- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants NATO to train Iraq’s new security forces and says he intends to pressure France and Germany, opponents of the U.S.-led war, to join in.

Homegrown security battalions in Iraq have become the linchpin of the U.S.-British exit strategy that gradually would withdraw about 150,000 coalition troops, and Mr. Blair says their training will be a major issue at a NATO summit conference scheduled for Feb. 22 in Brussels.

NATO defense ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, are meeting Nice, France, this week to pave the way for the Brussels summit that will feature President Bush and the British prime minister.

“I think you may find, at the NATO meeting [in Brussels], we get agreement on help for training Iraqi security forces,” Mr. Blair told senior members of Parliament.

Mr. Blair also said he wanted to see “some of the countries that haven’t been involved either in the conflict or its aftermath involved in that.”

The remark clearly was aimed at Germany and France, which led European opposition to the conflict in Iraq. Without agreement from Berlin and Paris, NATO cannot assist in any training of security forces inside Iraq.

Mr. Blair also told Britain’s senior parliamentarians that London and Washington were considering publishing a paper by retired U.S. Gen. Gary Luck on ways to build up the Iraqi forces — a draft report that is seen in some quarters as the basis for an exit strategy.

With the Luck review, which was sent to the Pentagon last month but is still under wraps in the United States, the prime minister said, “I think that we will be able to give some idea of what the next steps and over what period the ‘Iraqi-ization’ of security will take place.

“There is a need for quantity in terms of police and army,” Mr. Blair said, “but there also is a need for quality — for crack troops and forces who are able to go in and handle the insurgents.”

The training of Iraqi security forces has been hampered by the refusal of France, Germany and four other members of the 26-nation NATO alliance to either send troops into Iraq or to allow any of their officers assigned to NATO to take part in any mission inside that country.

Germany has been training some Iraqi security personnel in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, and France has offered to do likewise in Qatar.

The bad blood between the United States and much of Western Europe over the war in Iraq and its aftermath has precipitated one of the worst crises in NATO’s 56-year history.

The diplomatic forays into Europe under way by Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are aimed at turning the Iraq effort into a more cooperative venture.

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