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Iraq: NATO must speed up training


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Zebari is filling in for interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Iraq's foreign minister has urged NATO to speed up promised training for his government's fledgling military and provide extra assistance.

Hoshyar Zebari's visit to NATO's headquarters in Brussels Tuesday was his first since his government took over from the U.S. occupation authorities last month.

"We need this training you promised us in Istanbul to be carried out as soon as possible," Zebari told a news conference in Brussels after meeting ambassadors of the 26-nation alliance.

"We need it, in fact we are in a race against time and it's a matter of urgency."

At a summit meeting last month in Turkey, NATO leaders agreed to a request from the Iraqi interim government to help train Iraq's armed forces.

It also asked NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer "as a matter of urgency" to report on "further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions."

Zebari has also called for NATO help with border security and protection for United Nations operations in Iraq.

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Tuesday's meeting with de Hoop Scheffer came a day after Zebari discussed the contentious issue of the death penalty with European Union officials in the Belgian capital.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot later said those talks resulted in "an exchange of thoughts."

"We've also discussed the question of the death penalty and expressed the hope that the death penalty will be abolished in Iraq," said Bot, whose country has newly assumed the rotating EU presidency.

The U.S.-led occupation of Iraq suspended the death penalty, but with the recent dissolution of the Coalition Provisional authority -- and the accompanying return of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government -- execution again became an option for Iraqi courts.

There are concerns that the death penalty, if reinstated, could be used in the case of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The EU opposes the death penalty.

Monday's meeting in Brussels marked the first high-level talks between EU ministers and post-Saddam Hussein officials.

Zebari -- filling in for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- is leading his country's delegation at the meetings.

Allawi decided to forego the Brussels trip because of security concerns. Terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened Allawi's life a few weeks ago.

EU nations were expected to offer help for Iraq's reconstruction and ask the Iraqi officials about other needs in areas like humanitarian aid, lawmaking, technical support for general elections, and training and equipping Iraqi security forces.


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