BAGHDAD — While the U.S. may have handed over Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah to the Iraqis on Tuesday, the Western presence will not end here.

Since 2005, the NATO Training Mission (Iraq) has had Western officers here to mentor their Iraqi counterparts in modern military best practices.

About 76 American, British, Polish, Lithuanian and Bulgarian officers make up the team at the moment, according to British Royal Air Force Flight Lt. Tom Walker.

The NATO team works with different sections of officer education institutions here, he said.

The Iraqis are getting better, Walker said, but the lack of an overall garrison commander at Rustamiyah can inhibit cooperation at times.

"They’re beginning to learn to trust each other a lot more," Walker said. "They’re not necessarily inclined to work together."

A broadening gap is apparent between the older Saddam-era generation and the crop of younger officers who are interested in new technology, treating their soldiers well and other practices of Western militaries, Walker said.

"I think there is a slight disconnect between the two," he said. "The younger guys want to forge a Western-style army."

The NATO officers live in their own area on base, but work daily with their Iraqi counterparts.

Next year, the Iraqis will launch a three-year, West Point-style program here, Walker said.

Occasionally the job gets frustrating when trying to shake the older guard out of their top-down command traditions, he said. But ultimately NATO members need to remember they’re just here to suggest courses of action.

"We can’t think of making them into a Western volunteer force," he said. "They’re a Middle Eastern defense force, effectively. We have to show them best practices and why it works. We can’t vent our frustrations upon them."

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