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Iraq: Washington Faces Difficulties Building Multinational Force

  • Ron Synovitz

An advance guard of Polish troops is en route to Iraq today to lead a division of some 9,200 soldiers from 15 countries in a multinational stabilization force. Other contributors to the corps include Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Romania, as well as countries like Mongolia and Fiji. But analysts say the troop commitments to date are just a fraction of the number needed for the mission, which is expected to be grueling and long-term.

Prague, 3 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts and diplomats say Washington is struggling to get other countries to contribute a sufficient number of troops to a multinational stabilization force for Iraq.

The assessments are being made as the issue of how to "internationalize" the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq becomes an increasingly contentious political issue in the United States.

A proliferation of guerrilla-style attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq appears to be draining public support in the United States for an ongoing American military presence in the country.

Some Democrats, looking to unseat Republican incumbent George W. Bush in next year's presidential elections, are starting to call for a new United Nations resolution authorizing a multinational presence in Iraq in order to alleviate pressure on U.S. military forces. The Bush administration has resisted major UN involvement in postwar Iraq.

Ian Kemp, editor of the London-based military affairs journal "Jane's Defense Weekly," is among the experts who think it will be hard for Washington to muster enough international troops to sufficiently bolster the 150,000 U.S. soldiers already in Iraq.

"Certainly one of the difficulties with the mission in Iraq is that it is going to need to be a very large force indeed," Kemp says. "The estimates are that well over 100,000 troops are going to be required. So that's almost the combined strength of the NATO deployment throughout the former Yugoslavia at its peak."

Kemp says one reason for Washington's dilemma is that many of America's traditional allies already have made troop commitments elsewhere.

"Many of the NATO armies are very heavily committed in peacekeeping operations at the moment. If you look at the Canadian army, the British army, the French army, the German army, for example, they're all very heavily committed deploying peacekeepers to the various missions in the former Yugoslavia -- the Kosovo force, the Stabilization Force in Bosnia. Germany has a very large troop commitment with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. The Canadians are in the process of deploying 1,800 troops to that mission as well," Kemp says.

Other analysts and diplomats see Washington's difficulties as a backlash against the U.S., which together with Britain invaded Iraq without specific authorization by the United Nations Security Council and despite the staunch opposition of many of its traditional allies.

Many countries now appear reluctant to contribute troops to the peacekeeping force without a UN resolution. In India, for example, the government is hesitating on the question of whether to commit the 15,000 soldiers requested by Washington.

Washington appeared willing to go it nearly alone waging war on Iraq. But the task of stabilizing the country after major combat operations is another matter -- especially with the recent rise in guerrilla-style attacks on U.S. and British troops.

Harvard University Professor Andrew Moravcsik writes in the latest issue of "Foreign Affairs" that the "initial haphazard efforts at Iraqi reconstruction" demonstrate that the U.S. lacks "both the will and the institutional capacity to follow up its military triumphs properly."

Moravcsik adds: "When it comes to the essential instruments for avoiding chaos or quagmire once the fighting stops -- trade, aid, peacekeeping, international monitoring and multilateral diplomacy -- Europe remains indispensable."

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, is now reviewing conditions in Iraq and is expected to make his recommendations to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by mid-July about how many troops are needed to stabilize the military and political situation there.

General Myers has said that two "international" divisions are being prepared for deployment into Iraq by September. A division usually consists of about 15,000 soldiers.

That has led analysts like Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, to estimate that the Pentagon's current aim is to muster 20,000 to 30,000 stabilization troops by September.

But as O'Hanlon notes, the overall mission in Iraq still will require some 200,000 coalition soldiers -- meaning, he says, that 125,000 to 150,000 U.S. troops could still be needed for at least another year.

On 30 June, Rumsfeld said Washington had approached 70 countries with a request for troop commitments in Iraq. Pentagon officials say 24 of those countries have made firm commitments and that Washington is still in talks with 12 others.

A Polish-led division totaling 9,200 soldiers will include 2,300 Polish troops. Some 1,800 Ukrainian soldiers reportedly will bolster that division along with 1,300 Spanish soldiers and smaller numbers of troops from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Other possible contributors include the Philippines, Thailand, Mongolia, and Fiji.

An advanced guard of some 250 Polish soldiers arrived in Kuwait today and is expected to enter Iraq next week to pave the way for the others. The Polish-led division is to be deployed in predominantly Shi'a areas of southern and central Iraq between the regions now controlled by Britain and the United States.

The Pentagon says the United Kingdom, which has about 11,000 troops in Iraq, will command its own division in the south of the country.

In London, Kemp says it is no accident that many of the countries pledging troops for the U.S.-led coalition so far are former Soviet-bloc states that are eager to prove a commitment to international security. But Kemp says there are limitations to the number of soldiers those countries can contribute.

"The three new East European members who joined NATO four years ago, and certainly the seven nations who are soon going to be joining NATO, most of these countries have comparatively small armed forces," he says. "And more importantly, there are only smaller elements within these forces who are truly equipped to a NATO standard -- who are equipped for this sort of an operation. They need interoperable communications with other members of the [stabilization] force. In many of the smaller nations -- the Baltic states, for instance -- it's difficult for them to contribute more than a company," or about 120 soldiers. Kemp says a battalion of about 500-700 soldiers "is a major contribution for these nations."

He says there also are concerns about the quality of the troops that some smaller countries can commit. "What's still going to be required is a significant war-fighting capability. Not for high-intensity operations requiring tanks, but certainly for low-intensity operations where mobility is very important -- such things as helicopters and light armored vehicles which can be very rapidly deployed. The mission in Iraq is going to be a very dangerous mission indeed. Possibly, for many years to come," Kemp says.

Kemp concludes that it would be a misnomer to describe the mission of a multinational force in Iraq as one of "peacekeeping" -- a term which applies to UN-mandated missions in the former Yugoslavia but not those like the UN-backed International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.

"To characterize [the job in Iraq] as a peacekeeping mission certainly is inaccurate," he says. "At the moment, it's more of a stabilization mission. There is a considerable risk for those nations who do contribute troops because there are forces actively opposed to the coalition -- particularly the U.S. forces within it. So certainly there is going to be a combat mission. Truly, this is more of a peace support operation at the robust end of the scale -- armored vehicles, flak jackets for the soldiers, [and] robust rules of engagement are going to be very important."

In Moscow, Colonel Yury Baluyevsky, first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, warned this week that the increasing number of guerrilla-style attacks in Iraq threatens to turn the situation into another Vietnam scenario for the Bush administration.

The current U.S. deployment in Iraq comprises about one-third of all U.S. soldiers on active duty around the world.

With major powers like France, Germany, and Russia showing little inclination to join a U.S.-led multinational force that would take pressure off of Washington, some diplomats conclude it is only a matter of time before the Bush administration is forced to drop its ongoing opposition to any major UN role in Iraq.