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Monday, Sept. 15, 2003

U.N. force key to Iraqi peace


LONDON -- The news from Iraq over the last month has been bleak, with U.S. and British forces continuing to suffer significant casualties. Bomb blasts last month at the U.N. headquarters and a Shiite mosque left many dead and wounded. Acts of sabotage have hindered the resumption of electricity and water supplies and disrupted the flow of Iraqi oil. Iraqi criminals with weapons belonging to the former regime have made life in the cities and countryside unsafe.

Despite the presence of more than 140,000 U.S. and 10,000 British military personnel, there are few signs yet of the re-establishment of law and order. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has rejected suggestions that U.S. reinforcements should be sent to Iraq, although the British government has announced the dispatch of another 3,000 soldiers.

The U.S.-led administration in Iraq has had difficulty employing responsible and reliable Iraqis to govern and police Iraq. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and ministers have little power, and it seems doubtful when or whether the promise of early and free elections will be put into effect. Iraqi opinion, despite relief at the removal of the former tyranny, has become increasingly vocal in its opposition to the presence of foreign troops.

Weapons of mass destruction have not been found so far, and former President Saddam Hussein has not been found dead or alive. Costs to the occupying powers have escalated. U.S. President George W. Bush's triumphal announcement in May that the fighting had ended now looks hollow at best. The general impression is that, even if the strategy for winning the war was sound, there was a serious failure in planning the occupation and pacification of Iraq as well as the early return of power to the Iraqi people.

Opposition to U.S. government policy in Iraq is growing in the United States. In Britain, an inquiry by a High Court judge into the apparent suicide of senior British weapons expert David Kelly has revealed grubby behavior on the part of some ministers, officials and the BBC, and has cast doubts on the reliability of the intelligence on which the case for war was based.

The Bush administration now recognizes that small contingents supplied by countries such as Poland to support the coalition forces in Iraq are insufficient, and a decision has been reached to seek a U.N. mandate for peace in Iraq. It is hoped that such a mandate will make it easier for countries such as Turkey, India and Pakistan to send troops to Iraq.

But there is strong opposition in the U.N. Security Council to any resolution that would amount to de facto validation of the coalition attack on Iraq. At the very least, the United Nations will need to be given responsibility for supervising the transfer of power to the Iraqi people and ensuring that Iraqi revenues are used solely for their benefit. Such conditions will be difficult for the Bush administration to accept, and it will be most unwilling to accept the demand that U.S. forces serve in Iraq under a non-U.S. commander.

Opponents of the war do not want the U.N. to set a precedent under which the U.S. or some other power might go to war again and then dump the problem they had created on the U.N. But Iraq in its present state is clearly a threat to peace and stability in the Middle East. If the U.N. washes its hands of the situation, the authority and prestige of the world body will be undermined.

A solution is going to require concessions from all concerned and an end to silly and arrogant recriminations. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is reputed to have suggested in the spring that France would be punished, Germany put in quarantine and Russian behavior overlooked. The Americans need to mend fences with France and Germany, but so should the French and Germans make real efforts to improve trans-Atlantic relations.

Even if, or when, there is a new U.N. mandate for Iraq, this will not mean that peace in Iraq is assured. Al-Qaeda and supporters of Hussein seem determined to deepen the chaos in Iraq. The attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and the killing of aid and humanitarian workers suggest that the transfer of power to the U.N. in itself will not lead to a rapid improvement in the situation. The U.N.'s rightful insistence that the safety of U.N. personnel is a top priority will inhibit peacekeeping efforts. Many countries, such as Japan, will be reluctant to supply security forces when their troops are likely to be at risk.

To achieve a settlement that will bring peace and security to Iraq, it will above all be necessary to win over the support of the Iraqi people. This will be a very difficult task in view of the history of Iraq's relations with its neighbors, the quarrels between Shiites and Sunnis as well as the problems involving ethnic minorities such as the Kurds and tribal rivalries. U.N. forces will need significant numbers of staff with good knowledge of local customs and languages and sensitivity to local religious attitudes.

So far, chaos in Iraq has not turned into civil war because the divisions among Iraqis have inhibited the emergence of factions that could command significant support. Although the danger of civil war cannot be written off, a more likely scenario is ever-worse chaos. That would inevitably further exacerbate tensions in the area. Saudi Arabia and its undemocratic regime would be threatened by disorder in Iraq, supplies of oil from the Middle East would be jeopardized, and international terrorists would feel encouraged to make further attacks on the people and governments of democratic states.

The worst-case scenario that I have described need not happen, but to prevent its happening, all interested governments must give priority to agreeing on a new U.N. resolution and providing significant contributions to a U.N. force in Iraq.

As the U.N. secretary general has indicated, the U.N.'s peacekeeping operations must be strengthened and a new effort made to enhance the Security Council by extending its membership to Japan, among other powers.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.


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