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July 28, 2004

No Troops Yet Offered for UN Force in Iraq

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The dramatic increase in kidnappings of foreign nationals in Iraq is threatening to undermine the creation of a new multinational security force aimed at protecting UN employees and humanitarian workers who are planning to return to the violence-ridden country.

"We have had no concrete offers of troops from any country," a UN spokesman told IPS.

The United States has so far lobbied several Muslim countries, including Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen and Jordan, seeking troops for the proposed new protection force. But it has apparently hit a brick wall.

When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week announced the appointment of Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Ashraf Qazi as the new UN Special Representative for Iraq, there was speculation the government in Islamabad would reciprocate the gesture by providing troops to protect UN workers.

Asked if this was true, Annan told reporters last week a request did go out to "quite a few countries to offer troops." Pakistan was one of them, he admitted. "But there was no quid pro quo or any expectation that, because I have appointed a Pakistani, they would give me troops," he said.

A Pakistani diplomat said his government has made it very clear that it would provide troops only on if certain conditions are fulfilled.

"We will not be the first country or the only country to provide troops for the protection force," Mansoor Suhail, press counselor to the Pakistan Mission to the United Nations, told IPS.

"Firstly, the request has to come from the interim Iraqi government. Secondly, that request has to be endorsed by the United Nations, and thirdly, we will go into Iraq only as part of a collective Islamic international force – not as a single military force."

According to Annan, "there is a move, an indication that Islamic countries may want to go to Iraq, may want to send troops and in fact the Iraqi Prime Minister [Iyad] Allawi, is asking them to do so."

"If that were to happen and a group of Islamic states were to deploy, I hope Pakistan would be one of them," he added.

Last month, Jordan's King Abdullah was quoted as saying his country might become the first Arab state to send troops to Iraq. Jordan may be obliged to do so because it receives over $200 million in U.S. military aid annually.

Yemen has said it is willing to send troops "only if they were part of a UN-controlled force." But neither of the countries has made a concrete offer so far.

Allawi, who is on a tour of Middle Eastern countries, has already visited Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, lobbying for troops. But his efforts have been stymied by the increasing number of kidnappings – including nationals of Egypt, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Turkey. Iraqi insurgents have threatened to behead some of them if any of those countries decide to provide troops for the protection force.

Egyptian diplomat Mamdouh Qutb, who was kidnapped last week and released Monday, was quoted as saying, "they kidnapped me only to deliver a message to Egypt because they objected to Egypt receiving the [Iraqi] prime minister. They saw that this message was delivered, and that's why they released me."

The kidnapping of two Pakistani men, Raja Azad and Sajid Naeem, was also seen as a warning to the government of President Pervez Musharraf that he should stay away from Iraq.

Annan has said that until and unless security is guaranteed he is not prepared to send a large contingent of UN staffers into Iraq. "I have always indicated that we all have to be coldly realistic as to how we approach this project," he told reporters last week. "I think the international community is aware that security is a major constraint for the United Nations and its staff."

When the UN Security Council passed a resolution in early June requesting the United Nations to send a team into Iraq, it inserted the phrase "circumstances permitting."

"But despite the security situation, we have been able to achieve a lot," Annan said. "We have been able to form an interim government. We have been able to work with them to put in place an electoral framework, a legal framework for elections, and they are counting on us to help them work their way through the electoral process until the elections next year, and also assist with the constitutional process," he added.

According to a Security Council resolution, elections must be held in the country before Jan. 31, 2005.

Annan said his new special representative will leave for Baghdad, with "a small staff," sometime in August. "But adequate security arrangements will be made for them," he added.

Now, most UN employees are operating out of Jordan and Cyprus. The world body decided to pull its staff from Iraq after the bombing of the UN compound last August, which claimed the lives of over 20 staffers, including UN Special Representative for Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Several Middle East experts are skeptical the United Nations will be welcomed by Iraqis.

"Under the present circumstances, any participation of the United Nations in the 'transition' in Iraq constitutes aiding and abetting the occupation, which continues under a new guise," says Rahul Mahajan, author of Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond.

Although meaningful concessions were wrought for the passage of the recent Security Council resolution endorsing Iraq's interim government, they were far too minor, he argued.

The minimal requirements the United Nations should have for further legitimating the political process in Iraq should include elections as quickly as possible, with full sovereignty – including the right to change all relevant laws – handed over to the elected government immediately.

The withdrawal of U.S. and UK forces before those elections, and the release of control over the $18.4 billion the U.S. Congress has allocated for reconstruction to the elected Iraqi government, and cancellation of unimplemented contracts, are other requirements, said Mahajan who has made several trips to Iraq in recent months.

"If these conditions are met very clearly, then it should not be difficult to find Iraqi forces that would provide adequate security to UN personnel smoothing a genuine transition process," he added.

According to James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International, "it is evident that the United Nations cannot do anything to achieve a definitive outcome in Iraq without the backing of the major powers, primarily, but not exclusively, that of the United States."

But this is where Annan and UN staff find themselves on the horns of a dilemma, he told IPS. "The Bush administration still disdains the United Nations, no matter how much the president [George W. Bush] and vice president [Dick Cheney] have toned down their rhetoric," he said.

At the same time, the United Nations cannot be seen as a mere extension of the U.S. occupation, or UN Personnel in Baghdad will find themselves in an impossible security situation.

"To some extent the damage to the UN's reputation and credibility has already been done – so the organization is probably in for years, if not decades, of political discredit and increased physical danger in Iraq and the entire region," Jennings said..

"It would be inaccurate to call the soft-spoken Annan a milquetoast, or claim that his leadership is ineffective, but under the present U.S. aggressive dominance of the world scene, the United Nations as an organization has been marginalized into becoming a weak shadow of its once-effective self."

This situation is unlikely to change unless there is a major political shift in Washington next January, he added.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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