NATO, Iraq seek long-term partnership upon Baghdad's demand

NATO, Iraq seek long-term partnership upon Baghdad's demand

Serkan Demirtas - AMMAN
NATO, Iraq seek long-term partnership upon Baghdads demand Only half-an-hour drive away from the city center of Amman, Jordan, a state-of-the-art center of excellence meets you in a secluded location on a vast terrain surrounded by high hills, specially equipped for the training of Special Forces and military units, particularly from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. 

This is the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, or KASOTC, which was established upon the instructions of King Abdullah II in 2009 and boasts over $200 million worth of training facilities and support structures. 

But what makes this military training center important is not its capacity as a center of excellence but the fact that it trains hundreds of Iraqi security officers under NATO and American programs for the defense capacity building of various Iraqi defense structures. 

These efforts will surely help Iraq better fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and re-capture Mosul and other cities from jihadists but also be strong enough to prevent ISIL, al-Qaeda or other terror organizations from terrorizing and storming the country in the future. 

A was protocol signed between NATO and the Iraqi government this year after Iraq officially requested to benefit from NATO’s defense capacity building initiative. Until the end of October, 350 Iraqi officers are expected to be trained at KASOTC in NATO courses in three areas: Counter-improvised explosive devices (IED), military medicine and civil-military planning.

A more stable Iraq, a more secure NATO 

But more is planned, as NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow explained at a meeting in Brussels on Sept. 26. “At [the] Warsaw Summit, we have decided to expand that program and capacity building into Iraq itself. We hope this expanded in-country effort will begin in 2017,” he said, vowing to scale-up assistance provided to Iraqi security institutions with the objective that they would be better equipped to fight against ISIL. 

With the deterioration of the security conditions both in the east as a result of Russian factor and in the south due to ISIL’s growing presence and posing threat to the world, Vershbow recalled that the decision to upgrade assistance to Iraq was made “under the rubric of projecting stability beyond NATO borders, based on the notion that ‘when our neighbors are more stable, we’re more secure.’” 

Building the Iraqi defense structure 

Efforts to train the Iraqi army and other security bodies are not merely the concern and interest of NATO alone. The anti-ISIL coalition and some individual members of the alliance also provide assistance to the Iraqi forces through bilateral agreements, but they differ from the NATO programs as they are either short- or medium-term projects with the objective of rapidly preparing relevant Iraqi security institutions to push ISIL from Iraq after liberating its key city, Mosul. 

According to a U.S. official, the security assistance program the U.S. State Department provides to the Iraqi military also envisages the building of the country’s defense institutions, which also refers to a strategic defense review. “To put it that way, we let them know how to fish, instead of giving a fish,” the official stressed. 

From the NATO perspective, 2017 is seen a very important year, as the alliance will be able to deploy a modest presence to Iraq for training purposes but this presence can turn into a robust one in the future.

“Carrying out this training in Iraq would be much more efficient. We believe NATO will be able to meet Iraq’s long-term needs,” a NATO official said. 

Turkey highlights inclusiveness of Iraqi army

Although the relationship between Ankara and Baghdad has been contentious over the former’s initiative of launching an extensive training opportunity for local Sunni groups at Bashiqa military camp near Mosul, Turkey, in principle, supports NATO’s move to further increase its visibility in the Middle East to help regional countries like Iraq and Jordan increase their defense capacities. 

However, the point Turkey underlines in almost every platform is “inclusiveness” and “integrity,” meaning the Iraqi army should not represent only Shiite groups but also Sunnis along with other ethnic groups.

Being aware of this sensitivity, U.S. and NATO officials continue to advise the Iraqi government over the need of an inclusive approach while rebuilding the country’s new security structure. “We will continue to advise and to steer the process,” the U.S. official stated. 

Jordan’s role increases in the region

According to Brig. Gen. Mekhled Alsuheim, the director of joint training, training Iraqi forces in Jordan has two advantages. “First, we know each other, we speak the same language. And the second, we are very close to Iraq. It’s easy to bring Iraqi officers to here. Jordan has a good infrastructure and we know that if Iraq is in stress, so is Jordan and the rest of the region,” Alsuheim told a group of international reporters in Amman. 

Jordan, which was recognized as one of five “Enhanced Opportunities Partners” by NATO along with Australia, Finland, Georgia and Sweden, eyes to increase its “strategic partnership” with the alliance. “We are not a NATO member but we think [of] ourselves like a NATO member,” said the director, adding, “We join NATO operations, we try to use this partnership at the maximum level. We aim to enhance our interoperability capacity. This is [the] top title for us.” 


Iraqi officer: I wish to fight against ISIL

Although the number of Iraqi officers trained in Jordan so far is not huge, it’s believed to have a multiplier effect in the process of building the defense capacity of the Iraqi army. During my visit to KASOTC, I had the chance to attend the graduation ceremony of 28 non-commissioned officers who have completed a six-week counter-IED program. Due to security reasons, Iraqi officers who accepted to talk to the media preferred to remain anonymous. 

“I joined the army in 2012 and I am ready to sacrifice my soul for my country. I am here to liberate the areas occupied by terrorist organizations and to let Iraqi people return to their cities,” one officer said through an interpreter, when asked why he wanted to join the military despite its risks. 

Obviously, the key target is Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which has been under ISIL control since 2014. The officer recalled that houses and residential areas in Mosul were full of IEDs and other sorts of explosives which required a meticulous long-term effort to clean the city. 

“I wish to God that I will be part of the operation against ISIL,” the officer said.