Uneasy 'peacekeeping' in Iraq


Jim Addington looks at recent "post"-war developments.


Nobody is yet keeping the peace in Iraq. Whatever the stated reasons for the US government's desire for an international force, subordinate to US command, it is clearly unable alone to maintain a peaceful occupation. Tony Blair's recent statement that the violent opposition is coming from Saddam Hussein supporters and terrorists from neighbouring states is to deny that there is real opposition from the Iraqi population to the illegal occupation.

Britain has the presidency of the UN Security Council this month and the General Assembly starts its autumn meeting before the end of September. The UK's new ambassador to the UN, Emyr Jones Parry, six weeks into the job, has been thrust into a leading role at this moment, as he said, "by an accident of the alphabet". The closeness of the General Assembly meeting, which will involve every member of the UN, limits the time available to agree a new resolution, a draft of which was presented to the Council this week by US/UK ambassadors.

In a press briefing Mr Parry said that a working text for a new resolution on Iraq was emerging. The main purpose of the resolution was to set the goal of transferring to the Iraqis "their own sovereignty" as soon as possible. The Iraqi Governing Council should be asked to set a timetable for ceding control, in reply to a question he said "If not the Council, who should be asked".  But great, possibly insurmountable, obstacles still remain. The Iraqi Governing Council is so vulnerable to attack that it rarely ventures outside. As it is in the American pocket it is unlikely to command public support. Yet some such organisation is essential if Iraq is to becoming self-governing soon. The US government, which often seems to be facing several ways at once wants an international force to help with the occupation but refuses to cede military or political control.

The US also wants UN help but sets limits on its involvement. The UN itself cannot take military control because its military staff committee, listed in the Charter, has never been activated because of rivalry among member states. In any case military or political control would make the UN more vulnerable to further attacks like that on its Baghdad headquarters.

Where uncertainty and instability breeds further unrest there is a grave danger of civil war. The occupying forces have not obtained the acceptance of the Iraqi public and the slow delivery of reconstruction, rehabilitation and aid is making things worse. If they recognise this, will the US and UK governments move towards setting a date for leaving which would coincide with the establishment of a legitimate government elected by the people?

Their resolve may be strengthened by military losses and the unanticipated difficulty in getting contributions to cover the expense of occupation. There can be no guarantee that the 'international community' will be willing to foot the bill.

Some 21 states have now offered to send in military forces, many of them very small detachments. France, Germany India and other states are unwilling to support such a force unless it is fully international, with a unified command independent of the occupiers. Anthony Cordesman, of the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies says that small detachments of troops from many countries have the wrong sort of skills for the job. He seems to envisage a

force that is "willing to take casualties and cause casualties", yet such a force is not going to win the support of the people of Iraq.

He also believes that most foreign troops add problems instead of solving them. Like the Coalition Provisional Authority they lack Arabic speakers. They also need financial support and are difficult to control.

In the next few days there could be a re-run of the arguments during the pre-war period, when the US and UK were seeking a resolution supporting war. The US/UK cannot have it both ways, acting as occupying powers and also leading a peacekeeping international force.

Is there a peaceful way out? It seems unlikely. The Security Council should now consider how the occupiers could be phased out. There should be an early census, organised by the United Nations, which has great expertise and past experience in this area, to enumerate voters. This should be followed by an election of a new government within months, not years. The US and UK government went into Iraq for their own, cloudy, reasons. Are they prepared to admit their mistakes or will Iraq suffer for twenty years until there is a re-run of the dissent over Vietnam?

If the US would set a date for leaving, an action suggested by Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, several weeks ago, this could limit the opposition. There seems no reason to bring in a rag tag international force which, operating side by side with US and UK forces, will incur the same attacks. We  can have no conception of the response within Iraq to a pledge to leave by a certain date, or to a UN promise to hold elections within a short time. Yet this seems to most damage-limiting programme.

We are very fortunate that France, a permanent member of the Council, and Germany fortuitously one of the 2-year members, are working together to bring the UN back into contention. Whatever damage has been done to by the manipulation of the Security Council by US governments, aided by the UK, the United Nations is the only international institution we have that has the authority to bring peace and security.

The author, Jim Addington, is the UK-based Chair of Action for UN Renewal. Among its aims is the conversion of the British government and parliamentarians to a proper respect and support for the United Nations.