BRUSSELS, Belgium – The European Union (search) agreed Monday to open an office in Baghdad (search) to coordinate the training of Iraqi judges, prosecutors and prison guards in a step hailed as a sign of unprecedented unity over Iraq within the 25-nation bloc.
For now, the training of some 700 Iraqis will be held in EU nations or elsewhere in the Middle East (search) but could eventually take place inside Iraq if the security situation improves there, EU foreign ministers announced.
EU officials said the Baghdad office — the first EU representation in Iraq since the war — should open within months and that it reflected Europe's willingness to take on a more active rebuilding role following major divisions over the U.S.-led war.
"We are for the first time really united on Iraq," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "That without any doubt is going to be very important to the meetings we are going to have ... with President Bush."
Bush said in a foreign policy speech in Brussels on Monday that it was time for the trans-Atlantic alliance to move beyond disputes over Iraq. He will meet with EU leaders at a summit here on Tuesday.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said both America and Europe were actively seeking to repair the rift over Iraq.
"It's been very clear since President Bush's re-election in early November of his determination greatly to improve relations with the whole of the European Union," Straw said. "I would like to say that all the indications are that European Union countries are reciprocating."
The EU will make available $3 million to provide security for the Baghdad office, which will recruit Iraqis. The office itself will be provided by Britain and have a staff of about five.
"We are prepared to provide training for police staff ... to provide training in management and judicial investigations," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who chaired the meeting. "The EU is committed to working closely with the transitional government."
The EU ministers said in a statement they would "examine the possibility of training within Iraq, in light of the future evolution of the security situation and the availability of adequate infrastructures."
The EU mission foresees Germany training police officials in the nearby United Arab Emirates, where it is already training military officers under a separate NATO training mission. Other EU countries such as France are expected to train Iraqi officials at home.
France and Germany were the most vocal EU opponents to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and clashed with Britain, Italy and Poland, among others, who strongly backed Washington. The Iraq war left the EU deeply divided for months.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU was also looking into other aid projects in the fields of trade and energy, and providing expertise to Iraqi authorities in the drafting of their new constitution.