NATO Approves Plans to Assist Polish-Led Force in Iraq

NATO (search) allies approved plans Monday to give logistical and intelligence support to a Polish-led force that will help U.S. soldiers police central Iraq, diplomatic sources said.

The NATO support for the multinational force of 7,000 to be assembled by Poland (searchwould be the alliance's first involvement in postwar Iraq.

The U.S.-led war caused deep divisions within the alliance, especially with France, Germany and Belgium which opposed the U.S.-led war and caused the deepest rift in the alliance in years. All three countries, however, reportedly backed the postwar commitment for Iraq.

The force will be deploy in central Iraq by August, the sources said.

NATO will provide communications, transport, intelligence and other logistical help to the peacekeeping group.

The decision by the 19 allied governments to help equip the force came on the eve of a foreign ministers' meeting in Madrid on the alliance's anti-terrorism role.

Poland is considering sending between 1,500 and 2,200 troops, or two battalions and a command structure, but it needs troops from other nations to complete the force.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (searchasked parliament Monday to approve sending up to 1,700 troops, a Ukrainian official said.

NATO is also to take charge of the international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan in August.

"NATO is now squarely on the front lines in the global war on terror," Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said last week in Brussels.

"The U.S. enthusiastically endorses this new NATO emphasis on confronting ... terrorism and weapons of mass destruction."

NATO's regular spring meeting follows trans-Atlantic bridge building at summits in Russia and France and a weekend appeal from President Bush for the alliance to unite against terrorism.

Bush's continuing foreign tour, however, will keep Secretary of State Colin Powell away from the NATO meeting as he accompanies the president's peace mission to the Middle East.

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman will represent the United States at the NATO meeting, which will also include talks with ministers from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet and non-NATO European nations.

NATO ministers will review preparations for the alliance mission in the Afghan capital, Kabul which starts Aug. 11, diplomats said.

They may also discuss a wider role for the alliance peacekeeping in Iraq after the initial stabilization mission led by the United States, Britain and Poland, although no decision to expand NATO's involvement was expected for several months, the sources said.