Seal of NATO Training Mission – Iraq
The NATO training mission in Iraq will have to walk a fine line to avoid benefiting Iranian interests in the country. Formally known as the NATO Mission Iraq (NMI), the effort will initially be led by Canada who has committed 250 soldiers as well as several helicopters.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the mission at the NATO Summit in Brussel in July and several countries have already announced troop deployments in support of the campaign.
“NATO personnel will advise Iraqi officials in the Ministry of Defence and the Office of the National Security Advisor, and will train instructors – through the concept of “train the trainers” – at Iraqi military schools and academies,” a NATO official told the author.
The mission will among other things preparing Iraqi forces to counter IEDs and will also be involved in the retrofitting of Soviet vehicles. Though Da’esh has largely been defeated in the country in places like Mosul, IEDs remain a threat even long after the fighting for the city has ended.
However, concerns remain about the ultimate utility of the mission in an environment where Iran’s influence in the region is continuing to grow. Iraq’s Al Hashd, a militia force designed to combat ISIS, contains many groups closely aligned with Iran. Some individuals are members of both Al Hashd forces and the formal Iraqi military structures.
NATO has worked in context with Iranian influence before, notably in Afghanistan. Corruption remains another concern. Sources tell Tzarism that despite reforms some Iraqi soldiers are made to pay their commanding officers for favourable treatment. NATO fully understands the sensitivity of the mission; it is the only topic on which they have released multiple media backgrounders this year.
Several NATO members like Bulgaria and Slovakia have already announced their initial contributions; however, it will also include the involvement of Sweden, Finland, and Australia, none of which are NATO members but work closely with the alliance on security issues through various partnership frameworks. After NATO formally joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in May 2017 – a key initiative of the Trump administration, such coordination has been easier to facilitate.
“JTF-OIR welcomes the support of the NATO Mission in Iraq for the lasting defeat of ISIS,” said Col. Sean Ryan U.S. Army Spokesman, Operation Inherent Resolve in a statement to the author, “NATO is a member of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS and part of the combined efforts to help Iraq eradicate terrorism and increase the long-term stability in the region.”
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi first suggested the mission at NATO Summit in July 2016 to build on NATO training efforts of Iraqi forces in Iraq. The effort is designed to increase the stabilization of the country and to prevent the re-emergence of Da’esh or another terrorist group in Iraq.
NATO has extensive experience in Iraq. From 2004 to 2011, the NATO Training Mission – Iraq trained 15,000 Iraqi military and police officers as part of a mission to support the development of post-Saddam command structures.
Further complicating the politics of Iraq is the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has yet to appoint a new minister of defence or minister of interior. The former position normally reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Iraq’s complex political structure has yet to be filled.
NATO has stressed that the NMI is not a combat mission but a training one. However, in counter-terrorism contexts, the lines can often blur. In Afghanistan, “Green-on-Blue” attacks on NATO trainers in Afghanistan have happened with alarming regularity during in the ISAF mission. Even in Jordan, such attacks occurred with alarming regularity in recent years.
An important report last year by The Long War Journal found 152 NATO personnel had been killed in such attacks within Afghanistan.
“There is no such thing in Iraq as in Afghanistan or Jordan,” said former General Majid Al Qaysi. Qaysi is the former Director of Intelligence Analysis for the Directorate of Military of Intelligence and served as a general in the Iraqi army until his retirement in 2016, “because the majority of the army is Shia you don’t see these sort of penetration operations by Sunni terrorists.”
Though Qaysi conceded Iranian infiltration of Iraqi security apparatus is another matter.