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Powell raps allies on Iraq stance

BRUSSELS -- In a fresh sign of lingering tensions over the Iraq war, Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday rapped European allies who declined to assist a NATO-led Iraq training mission as ''hurting the credibility and cohesion" of the military alliance.

A half dozen NATO members have flatly refused to allow officers assigned to NATO bases to participate in the training operation -- a move that US officials said was unprecedented. Even as the 26-country alliance decided to expand the operation in Iraq from 60 to 300 people, officials from reluctantnations -- including France, Germany, and Spain -- held firm.

''We will send no troops," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. He said this position has been clear since the training force was established in June. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said ''given the current security situation, we think it is more efficient and useful if training takes place outside of Iraq."

The trans-Atlantic rift emerged as US officials have signaled a new approach in their dealings with Europe. The White House announced yesterday that Bush will visit NATO and meet with European leaders on Feb. 22, in what Powell called an effort to ''mend these breaches."

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands had agreed to send more staff for the mission, located inside the heavily fortified area in Baghdad known as the Green Zone.

But Germany provides a disproportionate share of the international command staff, so its directive to German NATO officers could hamper the operation. Joining Germany, France, and Spain in refusing to provide staff for the training operation were Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Powell, attending his last NATO meetings as secretary of state, noted that international staffers work and train together.

''When it comes time to perform a mission, it seems to us to be quite awkward for suddenly members in that international staff to say, 'I'm unable to go because of this national caveat or national exception,' " Powell said. ''You are hurting the credibility and the cohesion of such an international staff or organization."

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