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Iraq: Prospects Dim For Building Broader Multinational Force

  • Charles Recknagel --> Prime Minister Allawi rejected the idea of neighboring countries' troops in Iraq As U.S. forces continue to take casualties daily in Iraq, many world leaders say the attacks underline the need to more broadly internationalize the U.S.-led force securing the country. But how real are the prospects for doing so? India and Pakistan -- two states Washington once hoped to involve -- both repeated this week that they have no immediate plans to contribute forces, and the new Iraqi government has ruled out roles for neighboring Arab Muslim states for fear they might interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel looks at the hopes of creating a broader multinational security force and where they go from here.

Prague, 8 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was asked if Islamabad had any plans to send troops to Iraq as he visited Sweden earlier this week.

"In principal, Pakistan would like to help, if we can contribute to any peace and harmony [in] Iraq," Musharraf said. "But we need to look into the fact of whether the people of Iraq want us to come there, first of all. Then other Muslim countries [must] decide to join so that Pakistan is not the only country. And [then there is] the issue of [a] UN mandate and those arrangements when Pakistan accepts."

His cautious views are similar to those expressed by another key country Washington once hoped would join the U.S.-led coalition: India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke this week to the Indian parliament on the same subject: "As far as the policy on Iraq is concerned, there is a resolution of parliament to which all of us are parties and if there is any time to look into other issues we will take maximum possible consensus with various shades of opinion represented in parliament. So as of now, there is no change in that policy, there is no proposal to send any Indian troops to Iraq."

Pakistan and India were once considered leading candidates for joining an expanded multinational force in Iraq because both states are believed to be widely seen in Iraq as disinterested parties. Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country whose population was mostly opposed to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq despite Islamabad's increasingly close ties with Washington. And India has historically pursued a policy of nonalignment in global crises.

But the two powers are hardly the only countries, which now look unlikely to participate in the multinational force securing Iraq.

Baghdad recently declined an offer from neighboring Jordan to be the first Arab country to contribute troops. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi thanked Jordan's King Abdullah, but he said military involvement by neighboring states is not desirable.

"We have a great and amicable relationship with the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and his highness King Abdullah [of Jordan] and the Jordanian leadership, and [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak. We are sure that these countries will stand by us through these difficult times," Allawi said. "And I ask the other countries, especially the Arabic and Islamic ones, to step up their efforts in pushing for a peaceful Iraq, because a peaceful Iraq is a peaceful region."

Allawi continued: "There is a decision taken by the Governing Council when it was still in office. This decision took into consideration sensitivities in Iraq. At the time there was talk of Turkish forces joining the occupying forces but it was decided to avoid that course of action because of sensitivities with the Kurds, like it was decided to not use Iranian troops because of other sensitivities. We decided that it would be better to avoid raising sensitivities we don't need right now."

So where does that leave prospects for a broader international force in Iraq?

Currently, the country is secured by a U.S.-led coalition of the willing. Most of the some 160,000 foreign troops in the country come from the United States, then Britain and, in much smaller numbers, from Poland, Italy, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Australia, and South Korea, among others.

But the UN has long called for a more multinational troop presence -- most recently in June's Security Council Resolution 1546. That resolution recognized the new sovereign Iraqi government and approved the presence of the U.S.-led multinational force at Baghdad's request.

Washington, too -- despite earlier reservations -- now backs the calls for greater international involvement so long as the forces remain under a U.S.-led command structure. U.S. leaders see more "internationalizing" of the security force in Iraq as a way to reduce daily attacks on American troops by insurgents targeting them as occupiers.

As no new countries -- apart from Iraq's rejected neighbors -- come forward with offers to join the multinational force, Washington is increasingly turning to NATO as its first choice for widening international involvement.

But the response from its trans-Atlantic allies has been mixed. At the NATO summit in Istanbul in late June, Washington pressed hard for the 26-member alliance to take a direct military role in Iraq. But the alliance was able only to agree in a summit statement to offer assistance "to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces" and "encourage nations to contribute to the training."

The statement did not say whether the training would take place inside or outside Iraq -- reflecting continuing divisions over Washington's Iraq policy among the allies. France said it saw no role for NATO troops in Iraq, and Germany said it would support a NATO role inside the country but would send none of its own personnel.

Some analysts say that reluctant NATO states condition any greater involvement in Iraq on the security situation improving there. Some of the allies may be waiting to see the results of the November presidential election in the U.S. and the first round of elections in Iraq in January.

"Certainly the security situation would have to improve first but also there is probably some thinking now that, aside from waiting for the results of the American election, there is a case to be made that it would be better to wait for the Iraqi election and wait for that government to actually invite NATO in," said Daniel Keohane of the Center for European Reform in London.

He continued: "At the moment, while NATO has responded as best it could to the interim government's request for help with training and so on, there is an argument that the international community should try and back the [upcoming] democratically elected government as much as possible and it doesn't necessarily help the cause on the ground if the international community goes in at this stage. It is better to wait till after the elections and we know what we are dealing with."

The analyst says that European states that opposed the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush over the war on Iraq are not fully convinced Iraq's unelected interim government is a representative and sovereign administration independent of Washington.

He said that by reserving greater cooperation with Baghdad until after Iraq's first election, those states might hope to maintain pressure for rapid democratic transition in the country. The current interim government is due to dissolve when an Iraqi Transitional Government is chosen through an elective process no later than 31 January.

If so, that could mean that there will be no significant broadening of the multinational force in Iraq at least until the start of 2005.

Prior to that time, many governments are likely to continue discussing the need for more international participation in securing Iraq but hesitate at sending any forces of their own.