personnel in Iraq.NATO officials likened the college to West Point or to Britain’s military school at Sandhurst.The Iraqi armed forces had a similar training college under Saddam Hussein, but it was shut down after his ouster in 2003.Underlining its significance, Iraq’s Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari attended the opening. NATO officials added that two women students had enrolled.The alliance had expected to get the academy up and running earlier this year, but was delayed fixing damaged buildings and raising the personnel to run the operation.In the meantime, it has been training Iraqi instructors in the heavily guarded Green Zone in the Iraqi capital. Over half of the instructors at the college are Iraqi.De Hoop Scheffer acknowledged that it was unlikely in the short term that NATO would be taking a wider role in Iraq.”We are doing in Iraq at the moment, what NATO does best, which is leadership training,” he said.However, he suggested the training mission could be widened at some point, to include paramilitary police as well as other military police officers, possibly in a joint mission involving the European Union.Vail, Colorado

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