THE Cabinet Committee on Security, on July 14, turned down a request from the United States for the deployment of Indian troops in Iraq. The decision came a day after U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had indicated that the U.S.would need to send additional troops into Iraq to put down what seemed increasingly like a centrally directed guerilla resistance (earlier report on page 40). The official press release of the Indian government spoke of several considerations that had guided the government decision: "Our longer term national interest, our concern for the people of Iraq, our long-standing ties with the Gulf region as a whole, as well as our growing dialogue and strengthened ties with the U.S." The absence of a definitive United Nations mandate, however, was a serious constraint. The government has declared that "India remains ready to respond to the urgent needs of the Iraqi people for stability, security, political progress and economic reconstruction". It has affirmed that India could reconsider its decision in the event of an explicit mandate from the U.N.
Meanwhile, as a demonstration of its commitment to the "restoration of infrastructure" to meet the health, educational, communications and other civilian needs of the Iraqi people, India has announced plans to set up a hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, in collaboration with Jordan.
The government's decision was conveyed to U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra. In a preliminary reaction, an embassy spokesman said that the decision would have no impact on bilateral relations. "India remains an important strategic partner for the U.S.", he said. The Indian government has at various times in the past two months, pleaded that it would need time to work out a national consensus on troop deployment in Iraq. But all parties remained opposed to the decision, most of them relying on a resolution unanimously adopted by both Houses of Parliament in April, demanding the immediate halt of hostilities in Iraq and the withdrawal of the invading forces.
The Indian decision came a day after an interim governing council was put in place by the U.S. occupying authority in Iraq. Though a broadly based body that seeks to represent all regions and ethnic groups, the council is not expected to have any real authority for the foreseeable future. Among its first decisions, the council declared that all national holidays and festivals observed under the old regime would cease with immediate effect. This declaration was considered especially urgent, since July 14 is the anniversary of the revolutionary overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy and July 18, the anniversary of the Baath seizure of power.
On July 14, one U.S. soldier was killed and six wounded in a fierce firefight in the vicinity of Baghdad. Military and political observers in India believe that the government, though after needless delay, has taken the appropriate decision, one that will keep Indian service personnel out of a military commitment that bears little potential reward for the country.SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN