MONS, Belgium — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization could be heading for the Persian Gulf.

NATO is considering ways it can help train the new Iraqi military, at sites both inside and outside the war-torn country, as well as ways to equip it with weapons, vehicles and other gear.

The goal is to demonstrate that NATO supports a democratic, stable Iraq without actually joining the bloodshed.

Although member nations are being asked to send troops to Baghdad, their jobs would be to train Iraq’s new military leaders and not engage in combat with insurgents.

“This plan is a training-mission plan, not a combat plan,” said Marine Gen. James L. Jones, commander of NATO’s military arm, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

“It has features of force protection that obviously have to be built in, because Iraq is a dangerous place.”

The plan is working its way through NATO’s military committee, so no time line has been set for raising the NATO flag in Baghdad, where the effort would be headquartered.

Jones estimated that the NATO force in Iraq would consist of up to 3,000 troops at the most, but could be as small as 300.

“It really depends on what the (member) nations decide to do,” Jones said. “If they accept the plan in total, it would be one number. If they accept it in pieces and send it back (for modification) it would be another number.”

Factors that would affect the NATO contribution in Iraq include:

The level of training and duration of courses that NATO would provide. “Training is already going on and being conducted fairly massively by (multinational forces in Iraq),” Jones said. “We’d be contributing in our way by having ongoing training.”The number of nations that donate training opportunities and facilities outside Iraq. “We know some (will) right now, but we don’t know it all,” he said.The number that would offer equipment for sale or donation. “I think it’s possible that you could see some equipment donations lining up fairly quickly,” Jones said.Training would be focused on the Iraqi leadership, according to one NATO source who spoke on background but declined to be named.

“Things like basic planning, how to pass information from one staff element to another, who is responsible to do what,” the source said, calling it a “quantum leap” over what the fledgling Iraqi officers know now.

“Our focus is at the senior levels of the Iraqi army and Iraqi National Guard,” the source said. “Our mandate from (NATO) was also to consider all those (other) senior-level officers involved in security, whether they be Ministry of Interior, police, border police and facility protection.”

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