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Iraq: Arab States Reluctant To Join In Stabilization Force

  • Sergei Danilochkin

The security situation in Iraq remains unstable, with continuing attacks on military installations and other targets. The U.S. and British governments are making efforts in the UN and elsewhere to put together an international security force in Iraq. So far several countries have answered the call -- but noticeably absent from this group are Iraq's immediate neighbors and other Arab states. RFE/RL speaks to analysts to find out why.

Prague, 17 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Washington and London are looking for more international troops to bolster their efforts to rebuild Iraq and establish security in the country.

According to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Anglo-American coalition expects about 15,000 foreign troops to join an Iraqi occupation force as a result of a proposed UN resolution. Currently, there are about 150,000 U.S. soldiers stationed Iraq. They are supported by around 21,000 troops from other countries, including 11,000 servicemen from Britain.

So far, about 30 nations have expressed their willingness to participate in the international military operation in Iraq, some of them have already sent units. A Polish-led international division replaced the U.S. Marines in control of an area of southern Iraq that surrounds Al-Najaf.

Pentagon officials say they are now trying to convince India, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, France, Germany, and others to contribute troops to the effort. But many of these countries are insisting on a UN mandate before they would send soldiers.

Conspicuously absent from the group, however, are most of Iraq's immediate neighbors and leading Arab states. These countries presumably would have much to gain from a stable and secure Iraq, yet so far no Arab state has agreed to commit troops. Analysts say the reasons for this are complex, and owe at least partly to the way the war was conducted, without the sanction of the United Nations.

Daniel Neep, the head of Middle East program at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies in London, told RFE/RL the U.S.-led occupation is considered largely illegitimate in many Arab capitals.

"First of all, the Arab states have been reluctant to support anything at all that might be conceived as lending legitimacy to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. We've seen that somewhat in the fact that they've now recognized the Iraqi Governing Council to a limited extent by allowing the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, to attend the Arab League meeting that was held recently. But again, they did it quite reluctantly as a temporary measure," Neep said.

Julian Lindley-French from the Geneva-based Center for Security Policy agrees. He said that Arab governments would not likely respond to a direct U.S. or British call to join an international military or security force to stabilize Iraq. He said they would like, instead, for the call to come from an Iraqi national authority.

"First of all, there would have to be -- even if there was an international military force -- a UN Security Council resolution as an absolute first step. But I think, given the situation in the region, it would be very hard for most Arab countries to send any troops until there was a clear Iraqi regime in position that was deciding Iraqi policy. It must be Iraqis to ask other Arabs to come and help normalize the security situation," Lindley-French said.

Another problem for most of the Arab countries' governments is that the foreign military intervention in Iraq is not popular among their population. "I think that it is extremely unlikely that any [Arab] country would volunteer to send forces into Iraq," Neep said. "The political implications for them domestically would be immense. The problem is, of course, that in terms of their domestic opinion if they want to send troops to help the Americans it would cause immense problems at home. It would not be something their domestic populations would like to do."

Analysts told RFE/RL that they believe Iraq's most immediate neighbors -- including Kuwait, Iran, and Syria -- would be among the most reluctant to send troops because historically they have had so many disputes with previous Iraqi governments.

The most likely Arab participants, if any, in the multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq may be the smaller states. Lindley-French from Geneva Center for Security Policy said: "If such an operation was ever to happen it would have to be I would suspect some of smaller countries. Possibly Jordan, possibly the United Arab Emirates could send some forces. One might add in time some of the Egyptians and some of the Maghreb countries, the North African countries. It will very, very hard to see how, for example, the Saudis, or the Kuwaitis, or the Syrians could really play a role in Iraq itself, given the complex relationships that exist."

Neep said, of course, one of the main determinants is the country's bilateral relationship with the U.S. Countries with poor ties would not send troops in any eventuality. "However, there are countries that are less approving of what the U.S. is doing than others," he said. "Of course, Syria, for example, which has it's own problems in its bilateral relations with the U.S. Particularly, following the Iraq war, would probably be most reluctant to do anything that confirms the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Again, Saudi Arabia has its own problems with the U.S. And given the accusations in the media about Saudi dissidents crossing the border into Iraq to take part in the resistance, I doubt the U.S. would be looking for any support from the Saudis at this time."

Much will depend on the coalition's efforts to train Iraqis to handle their own security needs. During a recent visit to Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. would accelerate the training of local police and army soldiers to take the place of the U.S. forces. Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer said the U.S.-led coalition planned to boost police numbers from around 40,000 to about 70,000.