The North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed Wednesday to expand the training of Iraqi security force officers at a facility outside Baghdad in preparation for planned elections in January.
The compromise agreement, overcoming resistance from Germany and France, will expand NATO's training mission in Iraq from about 50 officers to as many as 300 personnel, the alliance said. The accord, announced at NATO headquarters in Brussels, was reached after weeks of debate and opposition from members who have opposed the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
There was no word on when the additional instructors would arrive, but a NATO spokesman said the goal was to train officers in time to handle election security arrangements.
The Bush administration, struggling to expand international support for its military mission in Iraq, hailed the decision. In a speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, President Bush called on allies to reduce the burden on U.S. troops in Iraq and said he would accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee, has stepped up his attacks on the administration's Iraq policy, accusing Bush of not working to build sufficient support among allies.
"Today's decision by NATO to establish a major collective training program marks a major step by the alliance," Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in a prepared statement. "The U.S. is proud to undertake with its allies the expansion of the mission in Iraq."
But France, Germany, Belgium and Spain have said they would not contribute personnel to the training program. Among those countries, Spain had a 1,300-member troop contingent in Iraq, but its Socialist government withdraw the force after taking power in April.
France expressed particularly strong opposition to the training. President Jacques Chirac and top cabinet officials declared that the addition of more foreign troops in Iraq would not solve the country's security problem. France had offered to train Iraqi police officers, but only outside of Iraq. Germany had made a similar offer to conduct training in the United Arab Emirates.
Among the concerns delaying the decision was how NATO trainers would be protected. NATO member governments also raised concerns about whether they would become targets or be drawn into Iraq's cycle of violence, and whether the NATO instructors would be subordinate to U.S. military commanders.
Under the agreement worked out Wednesday, Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the training of Iraqi security forces, will command the NATO force. U.S. troops will provide the bulk of the security for the NATO instructors, and the trainers will have no direct combat role. Also, the countries not participating in the training won assurances that only those sending personnel to Iraq would shoulder the cost of the mission.
In addition to worries about getting dragged into Iraq's violence, some NATO members expressed concerns that the alliance was overstretched, with ongoing missions involving 7,500 NATO troops in Afghanistan and 18,000 in the former Yugoslavia.