Iraq is considering a larger role for NATO at the expense of the US-led coalition, Iraqi and Western officials told reporters, after a US drone strike on Baghdad that sparked outrage.
The Jan. 3 strike, which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and a top Iraqi commander, was condemned by Baghdad as a breach of its sovereignty and of the coalition’s mandate, which focuses on fighting the Islamic State (IS) group.
Iraq’s parliament swiftly voted in favor of ousting all foreign troops — including the 5,200 US soldiers — and the coalition’s anti-IS operations were indefinitely suspended.
Fearing a swift withdrawal could be destabilizing, Iraqi and Western officials have begun discussing changes to the coalition’s role, local officials and diplomats said.
“We are talking to the coalition countries — France, the UK, Canada — about a range of scenarios,” said Abdelkarim Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
“The essential thing is that no combat troops are present and our airspace is no longer used,” Khalaf told reporters.
Two Western officials said that the prime minister had asked them to “draft some options” on a path forward for the coalition.
These options had been submitted directly to Abdel Mahdi.
They included a coalition not led by the US, an amended mandate with limits to coalition activities or an expanded role for NATO’s separate mission in Iraq.
The Canadian-led NATO mission was set up in 2018 and has about 500 forces training Iraqi troops, although its operations have also been on hold since the US strike.
By comparison, the US-led coalition established in 2014 has up to 8,000 troops in Iraq, the bulk of them US forces.
Khalaf told reporters that a larger role for NATO was one of several options being discussed.
One of the Western officials said “the NATO option” has won initial nods of approval from Abdel Mahdi, the Iraqi military and even anti-US elements of the powerful Hashed al-Shaabi military network.
“I expect it will end with some sort of compromise — a smaller presence under a different title,” he said. “The Americans will still be able to fight IS, and the Iraqis can claim they kicked [the US] out.”
The various options were expected to be laid out at a meeting yesterday between Iraq and NATO in Amman and again next month by NATO defense ministers.
“But there is recognition among the Europeans that there needs to be US buy-in to whatever happens next,” the Western official said.
Following the parliament vote, Abdel Mahdi invited the US to send a delegation to Baghdad to discuss a withdrawal, but the US Department of State declined.
US President Donald Trump has said he wants NATO to play a larger role in the region.
His special envoy to the coalition, James Jeffrey, last week hinted at a shift, although he said talks were in “a very early stage.”
“So there may be a shift between — at some point, hypothetically — between the number of forces under the NATO rubric and the number of forces under the coalition,” he told reporters on Thursday last week.
NATO, whose mandate in Iraq is renewed yearly, has said that any broader role would only involve training, and an official from the alliance said that there was “no discussion” of a combat role.
“There have been discussions between allies, and a lot of contact between NATO and the government of Iraq in the last couple of weeks,” a NATO official told reporters.
Cambodian fishers on the Mekong River got a shock when they inadvertently hooked an endangered giant freshwater stingray 4m long and weighing 180kg, scientists said yesterday. The female leviathan, one of Southeast Asia’s largest and rarest species of fish, was caught by accident last week in Stung Treng Province when it swallowed a smaller fish that had taken a baited hook. An international team of experts on the US-funded Wonders of the Mekong project worked with the fishers to unhook the ray before weighing and measuring it, and returning it unharmed to the river. The Mekong is a crucial habitat for a vast
A glimpse of a possible Picasso in the home of Imelda Marcos filmed during a visit by her son after his presidential election win has set off a flurry of speculation in the Philippines, where the family that once plundered billions is set to return to power. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, won a landslide victory in Monday’s presidential election, an outcome that has appalled those who survived his father’s regime. Images released by the family showed Marcos Jr visiting the home of his mother, who had displayed Picasso’s Femme Couche VI (Reclining Woman VI),
The head of Australia’s foreign intelligence service has used a rare public address to suggest that an increasing number of disillusioned Chinese officials are willing to cooperate with the agency. Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) director-general Paul Symon addressed a range of topics related to Australia’s foreign intelligence operations, including the recent Solomon Islands-China security pact and the need to recruit new spies “with more vigor and urgency” than ever before. Speaking at a Sydney event hosted by the Lowy Institute to mark ASIS’ 70th anniversary, he said the audience, which included high ranking members of Australia’s intelligence community and top diplomats,
WARNINGS IGNORED: An initial count found that Ferdinand Marcos Jr had 56 percent of the presidential vote, while Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter would be VP The son of late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos yesterday cemented a landslide presidential election victory, after Filipinos bet a familiar but tainted dynasty could ease rampant poverty — while dismissing warnings that the clan’s return would worsen corruption and weaken democracy. With an initial count almost complete, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr had secured more than 56 percent of the vote — more than double the tally of his nearest rival, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, a lawyer and a liberal. His now unassailable lead of 16 million-plus votes spells another astonishing reversal in the fortunes of the Marcos family, who have gone