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NATO agrees on support package for Iraq

By JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG
Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) - NATO allies agreed Friday on a package of measures to help strengthen Iraqi security and defense forces, including in the fields of military training, demining and countering improvised explosive devices.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the aid program, approved by the alliance's 28 member nations, is designed to help Iraq by providing support in areas where NATO "is best placed to add value."

Independent analysts said beefing up Iraqi defense capabilities would also contribute to stabilizing the southern border of Turkey, a NATO member, and boost the military campaign being waged by a U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State group.

On Tuesday, NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting at Turkey's request on the threat posed by IS and the countermeasures Turkey has been taking in response. Bruno Lete, senior program officer for foreign and security policy at the German Marshall Fund, a Brussels think tank, said the meeting "encouraged NATO to think more seriously about its strategy south" toward IS and other radical Muslim groups active in Iraq, Syria and much of North Africa.

Until then, Lete said, NATO strategy sessions mostly focused on the perceived threat to the east: Russia.

In a statement, Stoltenberg said the new Iraqi assistance program had been developed at Iraq's request, and in close consultation with Iraqi authorities. He said NATO plans to help Iraq in seven priority areas, including advising on security sector reforms, disposal of explosive ordnance, civil military planning, cyberdefense, military medicine and civil emergency planning.

Last September, at a summit meeting in Wales, President Obama and other NATO leaders pledged publicly to "revitalize our effort to help Iraq build more effective security forces."

Stoltenberg said NATO and Iraqi experts will work out details of future training programs, which will be held in Turkey and Jordan. The NATO support package, Stoltenberg said, is designed to complement what is already being done by the U.S.-led coalition against IS, as well as actions by individual NATO allies, the European Union and the UN.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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