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Iraq: Germany Renews Support for Dominant UN Postwar Role

  • Roland Eggleston

Senior German government officials have said again that the United Nations -- not the United States -- should play the dominant role in the postwar reconstruction and administration of Iraq. Germany, which opposes the war, is also skeptical about any peacekeeping role for the NATO alliance.

Munich, 7 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and other senior government officials reiterated during the weekend that the United Nations must play the dominant role in Baghdad once the situation has stabilized after the U.S.-led war concludes.

Their statements reinforced the Schroeder government's continuing opposition to the war and to the decision of the U.S. and Britain to attack Iraq with, in their view, no UN mandate. Schroeder believes UN leadership is necessary to legitimize the international community's involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq and the introduction of political democracy and the rule of law.

"The reconstruction process can, and may, be organized only under the umbrella of the United Nations," he said, adding: "I don't see how the necessary legitimization can otherwise be secured."

Schroeder's comments reflect the agreement -- reached by Germany, Russia, and France in Paris last week -- that the U.S. military should control Iraq immediately after the end of the war to ensure stability but then hand the central role to the UN.

Some analysts considered Schroeder's remarks to be a response to recent statements by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that Washington intends to play the primary role in reconstructing Iraq and organizing a democratic form of government.

In Brussels last week, Powell was unenthusiastic about an important role for the UN in postwar Iraq. After meeting European Union foreign ministers, he said: "I think there is a consensus that the UN has a role to play. What we have to work out is exactly the nature of that role and how the UN role will be used to provide some level of endorsement for our actions, [that is,] the actions of the coalition in Iraq."

The nucleus of a civilian advisory administration, to operate under the U.S. military, is being formed in Kuwait by a retired U.S. general, Jay Garner.

According to U.S. reports, the advisory administration will include Americans experienced in civil administration and members of the anti-Saddam opposition. The U.S. says that at some undetermined time in the future it will be replaced by an Iraqi administration, leading the way to elections for a pluralist government.

The Schroeder government is also unenthusiastic about American suggestions that the NATO alliance could play an important role in guarding Iraq's security during the reconstruction process. Unlike Germany and France most NATO members, including the newest members in Central Europe, supported the United States decision to go to war against Iraq.

Powell suggested last week that NATO could take up peacekeeping operations and help in the search for the weapons of mass destruction which the U.S. believes Iraq possesses.

But German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says Germany does not favor a NATO role in postwar Iraq.

"Ideas about a role for NATO are extremely abstract. We do not see them as a priority. Rather, we view them skeptically."

The German government acknowledges that some individual NATO countries might join a peacekeeping force. It rejects a role for the NATO alliance as an organization because the war was not directly authorized by a UN mandate. Many believe that giving NATO a role in postwar Iraq would legitimize the conflict.

Wolfgang Thierse -- the president (chairman) of the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag -- is among those who believe Germany should not participate in any NATO peacekeeping operation.

"We were against this war. We consider it wrong. We should do nothing to justify it."

Last night, Defense Minister Peter Struck denied media reports that Germany might offer up to 1,500 troops to a peacekeeping force in Iraq after the war.

But the Schroeder government has made clear it will contribute generously to humanitarian aid in postwar Iraq. Thousands of tons of medicines, bandages, housing materials, and food have been collected and some relief convoys are already on the way to Iraq. The German aid will be distributed through the Red Cross and European relief agencies.

Other opponents of the war are urging the German government not to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq or to help finance the reconstruction. Among them is Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. She said recently that the U.S. should bear all the costs of postwar reconstruction because it caused much of the damage.

Many German construction firms, however, want Germany to join the reconstruction program. They hope to share in the rebuilding of roads, bridges, water supplies, and other projects although U.S. companies are likely to win most of the major contracts.

Political analysts say the German government's attitude reflects the continuing public hostility to the Iraq war. Opinion polls put it around 80 percent of the population. The media also continue to oppose the war, with newspapers showing images of injured women and children and running antiwar cartoons. One recent cartoon, published in a well-known paper, showed a U.S. warplane dropping a bomb with the Statue of Liberty on top.

The strongest supporter of the U.S. is Angela Merkel, leader of the main opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Her unqualified support has cost her heavily in popularity and the latest opinions polls show her in seventh place on the popularity scale -- six places behind the leader, Foreign Minister Fischer, and three places behind Chancellor Schroeder.