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Army chief urges Iraq to join NATO

BAGHDAD, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Gen. Babaker Zibari called for joining NATO to spare Iraq building a big and costly army.

Zibari said in an interview with Iraqi daily al-Watan Thursday: "As a military man I believe that one way for safeguarding Iraq's wealth from the greedy is to make Iraq part or member of NATO.

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"In my personal evaluation such a choice will spare Iraq big problems, mainly protecting its wealth which will be largely wasted on building a big army, and protecting the country from foreign aggression," Zibari said.

"I believe all that is in the interest of the Iraqi people, however, such a decision should be taken by the political leadership, be that the president, government or parliament," he added.

Zibari, a Kurd, said the Iraqi army largely depends at present on the support of multinational forces and that "the United States allows the creation of a strong Iraqi army, but within a defined understanding of the role of that army in the future."

He said the army is currently composed of 10 brigades and 30 regiments and its number is expected to increase to 160,000 by the end of this year.

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Zibari said the army's budget for 2006 is $3 billion, 90 percent of which is allocated for salaries, services and catering.

The Iraqi general also revealed that the army is considering a contract with Germany for setting up an advanced electronic monitoring system to protect Iraq's borders at a cost of $2 billion.

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