Baghdad hopes to expand the role of NATO as an alternative to the US-led coalition
The United States’ Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey (dpa)
London: «Middle East»
The United States hopes to discuss the full strategic framework for its relationship with Iraq soon, while ambiguity still surrounds the fate of the military mission there after a strike by a drone plane killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the external arm, said James Jeffrey, the US special envoy to Syria. Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a request to withdraw the 5,000-strong American forces after the January 3 strike on a US march plane in Baghdad that killed Soleimani and an Iraqi leader from a powerful pro-Iranian armed faction. Washington suspended some of the activities of its military forces in Iraq, which were called there again in 2014 as part of a mission to combat the terrorist “ISIS” organization in Iraq and Syria, and three years after its withdrawal.
“We are looking forward to sitting down and having extensive discussions with the government on the full strategic framework for relations in the near future,” Jeffrey told Reuters. He stated that the US-led coalition operations are still stalled in Iraq at a time when the focus is on protecting the forces and holding talks with the Baghdad government on the way forward.
Jeffrey said the United States supports the possibility of NATO playing a role in Iraq and Syria in the future. When asked about the timeframe of the talks with the Iraqi government, he added, “Nobody is rushing anything … We are very interested in the NATO process through which he will see what additional role he can play.” He added that the last week had not witnessed a rise in ISIS activities in Iraq or Syria, but the activities are still at a worrying level.
For its part, Iraq is considering the possibility of giving the North Atlantic Treaty a bigger role at the expense of the international coalition led by the United States, according to what Iraqi and Western officials confirm to the French press.
Iraqi and Western officials have begun discussions about changes in the coalition’s role, fearing to destabilize the event of a rapid withdrawal, according to local officials and diplomats. “We are engaging with coalition member countries, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada, on a range of scenarios,” said Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf, the military spokesman for the prime minister. “The main thing is the absence of combat forces and the non-use of our airspace,” Khalaf told AFP. Two Western officials said Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi asked them to “formulate some options.” These options were presented directly to the Prime Minister.
The options included the formation of a coalition not led by the United States, a revised mandate setting out coalition activities, or an expanded role for separate NATO missions in Iraq. The Canadian-led NATO mission was formed in 2018 and includes about 500 soldiers training Iraqi forces. But even this force has suspended its missions since the US strike. But the international coalition formed in 2014 has about 8,000 soldiers in Iraq, the majority of whom are Americans. Khalaf reminded that heading to a greater role for NATO was one of the many options being discussed.
A Western official said that the “NATO option” had obtained initial approval from the prime minister, the army, and even factions hostile to the United States. “I expect that things will end with a kind of settlement, with a smaller address with a different title,” the official said. He added, “The Americans will continue to be able to fight (ISIS), and Iraqis can claim the expulsion of (the United States).” It is expected that the different options will be presented during Wednesday (yesterday) meeting between Iraq and NATO in Amman, and again next month with NATO defense ministers. But the Western official pointed out that “there are estimates from the Europeans that the United States should agree to what will happen next.”
Abdel-Mahdi called, after the parliament’s vote, the United States to send a delegation to Baghdad to discuss the withdrawal, which was rejected by the American State Department. US President Donald Trump has said he wants NATO to play a greater role in the region.
His special envoy to the coalition, James Jeffrey, hinted, last week, that there was a shift, although he said the talks were at “a very early stage.” “Therefore, there may be a shift, at some point, by default, between the number of forces listed under NATO and the number of forces in the framework of the international coalition,” he told reporters on January 23.
NATO, which renews its mandate annually in Iraq, insisted that its role include training only. A NATO official said there was “no discussion” of a combat role. “There have been discussions between the allies and many contacts between NATO and the Iraqi government during the past two weeks,” the official told Agence France-Presse. Since the announcement of Iraq “victory” on the “ISIS” organization, the coalition has focused, at the end of 2017, on air strikes against sleeper cells and the remaining remnants of the organization. Early last year, the coalition prepared plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, according to two US military officials. They pointed out that a simple presence would definitely be able to continue to put pressure on ISIS.
One official said there was pressure to “accelerate that plan”, in the wake of escalating tensions between Iran and the United States. American interests in Iraq have been subjected to more than 20 missile attacks since October (October), which killed an American contractor and an Iraqi soldier. Although the attacks were not adopted by any party, Washington holds the pro-Iranian factions responsible. The International Alliance and NATO earlier this month halted operations and withdrew hundreds of individuals from bases in Iraq. In turn, the Iraqi forces filled the vacuum left by the withdrawal of those forces, and assumed control and air strikes after years of the coalition taking the initiative. “This is an actual reduction,” said the senior US official. As an experimental stage, ”he added, adding,“ This is what we are ultimately seeking. “We are looking at what it would be like if we were not here.”