Looking for the U.N. label

Published : Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST

A protest against sending Indian troops to Iraq, in Kolkata on July 4. - DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP

A protest against sending Indian troops to Iraq, in Kolkata on July 4. - DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP

The U.S. is trying to expedite a new Security Council resolution authorising the presence of a multinational force in Iraq, as India and Russia make clear their positions on sending troops for peace-keeping in the country.

THE killing of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, has not given much respite to the beleaguered American and British troops in Iraq. With bodybags of soldiers reaching the United States every day, the Bush administration is desperately searching for troops from other countries to sort out the mess it has created in Iraq. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in late July that the administration was looking at the possibility of securing a United Nations resolution to make it easy for India and other countries to send their troops to Iraq. Rumsfeld said that a new U.N. resolution on Iraq should be done in such a way "that it is useful and makes it easier for people like the Indians to provide troops".

Significantly, a report commissioned by Rumsfeld and released in late July states that the U.S. has only around three months to turn the security situation around. If the bulk of the U.S. troops in Iraq are not back by "Thanksgiving Day", the fourth Thursday of November, the Bush administration may have to pay a big political price.

The financial cost of deployment in Iraq, by the Pentagon's own admission, hovers around $4 billion a month. Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged that key countries are looking for "more of a mandate". He has been busy working the phone lines, talking to the Foreign Ministers of many countries, including India, in recent weeks.

Indian officials are now patting themselves on the back after the government formally conveyed its decision on Iraq to Washington. They admit that if India had sent troops, many other countries would have followed suit, helping Washington to sidetrack the U.N. and the international community. India's eleventh-hour decision to reverse the course has left the Bush administration with no option but to take the Security Council route. Senior officials in the External Affairs Ministry claim that India's stock in the international community has risen considerably since the decision and its opinion on Iraq is now given as much weightage as that of France or Russia.U.N. officials in New York said Secretary-General Kofi Annan detected an "evolution" in the U.S. administration's thinking on Iraq after India's decision not to send troops without U.N. authorisation.

External Affairs Ministry officials insist that "the criteria for India's participation in the Iraqi peace-keeping operations were solely guided by its long-term interests in the region". Indian officials said that after the official U.S. request for troops came in early June, New Delhi went about the task of ascertaining the views of Iraq's neighbours. Indian diplomats also travelled inside Iraq to hear the Iraqis themselves. The diplomats observed the sullen response of the Iraqi Shia populace to the occupation forces. "We realised that the ordinary Iraqi viewed the current situation as colonial," said a senior Indian official. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, senior Bush administration officials had predicted that the Shias would welcome the U.S. troops. Shias constitute more than 60 per cent of the Iraqi population.

Indian officials said that the Indian decision not to send troops at this juncture had not affected relations with the U.S. "We continue to talk to them on the issue. But we are not going to do anything purely for generating goodwill in Washington," said an official. He denied that there was any "pressure" from Washington. New Delhi has made it clear that it will reconsider the issue of sending troops to Iraq only after getting a "broad" Security Council mandate for the stabilisation process in Iraq. A formal invitation from the new "Iraqi Governing Council" is also considered a necessary formality. New Delhi seems to be inclined to accord legitimacy to the Governing Council propped up by the U.S., though the U.N. and organisations like the Arab League have not done so.

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said in Parliament that India would send troops to Iraq only under an "explicit" U.N. mandate. In this context, the recent call by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that the Security Council "adopt new resolutions on the deployment of international security forces" in Iraq assumes importance. Ivanov said in Cairo after talks with Kofi Annan in the third week of July that this was the most effective way to secure the "participation of a large number of countries". The Bush administration, while continuing to claim that U.N. Resolution 1483 sufficiently authorises any country to commit troops, is now more accommodative to international public opinion, for a variety of reasons, the most important being the rising casualty rate among U.S. forces in Iraq.

The U.S. is trying actively to expedite a new Security Council resolution authorising the presence of a broad multinational force in Iraq. The Indian and Russian positions on the U.N.'s role have given a new impetus to the Bush administration's diplomatic moves. At present the U.N. does not have any control over the legal and political institutions in Iraq. Moscow and Paris will be reluctant to do the policing work in Iraq if the U.S. occupation authorities continue to exercise control over that country's economy and politics. Paris and Moscow would prefer a U.N. trusteeship over Iraq for around three years. Of course, the U.S. will ensure that it retains its strategic military bases, leaving the U.N. to do the policing job. "This will shield the Americans from casualties," said a diplomat. France has made it clear that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces will not be stationed in Iraq.

There is no likelihood of the administration led by the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, being replaced by a popularly elected Iraqi government in the next few years. The Iraqi Governing Council cobbled up by the Bush administration is a divided house. "They can't even agree whether the Americans are occupiers or liberators," said an Arab diplomat. Most Arab countries feel that the setting up of the council was only an act of a "window dressing", to legitimise the occupation. The U.S. knows that there is no single issue the Iraqi council will ever agree on.

"India should not recognise the Governing Council as representative of the Iraqi people," said the Ambassador of an Arab country in New Delhi. Experts in international law opine that the Governing Council is illegal under the terms of the Geneva Convention. Fair and free elections in Iraq are also not on the U.S. radar screen at this juncture. Such elections would lead to the establishment of a Shia-dominated Iraqi government - which is anathema to the Bush administration.

The U.S., while welcoming a U.N.-mandated international troop deployment, is itself loath to allow its troops to serve under the U.N. "blue helmets". Troops serving under the U.N. banner will probably be given policing tasks in areas designated by the U.S. as comparatively less insurgency-prone. The original U.S. request was for Indian troops to be stationed in northern Iraq, specifically in Mosul and Kirkuk. The U.S. Special Forces will insist on its right to operate freely all over Iraq and also against neighbouring Syria and Iran, as it did in the recent past.

Even if India sends troops under U.N. authorisation to keep the peace in Iraq, that will not stop the U.S. from exercising its right of being judge, jury and executioner in Iraq. "The devil will be in the details of any new U.N. resolution. The U.S. wants to keep controlling Iraq," said a senior Arab diplomat based in New Delhi.

INDIAN officials claim that there is a national consensus on sending troops to Iraq in the event of an "explicit" U.N. mandate. Officials say the government is going by the letter written by Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the issue. The Congress(I) president had said that Indian troops should be sent to Iraq only under the auspices of the U.N. Some of the other Opposition parties are, however, of the view that India should not send its troops until the U.S. occupation forces vacate Iraq. Many Opposition leaders accused the government of buckling under U.S. pressure and ignoring the parliamentary resolution condemning the U.S.-led invasion.

Yashwant Sinha assured the House that a decision would be taken on the issue only after considering "all aspects, including the parliamentary resolution". Sinha said this would include a U.N. mandate, the risk factor for Indian troops, the nature of the command structure and the ground situation in Iraq. Gen. John Abizaid, the new chief of the U.S. Central Command, has admitted that the U.S. occupation forces are facing a concerted guerilla war. "We shall send our troops to Iraq only if the ground situation is favourable," said an Indian official involved in the diplomatic tightrope walking with the U.S.

However, some keen observers of the diplomatic scene are of the opinion that New Delhi and Washington have worked out the details for troop deployment by India by the year-end. Senior U.S. officials have reportedly assured New Delhi that the necessary U.N. cover will be provided. The U.S. has reportedly offered to underwrite the expenses for the troop deployment and safeguard India's investments in Iraq, besides offering concessions in the strategic arena. The visit to India by David Imry, a special envoy of the Israeli Foreign Minister, was said to be in connection with this issue.

The Israelis are dangling high-tech weaponry like the Phalcon and Arrow anti-missile system. Israel can sell them only if Washington gives the go-ahead. If the U.S faces diplomatic and political reverses in Iraq, it will be a setback for Israel too. The "neo-conservatives" instrumental in getting the Bush administration into the Iraqi quagmire are known to be close to the Likud Party of Ariel Sharon. Besides, as revealed in the Western media, the Israeli secret services played a key role in cooking up the "Niger uranium" data, which were used by the administrations in Washington and London to justify the war against Iraq.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh, who was in New Delhi in the fourth week of July for official talks, is said to have conveyed his government's happiness at India's decision not to send troops to Iraq. The Iranian side feels that it will be in the interest of the region as well as in the interest of Iraqis, if the U.S. military presence is reduced. Aminzadeh, in a speech delivered in New Delhi, expressed the hope that "American adventurism" in Iraq would soon end. "Peace and security in the region requires the participation of all members of the global community, particularly influential countries in the region," he said.

Arab diplomats based in New Delhi caution that India should think twice before sending troops to Iraq. "It is not the question of Saddam. It is the question of Iraq as a nation. Presidents can come and go," said a senior Arab diplomat. He blamed the Americans for wilfully trampling on the sovereignty of a nation. He doubted the capability of the U.S. to control the situation inside Iraq, characterising its decision to ban the Baath Party as an unmitigated blunder. The pan-Arab party has 200,000 hard-core members in Iraq alone. According to the diplomat, they now have no option but to keep on fighting as they have been virtually forced to go underground. He pointed out that the Baath Party, founded in the 1940s, had branches in almost all Arab countries.

There is also the question of the Sunni backlash. Most of the U.S. casualties have been in the so-called Sunni triangle in central Iraq. Observers of the region predict that the armed opposition will only escalate in the coming months. Before the U.S. invasion, Baath Party officials had told this correspondent in Baghdad that they had made contingency plans to stage a liberation struggle on the lines of the liberation war waged by the Algerians against the French colonial power. That war was one of the bloodiest and most protracted wars of the last century. Iraq-watchers say that the Shias in the south are biding their time to trip the U.S. war machine. "The future is not with the Americans," prophesied a veteran diplomat. The ultimate gainers will be the Islamists, who will open a new front in Iraq.

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