WASHINGTON – NATO (search) Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search) visited Baghdad Tuesday to review the alliance's training mission for the Iraqi military.
The unannounced visit was de Hoop Scheffer's second trip to Iraq. He was accompanied by the alliance's supreme commander for operations, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones (search).
NATO has been training a small group of senior Iraqi military officers for more than a year and is planning to expand that mission to include a staff academy to train the higher ranks of the Iraq's armed forces.
De Hoop Scheffer hoisted a NATO flag over the alliance's training mission headquarters in Baghdad and said the mission sent an important message.
"It is important of course for political reasons, NATO as an alliance of individual nations, reaffirming their commitments to Iraq," he said.
The NATO training mission has 165 alliance personnel in Iraq and aims to turn out 900 Iraqi officers a year. Although it is dwarfed by the U.S.-led coalition efforts to forge new Iraqi forces, alliance commanders stress the importance of their mission to train senior commanders.
"This is important because in this way it is possible to change the mentality of the Iraqi personnel," said Maj. Gen. Pier Giorgio Segala (search), the Italian deputy commander of the NATO mission.
Political opposition led by France and Germany has prevented the alliance from taking a wider role in Iraq and from helping equip Iraqi forces with tanks and other military hardware.
Sixteen of the 26 NATO nations are participating in the mission in Iraq. Others are providing funding or are training Iraqis outside the country.