Responding to a request made by the newly appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Germany and Italy pledged to help train the Iraqi military. Allawi made the request in the form of a formal letter sent to the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Wednesday.
But while Italy has pledged unconditional support, vowing to train Iraqi soldiers in Italy, Iraq, or neighboring countries, Germany's role will be limited. According to German officials, the offer will likely only extend to a few Iraqi officers, who will be invited for training at military facilities in Germany. The officials made it very clear that Germany will not reverse its position on sending uniformed soldiers to the region and has drawn "a red line" under the issue.
Germany, however, has not remained entirely uninvolved. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has sent experts to help train more than 230 Iraqi police in the neighboring United Arab Emirates and has pledged financial support for reconstruction.
What role for NATO in Iraq?
Although it is not officially on the agenda, Iraq will no doubt play a prominent role at the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul, which is scheduled to take place from June 28-29.
U.S. President George W. Bush has long since set aside hopes that NATO would take on a prominent role in the region -- as it has in Afghanistan. The scepticism and resistance emanating from France and German has simply been too strong.
But some in Europe suspect a bit of trickery behind the timing of the Iraqi prime minister's request, coming as it does shortly before the start of the NATO summit. They suspect it was made at the urging of the U.S. administration, which is eager to put European countries under pressure to pledge support in Istanbul.
A divided alliance
A year-and-a-half ago, the NATO alliance was deeply divided over the issue of Iraq, with some of the 26 members opting to support the U.S.-led invasion, while others, notably France and Germany, stood in strong opposition.
It is expected the members of NATO will attempt to present a united front in Istanbul, stressing their increasing role in Afghanistan and the Balkans in an effort to prove the alliance's relevance in the post Cold War era. However, aside from the limited role it will play in training Iraqi soldiers, which will likely be left to the discretion of individual countries with NATO playing a co-ordinating role, it is unlikely a large-scale deployment to Iraq is in the cards.