By Jim Garamone
BAGHDAD, July 7, 2006 – The NATO mission in Iraq is little known, but it's an important one for the long-term future of the country, NATO officials said here recently. "We're not engaged in combat operations," said Italian Army Maj. Gen. Ernesto Alviano, the deputy commander of the NATO military mission in Iraq. "We are much more concerned with institution building and rehabilitating the Iraqi military."
Alviano and his British chief of staff, Army Col. Paul Brook, spoke about the mission and how the small number of NATO troops is helping to make a large contribution to stability in the country. The NATO mission is to perform strategic training for the Iraqi military, they said. The effort complements coalition efforts that emphasize tactical and operational command. The coalition trains individual soldiers and their units. NATO trains commanders and works on establishing a command and control decision-making structure within the government.
NATO military personnel work closely with Iraqi officers to develop the doctrine and processes they'll use in the future. "We are helping them to develop the doctrine and processes for high-level decision-making, particularly in a democratic setting," Brook said. Senior civilian and military leaders need to know how to make decisions, what information they need, where to get it and how this all fits in with a democratic government. "It is a new experience for them," Alviano said. "What NATO brings to this is a wide range of experience from a number of nations, many of which have already been through this process."
Many of the soldiers at the NATO mission are from countries that a few short years ago were under Soviet domination. "There is a huge pot of experience with us," Alviano said. "We are small in number, but very large in experience." Brook said an Estonian soldier with the mission represents a country only 14 years away from totalitarian domination, but now the country wants to contribute. "They have something to say, and the experience to back it up," Brook said.
NATO also is working to train senior and mid-level Iraqi officers through the senior and junior courses at the Joint Staff College in Rustimiyah, Iraq. "At the Joint Staff College, we are giving the upcoming leadership of the army a broad-ranging training in global issues and military operations in the context of a public mandate and democratically elected government," Brook said. "We are building for the generations to come," Alviano said. "It is a very interesting job, but it is very challenging for us and all the nations involved." Training young officers will move under NATO's purview when the Iraqi Military Academy shifts soon.
The general said NATO's work is on two levels. "At the lower level, it is taking energetic, impressionable young men and hopefully in the future, women, who have a real appetite for embracing this kind of democratic approach," he said. "At the senior level, we find that much of the work is breaking down old habits and giving people the confidence and new individual skills." NATO works to change a mind-set, also. "In Arab culture, the elder is the font of all knowledge," Brook said. In the old military, many junior officers were afraid to report anything that was less than perfect, because that in itself questioned the leader's judgment.
NATO has been in Iraq since the Istanbul Summit in 2004. The first months were involved in defining the parameters of the mission and setting up the infrastructure for the mission in Baghdad. Then the effort morphed into training Iraqis to teach other Iraqis. "And now we are reaching a position where we can have enormous influence using a relatively small number of people," Brook said. "That is where our mandate sits: encouraging the Iraqis to pick up the speed (of change) themselves."
Alviano said that now is the moment to finalize and reach the goal of security forces maintaining order in a democratic Iraq. "It's a big challenge, but it is possible because that is what the Iraqis want," he said. "Therefore, it is not as if we are going along and telling them they must have something. It is as much a pull on the NATO expertise as it is a push." The NATO experts act as a yeast to the Iraqi mixture, Alviano said. "The example of a multinational organization working here says much to the Iraqi military," he said. "The fact that the NATO countries all get along and work together shows them it can be done."