NATO’s top officials are meeting on Monday to discuss the future of the alliance’s mission in Iraq, as Middle East tensions mount following the US-ordered killing of senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Ambassadors from the 29 allies gathered at their Brussels headquarters with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expected to brief journalists afterwards.
US officials are expected to give an update to the group after Washington killed Soleimani, Iran’s commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps‘ Quds Force, in a US drone strike just outside Baghdad airport on Friday.
“The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region,” a NATO official said.
“The secretary general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies.”
Stoltenberg had spoken by phone with the US secretary of defence, Mark Esper since Friday’s strike, but the killing of Soleimani surprised many of Washington’s allies – and triggered calls for de-escalation.
The situation has also deteriorated in Iraq, where the Parliament on Sunday called for the 5,200 US soldiers deployed there to leave.
NATO maintains a 500-strong training mission in Iraq, preparing local forces to take on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) fighters but this would be in doubt if coalition forces pull out.
“The big issue is the future of the NATO mission in Iraq after the demand of the Iraqi parliament yesterday to remove US-led coalition and foreign forces. We have to see what we will do now,” a NATO diplomat told AFP news agency.
On Saturday, a NATO spokesman said the mission, which involves several hundred allied personnel, was continuing “but training activities are currently suspended”.
Another diplomat said the alliance would have to “wait and see” how Baghdad responds in the coming days.
“From our point of view, the Parliament resolution is not binding. We take note of it, but have to wait what the government is going to do,” the diplomat said.
“We still think that the presence of international troops in Iraq should continue in order to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State. But we have to respect what the Iraqi government will eventually decide.”