NATO's Iraq chief on Sunday, November 17th described the violence surrounding waves of anti-government protests in Iraq as "an absolute tragedy," AFP reported.
"While the events of the last six weeks are an absolute tragedy, NATO continues to urge restraint to the government of Iraq," Canadian Major General Dany Fortin told AFP at the close of his year-long mandate.
Since October 1st, more than 330 people have died in rallies in Baghdad and cities across the south calling for a reform of the current government, making them Iraq's deadliest protests in decades.
In recent weeks, Iraqi security forces have come under fierce criticism over their use of live bullets, machine gun fire, and tear gas in response to protests. They have been accused of firing tear gas canisters at point-blank range, leading to "gruesome" deaths and injuries.
Fortin said that the military had "atrophied" following a bloody fight to defeat Isis, adding that efforts to reform it are "a generational issue" that could take "20 to 30 years."
"You're not going to see change in one year," he said.
In recent months, Fortin said NATO's operations had suffered "setbacks," including from the protests and escalating US-Iran tensions.
The US spent more than a decade helping restructure the military and the rest of Iraq's state institutions. The US, European, NATO, and other forces are still deployed across Iraq to train security forces.
Fortin will be replaced at the end of November by Major General Jennie Carignan, who will lead nearly 580 personnel, including from non-NATO partners such as Australia, Sweden, and Finland.