BRUSSELS, Belgium – NATO (search) hopes to announce during its summit next Tuesday that that all 26 allies have finally agreed to contribute to the alliance mission to train Iraq's armed forces — even though some will only work outside the country or just help cover the costs.
The mission is modest in scale. The world's most powerful military alliance has struggled to find the 160 instructors it needs to complete the first phase of the operation, which offers training for senior officers within Baghdad's heavily guarded "Green Zone."
However, alliance leaders hope the decision for all NATO members to participate will send a signal of political unity as President George W. Bush meets with European allies and seeks to overcome divisions over the Iraq war.
"All NATO governments are looking forward to see how we can best support the new (Iraqi) government," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search) told NATO defense ministers last week. "It is my intention and allies' intention that by the date we have the summit on Feb. 22, all NATO allies will support the training operation."
But unity comes with conditions. NATO members that opposed the Iraq war — led by France and Germany — have refused to send any troops to the country, meaning that their contributions will be limited to funding or to training outside Iraq's borders.
This has irritated the United States, particularly since France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece and Luxembourg even stopped officers assigned to NATO headquarters from traveling to Iraq as part of the mission.
Nevertheless, NATO will claim the participation of all 26 allies as a triumph that could clear the way for the mission's next stage — setting up a military academy outside Baghdad, which is likely to involve more instructors, guards and other support staff.
The academy is unlikely to be up and running until September, even though NATO had originally hoped to have it operational by the end of last year.
Alliance diplomats said Friday that they were close to a deal that would have all NATO members involved in the mission in some way. Doubts remained over France, which has offered to train 1,500 Iraqi military police in Qatar, but describes the offer as a bilateral agreement outside of NATO.
Diplomats were hopeful France would sign up by contributing to a trust fund used to finance the operations.
Germany is training Iraqi troops in the United Arab Emirates, an operation officials say does come under the NATO umbrella. Germany has also offered a contribution of $652,000 to NATO funds.
Of other nations that refused to go to Iraq:
— Spain will train Iraqis at a de-mining center outside Madrid;
— Belgium has offered up to 10 military driving instructors for the German-led training mission in the UAE and a contribution of $261,000;
— Greece is offering $650,000;
— Luxembourg commits $196,000.
NATO has so far refused to give a breakdown of contributions to the mission inside Iraq, but calls to governments Friday showed 17 nations have offered to contribute enough trainers to meet NATO's target.
U.S. officials said they are currently providing 60 American instructors — about half the total number — plus a force protection company. The United States is also offering airlift and logistical support.
The mission is commanded by U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who also heads a larger training drive run by the U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq.
Although small, NATO officials say the alliance's mission can fulfill an important niche role, training senior officers, particularly in areas such as human rights and cooperation with civilian authorities, as well as combat. The alliance has broad experience working in such areas with nations from the former Soviet bloc.