Prague, 30 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The state of security in Iraq is the essential element that will decide how the country fares in the immediate future.
Iraq's potential for economic development is great. But a continuation of the bombings, kidnappings, and sabotage will hinder reconstruction and discourage private investment.
The first question to ask, therefore, is how much extra support can Iraq expect from the international community in terms of military assistance to control insurgents? The second question is, what further nonmilitary assistance from foreign governments is possible in the prevailing security conditions?
This week's NATO summit in Istanbul proved unable to make a significant contribution to helping Iraq out if its dilemma. Despite the hopes of U.S. President George W. Bush, the best the summit could do was agree to train Iraqi security forces and border guards.
Several NATO members who opposed the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq say there can be no direct military role for NATO, even in a sovereign Iraq. And such is the delicacy of the situation that most of the training will take place off Iraqi soil.
Mark Joyce, a senior analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said: "It has become increasingly clear over recent days and weeks that the prospects of NATO contributing large numbers of additional troops to Iraq in the short and medium term was a very unlikely one. This is what the Bush administration was pushing for initially, but it quickly became clear that [such commitments] were not going to materialize. So they decided instead to settle for NATO playing a very limited role in terms of training Iraqi security forces."
Beyond the ideological rejection lies a compelling practical reason. Namely, that the members of the NATO alliance are already feeling stretched by their engagements in Afghanistan.
"When you see it against that [Afghan] background, it is hardly surprising that the idea of NATO sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq was never going to happen." -- Mark Joyce, a senior analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London
"To see why these troops [for Iraq] haven't materialized, you only have to look at Afghanistan, where there is an urgent need for new [NATO] troops," Joyce said. "Belatedly, there was an announcement [on 28 June] that there would be a temporary increase in troops just before the [Afghan] elections in September. But it remains to be seen whether they will actually materialize. But when you see [the Iraq question] against that background, it is hardly surprising that the idea of NATO sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq was never going to happen."
If there is little hope for NATO forces, there is likewise diminished expectations that non-NATO allies in the U.S.-led coalition will increase their troop numbers.
Countries like Japan and South Korea, as well as Poland and Bulgaria -- chronically worried about casualties -- are more likely to be looking for opportunities to bring their soldiers home, now that Iraq is a sovereign state.
The U.S.-led coalition has some 160,000 soldiers in Iraq, nearly all of them American or British. The U.S. forces will be staying in Iraq to provide security while the raw and often poorly trained Iraqi security forces develop their skills.
Security analyst Dan Keohane of the London-based Center for European Reform says much depends on whether the interim government under Prime Minister Iyad Allawi can put its own stamp of authority on the country.
"What is really crucial is that the interim government not only shows that it is in control, but shows that it is different from the Americans, and gains the confidence of the Iraqi people. I think that would make a big difference, because it is very different when you are dealing with what is effectively an occupier, and when you are dealing with what is supposed to be your own government," Keohane said.
As for Iraq's prospects for gaining extra nonmilitary assistance or investment from abroad, the picture is not bright.
Reconstruction can be expected to continue under the giant $18 billion U.S. assistance package. But as "The New York Times" reports today, occupation authorities acknowledge that fewer than 140 of 2,300 promised construction projects for Iraq are under way.
Mark Joyce of the Royal United Services Institute said the experience of Afghanistan provides a lesson for Iraq: "Political, economic, and infrastructural reconstruction are entirely dependent on the provision of a secure environment, as we have seen in Afghanistan. That limited reconstruction has taken place in a very few areas of Afghanistan, which do have relatively secure environments -- Kabul being the most obvious example. In those areas beyond the NATO-ISAF stabilization force, very little reconstruction has taken place. So I imagine a very similar pattern will develop in Iraq."
Iraq's economy is based largely on oil exports, and substantial investment is needed to overhaul oil installations that have deteriorated after 10 years of international economic sanctions. Pipelines have also become targets for insurgents, significantly disrupting vital exports.
Outside investors in Iraq's oil industry require a safe environment in which to work, as well as a clear idea of where the country is headed in the medium term. Iraq, at the moment, cannot provide those conditions.
Likewise, a much-expanded role for the United Nations in Iraq must await improved security conditions.
for the other four parts in this series, along with complete coverage and analysis of events in Iraq at RFE/RL's dedicated "The New Iraq" webpage.)