Defence minister hails Iraq's approval of expanded NATO mission

The NATO flag is seen through barbed wire as it flies in front of the new NATO Headquarters in Brussels Belgium

The NATO flag is seen through barbed wire as it flies in front of the new NATO Headquarters in Brussels Belgium

While the plan now is to move hundreds of trainers working with the USA -led coalition fighting ISIL over to the Canadian-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission, Stoltenberg and Sajjan were extremely vague on details as discussions among the various parties are still ongoing.

At a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defense ministers in Brussels it was agreed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will take over some of the training activities carried out by the American-led coalition against the Islamic State.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is hailing the Iraqi government's decision to let North Atlantic Treaty Organisation stay in the country as a "very positive development", weeks after Iraq's legislators demanded foreign forces leave the country over the USA killing of Iran's top general near the Baghdad airport.

Defense ministers also discussed the situation in the wider Middle East and agreed to "strengthen" the security forces in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said defence ministers of NATO-member states will negotiate options for a Middle Eastern deployment during an upcoming 12 February meeting in Brussels. U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has demanded that U.S. allies do more in the Mideast.

Stoltenberg, speaking at a news conference at the end of the first day of a two-day meeting, pointedly said the "enhanced" North Atlantic Treaty Organisation presence in Iraq "would be with the consent of the Iraqi government".

Stoltenberg declined to comment Wednesday on how much bigger the operation may become, saying the defense ministers took a decision "in principle" and "then we will continue to work on the details and the numbers and exactly what kinds of activities".

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The aim, he said, was to contribute more to stabilizing a region where "conflict and turmoil has caused untold suffering".

He added, "This is why we are considering taking on some of the coalition's current training activities".

"Ministers also agreed to explore what more we can do beyond this first step", Stoltenberg said.

Asked why no agreement was reached Wednesday with the Iraqi government on green-lighting the move, Stoltenberg said only that "we are already in Iraq based on an invitation from Iraq and we will only stay as long as we are welcome". It cast uncertainty over the future of not only the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission, but the entire global effort against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The news comes after North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers agreed to expand the Iraq mission by taking on troops and activities now run by the US-led multinational coalition against the Islamic State group.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defense ministers chose to increase its 500-strong Iraqi operation by shifting personnel deployed for the much bigger US -led worldwide coalition to fight terrorism in the country. The first step would be to expand the training to three more bases in central Iraq.

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