NATO will expand its training mission in Iraq, the secretary general of the military alliance announced on Friday after a meeting of defence ministers.
The decision comes as NATO member the United States is under pressure to withdraw its forces from Iraq in the face of opposition to their presence from Iranian-backed militias.
“While the security situation remains challenging, NATO remains committed to stepping up our support,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. “Today ministers tasked our military commanders to expand our mission in Iraq.”
“Our aim is to help build self-sustaining Iraqi forces able to fight terrorism, prevent the return of ISIS, and stabilize their country” he said.
NATO launched its training mission in Iraq in 2018 and has around 500 forces training Iraqi troops. The mission was first led by Canada, which will hand control over to Denmark in December. Details of the expanded mission will be decided in February, Stoltenberg said.
Iraq’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution in favour of expelling foreign troops after the United States killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad in January. Subsequent discussions included expanding NATO’s role as a compromise.
The United States in September withdrew more than 2,000 troops from Iraq after American diplomatic and military interests came under frequent rocket and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks by Iranian-backed militias. The militias earlier this month announced a ceasefire to give the US time to withdraw from Iraq.
Stoltenberg said the defence ministers “discussed the rise in the number and sophistication of attacks against the international presence in Iraq, which is concerning.” He said they will consult with the US-led global coalition against ISIS about the way forward and is in close contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
ISIS was declared militarily defeated in Iraq in 2017, but the group remains a security threat.