Words by Matteo Marchionni

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on 18 February that the alliance will be heavily incrementing its military presence in Iraq. 

“The size of our mission will increase from 500 personnel to around 4,000 and training activities will now include more Iraqi security institutions and areas beyond Baghdad”, Stoltenberg said.

The deployment of such troops will be incremental, though no deadline was given for when to expect the mission to be completed.  

Stoltenberg added that this move is one which comes at the request of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, with the purpose of aiding the ongoing fight against terrorism in the country, in particular to ensure that Islamic State (IS) does not resurge given its recent activity.

On 21 January, the terrorist organization launched an attack in Iraq’s commercial area for the first time in the last three years; a twin suicide bombing in Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, which killed 32 people and injured at least 110.

NATO’s training mission, initially confined within Iraq’s capital city, was launched in 2018 to help the country develop new military schools and academies for its armed forces. However, it was  temporarily suspended in January 2020 by the Iraqi parliament, when Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. 

Lloyd Austin, the United States’ Secretary of Defence, welcomed NATO’s decision. He reaffirmed the importance of countering terrorism in the region, citing the recent rocket attack in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil by an Iran-backed militia.  

The U.S. is also involved in Iraq with its own mission, namely the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. Contrary to the NATO assignment, which exists for training purposes, the United States counts about 2,500 of its own troops in Iraq. 

For the time being, no public comments have been made by figures who usually voice their concerns about Western intervention in Iraq, such as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

On one hand, NATO’s personnel increase seems necessary to ensure Iraq’s security and try to prevent a comeback of IS. On the other hand, it is a testament to how much the West is struggling to disengage from the war on terror it initiated two decades ago.

Picture Credit: NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

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