In Rudaw 

NATO may expand troops in Iraq to as many as 5,000: diplomats

NATO may expand the number of troops present in Iraq for its training mission from 500 to as high as 5,000, several diplomats told Reuters.

The military alliance’s defence ministers are set to agree to the specifics of the expansion plan in a video conference on Thursday. Any agreed upon expansion would take place once the coronavirus pandemic is less prevalent, senior officials and diplomats told the agency.

While the military alliance announced in October that it would be expanding its presence in the country, the details were to be decided upon in February.

Fourteen rockets hit various locations across Erbil on Monday night, killing one person and injuring nine others.

The person killed was a civilian contractor, and other contractors and military personnel were among the injured, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition told Rudaw.

“The mission will expand gradually, in response to the situation,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Tuesday spoke with Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the military alliance’s continued support for the Iraqi security and military institutions in forms of training, advising and intelligence cooperation, according to a statement from the PM’s media office.

The presently Denmark-led NATO mission was set up in 2018 and has around 500 forces training Iraqi troops.

US-led forces have withdrawn from a number of Iraqi bases over the last year, which they say is part of a general repositioning in response to successes in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) and to protect personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

US forces have come under repeated attack since Washington’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a January 2020 airstrike, also killing Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the Iraqi deputy of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi).

Iraq’s parliament passed a non-binding resolution in favour of expelling foreign troops after the US assassinations. Subsequent discussions included expanding NATO’s role as a compromise.