"We need this training you promised us in Istanbul to be carried out as soon as possible. We need it. In fact, we are in a race against time and it's a matter of urgency," Zibari said on Tuesday in the Belgian capital Brussels after he met with ambassadors of the 26-nation alliance.

   

The US-dominated alliance agreed at a summit in Turkey in June to help train the interim Iraqi government's security forces, which are facing a violent insurgency.

   

However, the wording of the summit agreement was left vague because France resisted a US push for the alliance to be a central agency for training inside the country.

 

Collective mission

   

No decisions have been made yet on whether the training will be a collective mission under NATO's banner or whether the alliance will simply help coordinate individual allies' efforts.

   

A NATO delegation visited Iraq last week to establish Baghdad's requirements, and the alliance will decide before the end of this month what its mission will entail.

   

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

Hushiar Zibari,
Iraqi Foreign Minister

US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said after the meeting that there was a positive response from allies to Zibari's call for a speedy and collective alliance mission.

   

"I assured him of full US support to create a NATO training effort on the ground as soon as possible," he said.

   

Appearing with Zibari, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance was looking at a range of training options: collective; bilateral; both in-country and elsewhere; and help with the establishment of an Iraq-wide command-and-control capability.

   

"These efforts and the results of these efforts must be visible very quickly indeed," he said, adding that he was preparing a report on what other support the alliance could offer the interim Baghdad government.

   

De Hoop Scheffer declined to give details of further support he may propose, but Zibari said he wanted NATO to provide military equipment, border control back-up and security for both UN premises and UN personnel involved in running elections.