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Western Press Review: Is A Greater UN Role The Answer To Iraq's Ills?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 4 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As the United States sends a draft resolution to the UN requesting the international body to play a bigger role in Iraq, many analysts are welcoming Washington's apparent shift toward multilateralism. The draft reportedly expands the UN role while maintaining U.S. command over military forces. Other observers, however, question whether a more international effort to rebuild the country will provide a solution to Iraq's shattered infrastructure, the lack of a functioning administration, and the presence of Iraq's resistance fighters.

We also take a look at elections in the Caucasus and the diplomatic difficulties of addressing Iran's nuclear ambitions.


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial today says that, strategically, the U.S. administration's decision to seek a UN resolution authorizing an international force to rebuild Iraq "may well make sense." But it says U.S. President George W. Bush "should also note how his adversaries are portraying this move as a sign that both he and the U.S. are on the run."

The "Journal" says "[the] guerrilla war the U.S. is now fighting in Iraq is winnable." Even so, "[a] million Marines won't be enough if the Iraqi people aren't on our side."

Ultimately, "Iraqis themselves will have to begin taking responsibility for keeping the power on and maintaining order -- in short, for governing themselves."

The paradox, says the paper, is that it will be easier to achieve Iraqi self-governance if the United States is willing "to stay as long as it takes to succeed." Bush "has made that pledge many times, most recently last week. But the world also watches America's political debates and it remembers [U.S. retreats in] Saigon, Mogadishu and Beirut."

The "Journal" says the U.S. president should "explain that his new UN strategy is about strengthening America's commitment to victory in Iraq, not the first step toward walking away."


Columnist Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune" says a new draft UN resolution that would place U.S. forces in Iraq under a UN mandate while leaving America in charge of military operations has a reasonable chance of success.

"Similar arrangements worked in Kosovo and Bosnia," where it also became clear that "American troops, even under a UN flag, function best when they remain under U.S. command."

But Page says "[the] sooner Iraq's reconstruction is seen as an international peacekeeping effort, instead of an American occupation, the better. Allied troops from Muslim countries like Turkey and Pakistan would be particularly useful in defusing the slander from Islamic militants that the U.S. is fighting a war against Islam."

But first the U.S. administration must make peace "with France, Russia and other UN countries it arrogantly disrespected to cobble together its own coalition, which mainly has consisted of [America] and Great Britain." He says: "Unfortunately, what once looked so victorious for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is looking increasingly like a disastrous mess."


An editorial in the London-based "Financial Times" says the U.S. administration's "decision to return to the United Nations in search of the help and international legitimacy needed to retrieve the fast-deteriorating situation in Iraq is the right thing to do. Given the extent to which the U.S.-led occupation authority has bungled postwar Iraq, it was bound to happen. But it is no less welcome for that."

The overall goal for any new resolution "must be the search for legitimacy," the paper says. It must confer such legitimacy "externally, by placing Iraq under the UN's political authority; and internally, by creating conditions in which Iraqis will take over government and some aspects of security -- and thereby win international and domestic recognition."

Increased international legitimacy will help protect "any emerging Iraqi government from the taint of collaboration" with the Anglo-American occupation. A new Iraqi administration "must now be invested with the full powers of a provisional government, including control over areas of security -- not least to generate the intelligence to combat armed resistance that the occupation forces so clearly lack."

All this is "a very tall order," says the London daily. However, "as the U.S. may now have recognized, [the] current course in Iraq [is] clearly doomed to fail."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," an adviser to the Middle East Policy Council, Donald Hepburn, says the total cost of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is only now becoming apparent. And the U.S. administration's new "willingness to consider a greater United Nations role on the ground is the first sign that it is aware of how vastly mistaken its assertions about the occupation were."

He says: "Contrary to the prewar view that Iraq's oil revenues would greatly offset American costs, we now know that Iraq -- with its shattered economy, devastated oil industry and plundered national wealth -- is incapable of making any significant reimbursement of the invasion and occupation costs." And "after decades of corruption, economic stagnation and declining productivity, it faces at least a decade's worth of reconstruction."

Iraq will need long-term loans from the World Bank, the UN, foreign governments, the European Union, and many other quarters. "Yet few of these organizations will be keen to make loans until Iraq has a new constitution and an elected government that has put in place effective legal, arbitration, banking and fiscal systems."

Hepburn says, "Let's face it, rebuilding Iraq is going to be far more expensive than Americans have been led to believe. Just as it seems inevitable that concessions must be made to get other countries to relieve the burden on American troops, now is the time for the United States to mend fences with the United Nations and its allies to relieve the burden on American taxpayers, as well."


A piece by William Pfaff in by today's "International Herald Tribune" questions whether a new UN-sanctioned, multilateral effort is really the answer to Iraq's ills.

"Why should countries that were opposed to the war assume responsibility for its painful consequences?" he asks. Washington "may be misreading" what France, Germany, and other European nations are really willing to contribute to the Iraq mission. "The 'old European' heavyweights called on to contribute troops and reconstruction finance [are] not going to agree to an arrangement that leaves the United States in effective control of Iraq."

Pfaff goes on to question the logical hopes of this move. "Why should an occupation and reconstruction sponsored by the United Nations -- with or without the United States in military command -- be expected to work any better than the present unhappy arrangement?" He says a "UN-endorsed multinational force might be politically more acceptable in Iraq, [but] the primary problem today is not political acceptability" -- it is the "restoration of security and order. There is no particular reason to think that a multinational or UN force could restore order and rebuild political and economic infrastructure any better [than the] Americans are doing."

He goes on to muse that a UN-sponsored force "may not even be more acceptable politically, given that a great many in Iraq have over the last decade learned to see [the UN] as the agent of a policy of sanctions and penalties demanded by the United States."


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Peter Feaver of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies in the U.S. says: "In the next few months, we will see whether there is more to the UN option than a knee-jerk preference for the reassuring rhetoric of multilateralism or whether the critics have simply avoided dealing with [the] tough questions a larger UN role raises."

First, he says, do nations such as France, Germany, and others really want to contribute money and troops to the Iraq operation? Or are they insisting on a UN mandate merely to hide "their understandable desire to stay [far] away from the conflict in Iraq"? And would a UN force really be able to handle the "quasi-guerrilla war environment" in Iraq today?

Next, he asks, would a UN resolution really provide the external and internal legitimacy that is needed? Ultimately, says Feaver, when things go wrong, it is the U.S. that will be blamed, "and perhaps rightly so," he says. Moreover, introducing the UN veto system into the management of Iraq could encumber the decision-making process.

Finally, asks Feaver, "has anyone proposed a coherent plan for taking steps that the current U.S.-led coalition is not already taking? All the practical suggestions critics propose -- increase the Iraqi role, [rebuild] basic services as fast as possible and so on -- are being pursued by [U.S. civilian administrator] L. Paul Bremer and the coalition. Transferring control to the UN would not hasten these steps; it might even slow them."


In response to the latest U.S. diplomatic moves to seek support from the UN in bringing peace and order to Iraq, a commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says "the troubles the U.S. is encountering with security and the general chaotic situation [has] not prompted the [U.S.] administration to be inventive, but is compelling it to correct some political mistakes -- which is necessary and desirable."

Four months after U.S. President George W. Bush declared "major combat operations" over in Iraq, he now finds himself turning to the UN for a second time. The first attempt to convince UN member nations to support Washington's Iraq policy failed and resulted in a breakdown of many longtime alliances. These countries will hardly be eager to deal with the chaos following a military victory in Iraq, the daily writes.

But for all that, says the paper, other nations "should not gloat over Bush's irresponsible recklessness. [It] must be presumed that Bush has come to his senses and has realized he cannot go it alone."

It is also in Europe's interest for Iraq to become stable and for trans-Atlantic relations to be mended. And a new UN resolution providing a multinational force for Iraq and more international help for rebuilding the country could be a step in this direction.


An item in the regional "Eurasia View" says that, according to analysts, "There is a high probability that officials will attempt to manipulate upcoming elections in Azerbaijan and Georgia." Moreover, the "absence of free and fair democratic processes could spark political and social instability in the region."

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev has been widely accused of attempting to introduce a dynastic succession to the presidency by positioning his son, Ilham, to take over. The elder Aliyev is in failing health, while Ilham is now a presidential candidate for the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP).

Although Aliyev is a popular president and viewed as responsible for holding the country together, allegations of ballot-stuffing persist and popular support for his YAP may be on the wane.

"Meanwhile in Georgia," the paper says, "parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2 could mark the start of a process that culminates in a destabilizing conflict between the legislative and executive branches in Georgia." If the opposition party takes control of parliament, some observers says, a constitutional crisis could flare up between the parliament and the president.

"Concern that supporters of President Eduard Shevardnadze will attempt to falsify election results has grown in recent weeks following the collapse of a U.S.-backed plan to rework Georgia's electoral framework." Moreover, "in response to its dwindling popular support, the Georgian government has increased harassment of opposition groups."


Commentator Rolf Paasch, writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," says: "[U.S. President George W.] Bush has begun to face reality," in view of daily U.S. casualties in Iraq and now also some uncomfortable questions from members of the U.S. Congress upon their return from summer recess.

Bush has to take into account the demands of his own military, critical comments from the political opposition, and the accusations of presidential candidates from the opposition Democratic Party. The cost of the occupation in terms of U.S. lives and money has become a liability and is forcing Bush, after his last "painful experience" at the international body, to go back to New York and approach the UN.

Paasch says "[his] arrogance has dissipated. Now Bush is faced with long, diplomatic negotiations."

On the other hand, France and other nations are determined to create a decision-making role in Iraq for the UN. The coming weeks will decide the future policies of the European nations that opposed the war. And the rest of the world will have to deal with new demands.

Paasch says both Brussels and Berlin should carefully consider the implications of including NATO forces in Iraq. This is a very serious matter, says Paasch, and would be for Turkey and Pakistan, as well -- for Washington is bound to suggest a NATO-plus-Muslim nations contingent of forces for Iraq.


In a contribution to the "Washington Post," Robert Kimmitt -- a former U.S. undersecretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Germany -- says it is time for Europe to take the diplomatic lead in dealing with Iran. Washington should, for now, take a back seat in any negotiations.

While Europe and the U.S. have different ideas about how to deal with the divided Iranian leadership, "there is no debate about the fact that Iran is embarked on a path toward obtaining nuclear weapons." And although Washington's interests "are directly implicated, the ability of the United States to influence events in Iran is more limited than ever. Not only has the United States had little contact with Iran in nearly a quarter-century, it is also still the 'Great Satan,' opposition to which provides the radical theocracy with both a major element of its claimed legitimacy and a major weapon to use against any true reformer who would suggest an opening to the United States."

Europe, in contrast, "has had diplomatic relations with the leadership in Tehran for over two decades, and there is a growing trade relationship of importance to both sides, but especially to Iran."

Kimmitt suggests that Europe "should publicly announce a policy under which it will not allow its companies to trade with a nuclear Iran, will not provide other than humanitarian financial support to a nuclear Iran and, in the World Bank and other international financial institutions, will vote against all but basic-needs projects for a nuclear Iran."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)