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Western Press Review: Debating UN And NATO Roles In Postwar Iraq

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 15 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today remains focused on Iraq and the role of the UN in the postwar period; a plan for restructuring rather than forgiving Iraq's debt; the controversy over awarding contracts for reconstructing the country; and what role NATO might play in rehabilitating the nation. We also take a look at allegations that Russia was involved in spying for the former regime in Baghdad.


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Phillip Gordon of the Brookings Institution says a significant role for NATO in Iraq's postwar reconstruction would lend legitimacy to the project "without provoking resentment for what might be seen as an Anglo-American occupation."

Moreover, the NATO alliance, which Gordon describes as "more effective and more efficient than the United Nations," has experience with peacekeeping and disarmament, an available pool of troops, existing command arrangements, and a proven track record of promoting defense reform and civil-military relations in former authoritarian states."

Gordon says the UN "is ill prepared to play an effective security role in a potentially hostile environment."

He points out that there is much skepticism around the world regarding U.S. motives in Iraq. "Putting the Pentagon (Defense Department) in sole charge of maintaining security [and] hunting weapons of mass destruction [would] only enhance that skepticism." And NATO involvement would also serve as "a vital step toward giving America's European allies -- including Russia -- a stake in the successful reconstruction of Iraq."

Gordon writes, "Getting NATO involved in Iraq would not only help share the burden of what could be a difficult and costly occupation, but it could be a first step toward repairing the vital trans-Atlantic relationship."


The "International Herald Tribune" published (14 April) a two-part discussion on the United Nations' possible role in Iraq, with one commentator arguing for the world body to have significant involvement while another argues that the UN may not be up to the task.

Oxford University professor S. Neil MacFarlane, also of the Geneva Center for Security Policy, says it is "surreal" to imagine that the Anglo-American alliance that fought the war would just "step aside" and allow the UN -- an organization that did not support the war in the first place -- to take over. And while the UN has recent experience governing Kosovo and East Timor, these two protectorates are significantly smaller than Iraq. Iraq has a population of 22 million, making its governance "an entirely different order of magnitude."

Moreover, says MacFarlane, the UN "is not a coherent actor." He asks, "How likely is it -- given the disputes in the [Security] Council before and during the war -- that the Council will be able to act cohesively, quickly and decisively after the war? If this question cannot be clearly and positively answered," he says, "it would be irresponsible to confer a leading role [in postwar Iraq] upon the United Nations."

In contrast, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye says institutions like the United Nations "are a way to legitimize America's disproportionate military power and enhance its soft or attractive power," lending it a more indirect type of influence.

Nations that opposed military action in Iraq, such as France, Germany, Russia, and China, deprived the United States of a measure of legitimacy in its Iraq policy. While their opposition did not stop the U.S. from going to war, "they certainly made it more expensive. By transforming the global debate from the sins of Saddam [Hussein] to the threat of American empire, they made it difficult for leaders in allied democracies like Turkey to support the United States."

"Whatever its flaws," Nye says "there is no substitute for the United Nations as a means of restoring the legitimacy that [the U.S.] lost by the manner in which [it] entered the war." The UN "has a proven track record in managing humanitarian assistance, and is better able than the Pentagon to work with the network of nongovernmental organizations that are essential in distributing aid."

Any trials of Iraqi war criminal that might take place "will be far more credible if carried out by international tribunals." And "when the time eventually comes for elections in Iraq, the United Nations has a credible record of impartial supervision and monitoring."


A "New York Times" editorial republished in today's "International Herald Tribune" notes that the U.S. administration has begun awarding contracts to corporations for Iraqi reconstruction, "and politically connected firms like Halliburton are among the early winners. This looks like naked favoritism and undermines the [U.S. President George W.] Bush administration's portrayal of the war as a campaign for disarmament and democracy, not lucre."

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former chief executive officer of Halliburton.

The paper writes: "Roads, ports and schools must be rebuilt, the oil industry revived and power grids and communications networks repaired. Some emergency contracts need to be awarded right away. But that does not mean this should be done without competition or that such contracts should be long term." It is "vital" that the bidding for contracts "be competitive, transparent and open to all."

U.S. contracting regulations do "allow normal rules to be bypassed when time is short and national security concerns are involved." But "even if a legal basis can be found for these closed bidding arrangements, they are unacceptable." The editorial notes that under World Trade Organization rules, "procurement contracts are supposed to be open to all bidders, domestic and foreign."

"The New York Times" says a U.S. victory in Iraq "should not turn into an undeserved financial bonanza for companies that have cultivated close ties with the Bush administration."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" discusses Iraq's foreign debt, estimated at between $62 billion and $120 billion. U.S. officials have urged many of Iraq's creditors to forgive the debt owed them. But the paper says forgiveness could bring with it "great danger of moral hazard."

After all, the "FT" says, Iraq is "a potentially wealthy country thanks to its oil reserves and its relatively well-educated population. Its debt must therefore be considered in the context of a comprehensive strategy for the Iraqi economy."

The first priority must remain the urgent humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people after a short but severe war "and decades of economic mismanagement and repression." But an assessment of Iraq's economic needs is also "urgently required. High priority must be given to getting Iraq and its oil back into the global trading system and to creating a sound domestic currency in place of the worthless dinar notes so comprehensively looted in recent days. Dealing with debt can follow," says the paper.

The weekend meeting of the G-8 leading industrial nations and the International Monetary Fund in Washington instructed the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations to take steps to deal with Iraq.

"This is the right approach," says the editorial. "Officially, forgiveness will not be on offer. Rescheduling on generous terms should be considered -- but only if Baghdad has an effective, IMF-approved economic reconstruction program."


Writing in the "Wall Street Journal Europe," Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer discusses recent discoveries of files in Iraq that indicate elements of the Russian establishment had been spying for Baghdad. Russian military and intelligence services cooperated closely with Baghdad before the 1991 Gulf War, notes Felgenhauer. But the relationship might have gotten closer throughout the 1990s, he says.

"Unnamed intelligence officials have told journalists in Moscow that Russian contacts with the Saddam [Hussein] regime aimed at combating terrorism, the narcotics trade and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were legitimate." Felgenhauer says, "Perhaps. But why would anyone in Moscow send to Baghdad a transcript of a conversation held in Rome last year between [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair and [Italian Prime Minister] Silvio Berlusconi, obtained through intelligence services? It's harder still to imagine why the Kremlin would send Saddam a detailed list of prospective assassins."

He notes that today, Russia "does more business with Iran, including nuclear technology, arms sales and arms production, than it did with Iraq in the 1990s." With the former regime in Baghdad now out of the picture, members of Russian intelligence agencies will look to "deepen the ties with Tehran and at the same time make the rift with Washington permanent."

But Felgenhauer expresses the hope that the political clout of the Russian intelligence and security establishment may be diminished and discredited by the recent findings in Iraq.


An editorial in the same edition of the "Wall Street Journal Europe" says despite official denials of Moscow's cooperation with Baghdad on intelligence gathering, Russian President Vladimir Putin "hails from the intelligence services and has expanded their powers during his tenure. [While] Russia's intelligence services have been to some extent privatized in recent years, with his wide network of contacts and intimate knowledge of their work, it's hard to imagine an extensive intelligence-sharing program with Iraq that would escape his notice."


A "Le Monde" editorial today discusses Washington's recent aggressive rhetoric toward Syria and remarks that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 may have convinced the United States that it is now authorized "to undue a regime here, rebuff another [and] threaten a third." In short, says the paper, barely has the last Iraqi city fallen and the U.S. administration seems willing to take its doctrine of pre-emptive war to Syria.

The U.S. administration has accused Damascus of two main transgressions: having weapons of mass destruction -- and possibly guarding some of those that originally belonged to Iraq -- and allowing former Iraqi leaders to enter or transit through its territory.

Syria, not under sanction, is free to develop weapons of mass destruction. Until last week, this did not seem to bother Washington, the paper says. The U.S. has in the past congratulated Damascus on its cooperation in seeking out members of Al-Qaeda. So now why the threats, the French daily asks.

Most likely, these tactics are part of the U.S. administration's attempts to send a warning to other nations in the region not to harbor weapons of mass destruction and not to support terrorist movements, as Syria supports Hezbollah. This tactic seems the beginning of a reshaping of the region that aims to intimidate and destabilize the regimes considered the most radical.

Either that, says "Le Monde," or Washington is drunk with military power.


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary discusses the likely prospects for a meeting of Iraqi exile groups taking place in Nasiriyah today. The U.S.-sponsored meeting "will highlight the kind of political maneuvering that groups, both present and absent from the meeting, will undertake to gain favor in a future government." Now that the regime of Saddam Hussein has fallen, says "Stratfor," "it is time for serious discussion and realistic planning."

The opposition groups will be speaking to two distinct audiences: Washington, which will impose an interim administration, and the Iraqi people, who will eventually choose a permanent form of government. Some groups are downplaying their relations with the United States in the hope that this will carry more favor with the Iraqi public. Others have thrown in their lots with the United States, seemingly realizing that a U.S. presence in Iraq is unavoidable for a time and wanting to win the support of the U.S. administration.

"In the end," "Stratfor" writes, today's meeting "will be all about positioning." But the lasting outcome in Iraq will not be generated "at formal meetings in conference rooms. It largely will take shape on the ground, in the form of lootings, killings, cooperation with coalition ground forces or secret deals forged with the governments of other countries."