Reluctant Nato urged to equip and train Iraqis

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The Independent Online

With violence mounting by the day on the ground, next week's Nato summit in Turkey may be a final chance for President Bush to enlist greater international help to restore security in Iraq.

With violence mounting by the day on the ground, next week's Nato summit in Turkey may be a final chance for President Bush to enlist greater international help to restore security in Iraq.

Despite the bomb blasts in Istanbul and Ankara yesterday, the White House insisted that the trip would go ahead, and Mr Bush continued lobbying alliance partners for assistance.

The President admitted a fortnight ago that with 16 of the 26 Nato members already contributing troops to the occupying force, no new Nato peace-keeping forces were likely. The administration is, however, trying to persuade allies to provide training and technical assistance to create a show of international support co-inciding with the formal 30 June handover of sovereignty.

"We need to equip and train and beef up the Iraqi security forces," Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman said yesterday. Nato could play "a useful role"

A request from the Iraqi interim leader, Iyad Allawi, for technical assistance from Nato produced a positive response yesterday. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary general, dropped a strong hint that the request would be granted when he said the military alliance should "never slam the door in this [Iraqi] prime minister's face". However, he remained vague about whether training would take place inside or outside the country, what added value Nato could provide, or what type of aid would be forthcoming.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer replied with irritation when asked if the request was inspired by Washington. "If I receive a letter from Prime Minister Allawi it is a letter from Prime Minister Allawi, isn't it? Full stop," he said.

France and Germany have ruled out sending troops to Iraq, the idea pushed by the US, and backed by Poland, which wants, eventually, to scale down its military presence in Iraq. In the meantime, the Pentagon is fine-tuning plans to send more troops to boost the 140,000-strong US force in Iraq, if the security situation continues to worsen.

Even before yesterday's unprecedented coordinated bomb attacks in Iraq, more than 100 people had been killed and more than 300 wounded this month, with an average of 35 to 40 violent engagements per day across the country.

With Iraqi forces unable or unwilling to take on the insurgents, the US forces will remain the key to the country's security. Vital installations such as air and sea ports will stay under foreign control.

Despite the refusal of France and Germany to send troops, Democrats are pressing Mr Bush to ask Nato to send a force of its own to Iraq. Joe Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Mr Bush of planning to "pull back" in Iraq after the transfer of sovereignty, leaving a security vacuum.

"We are playing into the hands of the insurgents," Mr Biden said. The Pentagon wanted to get US troops "out of harm's way," he said, while the Bush administration seemed to be "internally paralysed".

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