Iraqi leader calls on Nato to provide aid

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The Independent Online

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, yesterday shrugged off a death threat and asked Nato to provide technical and training help - but not troops - for his seemingly ungovernable country.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, yesterday shrugged off a death threat and asked Nato to provide technical and training help - but not troops - for his seemingly ungovernable country.

The request opens the way for alliance leaders to support a long-held US desire for Nato involvement in Iraq, without sending soldiers, something France would block.

The threat to Mr Allawi was made in an audio clip on an Islamic website which said "a useful poison and a sure sword" had been found for him. He said that such threats were expected and vowed to hunt down the man supposedly behind it, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and his fell-ow "criminals".

In an interview, Mr Allawi also urged countries to take a role in helping his nation, saying the liberty of people all around the world could be at stake. "In Iraq, above all else, a war for civilisation is being fought today," he added.

Hamed al-Bayati, the Iraqi deputy Foreign Minister, said the message could have come personally from Zarqawi. The Jordanian-born al-Qa'ida lieutenant has been accused of car bombings and other attacks in Iraq.

The mounting security crisis in Iraq will be top of the list of issues to be discussed when Nato leaders meet in Istanbul on Monday. The alliance's chief spokesman, James Appathurai, said technical support, training and equipment "is certainly [within] the range of capabilities that Nato could consider providing." Diplomats say the request provides a test of international willingness to help the US-led coalition.

Sixteen of the 26 Nato members already have troops in Iraq, and Nato provides logistical help for a Polish-led division there. But France and Germany have ruled out sending troops, saying they may help with police training. One senior diplomat ruled out any possibility of the alliance's troops being sent to Iraq.

Officials have also played down suggestions that Nato could take over command of the Polish or British-controlled sectors of Iraq. One European diplomat at Nato said the deployment of alliance troops would "complicates things even more," adding: "The problem is not at all having additional soldiers. The problem is having Iraqi authorities establish their own credibility."

Spain has already withdrawn its forces after a change of government in March. Britain has no withdrawal deadline for its troops, and the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland and Italy have agreed to keep their troops in Iraq until at least the end of the year.

On the ground, there was no sign of improvement in a security situation described as "chaos" by one diplomat. Two Iraqi sisters working for a US firm were killed in a drive-by shooting on Tuesday near their home in the southern city of Basra. Their father, Sadah Audishow, said he had been waiting at the window for his girls to return from work when he heard gunshots and saw a white pick-up truck speeding past. "I had been waiting for my daughters to come home at five o'clock," said Mr Audishow, an Assyrian Christian who works and lives in the church with his family. "I picked one of them up and she was dead. I went to pick up the other but found her dead too."

The US launched an air strike against what it described as a safe house used by Zarqawi's group in the town of Fallujah, killing 20 foreign fighters, American officials said. A US Army spokesman said the air attack was a "precision strike", based on strong intelligence but that was immediately disputed by locals who said the target was populated by civilians.

Three days earlier, another US raid on a target in Fallujah killed at least 20 people.

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