Talks on Iraq NATO mission stall over immunity

Arab and Kurdish policemen training at Camp Dublin, Iraq

From Rebecca Santana and Slobodan Lekic, the AP:  The issue of legal immunity for foreign troops in Iraq, which already torpedoed plans to keep a U.S. military presence in the country, has emerged as a key stumbling block in talks over the extension of a NATO training mission here.

As with the U.S., Iraq is insisting that all troops in its country must be subject to its laws and judicial system. The U.S. and NATO are leery of that, fearing that servicemen could not receive fair trials in a county where anti-Western sentiment runs high. . . .

The impasse forced the Obama administration to stick to a previous agreement to withdraw all American troops by the end of the year. The same issue could torpedo an extension of the NATO trainers, despite Iraq’s stated wishes.

In July, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki requested that the alliance extend the NATO Training Mission in Iraq until the end of 2013.

The goal of the training mission is to help develop Iraqi commanders at or above battalion level. The Iraqi forces have received training on individual weapons and how to maneuver as small units, but they have never been trained on how to maneuver as a large unit or to coordinate air and ground forces, for example.

Advisers mentor faculty at Iraq’s National Defense University and conduct an exchange program in which Iraqi officers are sent for staff training in participating countries.

Officials and diplomats familiar with the situation say talks on an extension of the training program – which NATO has operated for the past eight years – are stuck on the issue of legal protection for the roughly 130 advisers from 13 NATO nations and Ukraine who would stay in Iraq next year.

"The immunity issue is the main complicating factor," said a diplomat from a non-NATO nation who could not be identified under standing rules.

"Lawyers are currently looking at options," the diplomat said. "The whole issue of trainers in this field is very much caught up in the wider internal political battles."   (photo: AP)

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