July 31, 2015 / 5:09 PM / 2 years ago

NATO agrees plan to strengthen Iraq's army

Shiite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), demonstrate their skills during a graduation ceremony after completing their field training in Najaf, June 27, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO will help Iraq reform and strengthen its security forces which are reeling from a near collapse a year ago in the face of an offensive by Islamic State fighters, NATO said on Friday.

Iraq asked NATO for help training its security forces in December after Islamic State captured large parts of the country.

The program will focus on seven priority areas including advice on reforming the security sector, cyber defense and military training, NATO said in a statement. Training will be held in Turkey and Jordan, meaning NATO will not need a new agreement with Iraq to base troops there.

NATO previously had a team training Iraqi security forces but it was withdrawn at the end of 2011 when no agreement could be reached on the legal status of NATO troops in the country.

A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria but NATO as an organization has so far taken little part.

The agreement on the support package comes a few days after Turkey sought NATO endorsement for its campaign against militants in Syria and Iraq.

The NATO package will also help with the disposal of explosive devices, civil military planning, military medicine and medical assistance and civil emergency planning.

President Barack Obama in June ordered the deployment of 450 more U.S. troops to Iraq’s Sunni heartland to advise and assist Iraqi forces, expanding the 3,100-strong U.S. contingent.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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