The role of foreign military advisers in Iraq has been a hotly contested issue within the country. Baghdad recently rejected keeping American troops in Iraq under the monikor of trainers after the December 31, 2011 withdrawal deadline. Now news has broken that the government will do the same with a NATO mission.
On December 12, 2011, Iraq’s National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayadh told reporters that the NATO training mission would not be extended past the end of the year. Fayadh said that the Iraqi government would not grant NATO advisers immunity. He went on to say that he was disappointed that the Western alliance would not be able to continue on with its work, but the Iraqi government was not going to budge on the issue of legal exemption. The rejection of the NATO advisers comes on the heels of Baghdad turning down offers by the United States to keep several thousand military advisers in the country after the 2011 withdrawal deadline. In both cases, the Iraqi parliament was unwilling to grant the foreign trainers immunity.
The NATO mission in Iraq has been operating there for the last eight years. It consists of 130 advisors from 13 different countries. It works out of the National Defense University in Baghdad, and also sends Iraqi officers overseas. It focuses upon tactics, strategy, large maneuvers, and creating a cadre of Iraqis capable of training their own forces. As part of the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement, it was able to operate in Iraq until December 2011. The United States was hoping that the mission would continue, especially after its own offer for military trainers was turned down. The Iraqi military leadership and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki both favored it as well. Unfortunately, all of them will be disappointed. Most of Iraq’s political parties are simply unwilling to accept foreign forces in their country anymore, which is at the heart of their rejection of offering immunity.
Starting next year, Iraq’s security forces will be largely operating on their own. A small police training program run by the State Department, which the Interior Ministry doesn’t want, and a military assistance mission run by the Pentagon out of the U.S. Embassy will be the only foreign forces left in the country. Iraq can still get aid from companies it buys major weapons systems from however. This is all a sign that the American period of Iraqi history is coming to an end. They leave with the Iraqi military incapable of external defense, which opens up the country to outside inference by its neighbors such as the shelling of the border by Turkey and Iran against Kurdish rebels, and Tehran’s continued support of Shiite Special Groups. Those don’t represent a major foreign threat though. Iraqis for the most part, want to stand on their own, whether they are ready or not. That means now might be as good a time as any for Iraq to exert its independence, and end these assistance missions, while the Iraqi forces are only facing terrorists.
Agence France Presse, “Nato will not extend Iraq training mission beyond 2011,” 12/12/11
Brunnstrom, David, “NATO to stop training Iraq army when U.S. troops leave,” Reuters, 12/12/11
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Rudaw, “Army Chief of Staff: Iraqi Army Unable to Control Iraq Until 2020,” 4/28/11
Santana, Rebecca and Lekic, Slobodan, “Talks on Iraq NATO mission stall over immunity,” Associated Press, 12/1/11
Schmidt, Michael, “For Iraqis and U.S. Troops, a Question Is Still Unanswered,” At War, New York Times, 5/18/11