Iraq premier invites NATO secretary-general to visit Baghdad “at earliest opportunity”

Iraq's newly-appointed Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi (PM's media office)

Iraq’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi (PM’s media office)

By Habib Toumi

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has invited NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to visit Baghdad “as soon as possible” to discuss ways of increasing collaboration with the alliance’s mission in Iraq.

Kadhimi stressed that the Iraqi government attaches great importance to the partnership with NATO and extended an invitation to the NATO Secretary-General to visit Baghdad at the earliest opportunity with his team to discuss ways to raise the level of cooperation, especially in the field of training and support to the security forces, and to overcome obstacles related to security and to health protection measures, the prime minister’s office said.

NATO Secretary General visited Iraq on 16 September 2016 (NATO)

NATO Secretary General visited Iraq on September 16, 2016 (NATO)

It its statement, NATO said that Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a phone call with new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi and congratulated him on his appointment and parliamentary confirmation.

“I want to thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for your unwavering commitment to the fight against terrorism; this is important for Iraq and for all NATO Allies; NATO will never forget the sacrifices made by the Iraqi forces and people,” the NATO Secretary General said.

“NATO remains fully committed to continue its efforts to strengthen the Iraqi security forces and institutions and to step up our cooperation with the Iraqi government in the fight against terrorism,” he added.

The NATO Secretary General pointed out that he would direct NATO staff in Baghdad to reach out to the Iraqi authorities to this effect.

Stoltenberg expressed solidarity with the Iraqi people in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. He highlighted that NATO stands ready to consider assistance, upon request from the Iraqi authorities, according to the statement.

Al Kadhimi was sworn in on Wednesday as the new prime minister in Iraq, following the approval of the parliament on most of his cabinet members.

Last month, Stoltenberg told the media that “the reason why we reduced our presence in Iraq was security conditions, a decision taken before the COVID-19 crisis, but we will step up as soon as the conditions on the ground permit.”

NATO Secretary General views NATO Training Camp Base-Iraq activities at Camp Besmaya, Iraq, March 5, 2018 (NATO)

NATO Secretary General views NATO Training Camp Base-Iraq activities at Camp Besmaya, Iraq, March 5, 2018 (NATO)

In October 2018, NATO agreed to establish a training and capacity-building mission in Iraq upon the request of the Iraqi government.

The non-combat training and capacity-building mission is to help to strengthen Iraqi security forces and Iraqi military education institutions so that Iraqi forces can prevent the return of Daesh, NATO said.

It involves around 500 trainers, advisors and supporting personnel from Allied and partner countries, including Australia, Sweden and Finland.

The mission was originally launched in 2004 after the U.S. invasion and heavily relied on U.S. political support and military resources.

About 15,000 Iraqi officers were trained until the program was disbanded following the 2011 U.S. withdrawal. However, NATO continued to provide training to Iraqi officials.

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