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Middle East Countries Offered NATO Partnership

Seven Middle Eastern countries were offered ‘partnership’ relations with NATO at the organization’s summit in Istanbul, taking place Monday and Tuesday, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

NATO leaders decided to upgrade their relations with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia, enabling these states to strengthen military ties with the organization. Also, high-ranking officials of these countries will be invited to attend NATO meetings.

The decision is a step towards making the Middle East and central Asia the heart of NATO operations, analysts say.

The new status of these countries does not designate cooperation between the various new partners, but rather indicates that NATO will work with each of the seven countries individually.

The situation in Iraq was also high on the agenda of the high-profile summit as meetings coincided with the unexpected handing over of sovereignty to Iraq two days ahead of schedule. This, despite the continuing precarious security situation in Iraq.

During the summit, reports emerged concerning an American marine being held hostage by a group calling itself the ‘Islamic Retaliation Movement – Armed Resistance Wing.’ They vowed to execute the soldier if prisoners in coalition prisons are not released.

Three Turks are reportedly being held hostage by an Islamist group called Monotheism and Jihad, who threatened to execute the hostages if Turkey does not remove companies and employees assisting the coalition forces in Iraq.

Another hostage reportedly being held in Iraq is a Pakistani employee of an American contracting company. The abductors threatened to kill him unless Iraq prisoners are released.