Strengthening Security: NATO’s Role in Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Efforts

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Terrorism is the most direct threat to NATO countries and international peace and prosperity. NATO’s work on counter-terrorism concentrates on improving understanding of the threat, developing capacities to prepare and respond, and improving engagement with partner nations and other international actors.

The Alliance exhibited its commitment to assisting Iraq in creating influential armed forces and, ultimately, providing for its security by establishing the NATO Training Mission-Iraq.

NATO Mission Iraq is the most recent and most extensive iteration of a long-standing association between the Alliance and Iraq. It provides expertise and best practices in the reform of security systems, defence institution structure, and training and education from the Alliance and its partners worldwide.

From 2004 to 2011, NATO led a relatively small but essential support operation in Iraq that included training, mentoring and helping the Iraqi security forces. The 2020 Global Terrorism Index reveals Iraq recorded a decline in terror-related casualties for the third consecutive year in 2019, with less than a thousand casualties registered for the first time since the US invasion in 2003.

NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) is a peacekeeping advisory and capacity-building assignment that helps Iraq in building more sustainable, evident, inclusive and influential armed forces and security establishment so that Iraqis themselves are sufficiently able to stabilise their country, fight terrorism and prevent the return of ISIS/Daesh. The mission was established at the NATO Summit in Brussels in July 2018, following a proposal from the Iraqi government, and launched in October 2018. NMI is developed to help strengthen Iraqi security establishments and forces so that they can contain the rebirth of ISIS/Daesh, fight terrorism and stabilise their country.

The mission incorporates civil and military personnel and works closely with other international actors. NMI completes a broader global effort to support Iraq in eradicating terrorism and promoting stability. To accomplish this, NATO counsels Iraqi defence and security officials in their Ministry of Defence, Office of the National Security Advisor, PM’s National Operations Headquarters, Ministry of Interior, and Federal Police Command. 

The mission also instructs Iraq’s professional military education institutions in the greater Baghdad. Specific focus areas include policy and strategy, resource management, Women, Peace and Security, leadership development, force generation and development and good governance in the security sector. Likewise, the mission combines gender perspectives throughout its activities.

In February 2021, following a proposal by the Iraqi government, NATO defence ministers determined to increase the size of NATO Mission Iraq and develop training activities to include more Iraqi security institutions and areas outside Baghdad. 

Subsequently, in August 2023, the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s principal political decision-making body – decided to expand the scope of NMI to include advisory and capacity-building moves in support of the Ministry of Interior and Federal Police Command. Any growth of the mission will be incremental and done upon Iraqi request. All efforts of the NMI are carried out with the approval of the Iraqi government and performed with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

NATO does not deploy its personnel alongside Iraqi forces during combat operations, and it only prepares members of the Iraqi security forces under the direct and practical control of the government of Iraq. NMI coordinates and cooperates with partners like the Global Coalition Against Daesh, the European Union and the United Nations.

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