Iraq asks NATO to extend its training mission

Iraq PM Nuri Al MalkiBrussels - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday asked NATO to extend its training mission of Iraq's security forces to the country's infantry.

"NATO-trained police forces have proved effective and strong" in the fight against terrorism, al-Maliki said after a meeting in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

"And some of these (anti-terrorism) activities could be taken up by our infantry," the premier added.

NATO played no role in the US-led invasion of Iraq. But in June 2004, the alliance's heads of state and government agreed to help train the country's security forces in order to help it provide for its own security.

Since then, NATO says it has trained about 7,000 policemen and a total of 1,105 military officers and civilian leaders.

The alliance has also provided Iraq with some 113 million euros (179 million dollars) worth of military equipment, including helmets and 77 Hungarian tanks.

And NATO leaders meeting in Bucharest earlier this month agreed to extend the training mission until the end of 2009 and to build a more structured relationship with the country.

Addressing reporters alongside al-Maliki, de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance would now study the Iraqi request and the other proposals that had been put forward by the Iraqi government.

"This is the start of a new era in the relationship between Iraq and NATO," he said.

"NATO is interested in a stable and secure Iraq" and will "continue and expand the training mission," the secretary general said.

"This is not a case of NATO replacing the forces of the coalition, it is about developing cooperation," he added.

NATO is expected to send a delegation to Iraq, but de Hoop Scheffer did not specify when this would take place. (dpa)