Nato will send force of 300 to Baghdad

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The Independent Online

After months of haggling over Nato's role in Iraq, the alliance has answered a plea from the US by scraping together a force of 300 to help train Iraqi security forces.

Less than 100 of those sent by Nato to Baghdad will be military trainers with the rest providing protection and logistical backing.

Nato's mission to Iraq has been dogged by controversy since France threatened, earlier this year, to block any mission that involved a direct alliance deployment in the country.

Agreement was then reached on sending 60 troops and, after Mr Powell's intervention yesterday, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland promised to send soldiers to boost the deployment to around 300. However 10 countries are not contributing to the force, either for political reasons or because they are militarily overstretched.

Colin Powell, the outgoing US Secretary of State, highlighted plans by George Bush to visit Nato headquarters early next year as evidence of his commitment to the transatlantic alliance.

However, the US also expressed its frustration that France, Germany Belgium, Spain and Greece were not allowing officers seconded to Nato's command in Mons, Belgium, or Norfolk, Virginia, to take part in Iraqi missions.

Mr Powell said that, when Nato officers from the countries were withdrawn, there was a "loss of credibility".

France's foreign minister, Michel Barnier, responded that "since the beginning, when there was a question of intervention in Iraq, we expressed our reserve.

"Neither today nor tomorrow will there be French soldiers in Iraq," he said.

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