Vol. 4 Num 36 Wed. July 02, 2003  

Should we send troops to Iraq?

Foreign minister Morshed Khan reportedly has said (The Daily Star 26 June) that Bangladesh government 'is studying Chapter Four of the UNSC Resolution 1483 to see how it covers sending troops as stabilisation force in Iraq'. Clearly there is some confusion and misunderstanding. Chapter four of the UN charter deals with the organisation and functions of UN General Assembly and it has nothing to do with UN Security Council resolutions. A Security Council resolution has two parts, preamble and operative paragraphs and nowhere in the resolution 1483 there is any mention of sending troops to Iraq. It would be misleading the public to confuse chapter four with the Council resolution at issue. There is no scope for invoking chapter four for interpreting UNSC resolution1483 on post war Iraq dispensation. There is no mention in the resolution of sending troops as stabilisation force to assist the Anglo American occupation forces now engaged in security 'operation scorpion' to search and ferret out the pockets of Iraqi resistance.

Needless to say, stabilisation force is not UN Peace Keeping Force which is sent explicitly at the request of the office of the Under-secretary General of the Department of UN Peace Keeping at the UN headquarters in New York, in pursuance of Council resolution. This was reiterated by UN secretary general Kofi Annan on 25 June in London after his talks with Tony Blair when he said, 'Until Security Council gives us a new mandate we are not really talking of a UN force'. The resolution among others called on member states to assist Iraqis in the reconstruction of their war ravaged country. Assistance to Iraqis involves rebuilding the shattered Iraqi infrastructure of roads, bridges, buildings, ports, oil facilities, hospitals, and utility services which of course is a privileged preserve of winners of the war with attractive contract awards. The work of the UN representative in Iraq is apparently sidelined to overseeing the humanitarian work of the UN agencies and various charity groups and NGOs.

. There is deep discontent and anger among the Iraqis over short supply of jobs, food, water, electricity, sanitation and health care and the Iraqis blame the occupying powers for their sufferings. There is widespread resentment and resistance against the occupation forces who are increasingly suffering casualties almost daily by Iraqi guerilla sniper attacks. Caught in a situation of Vietnam type quagmire and fearing backlash on high incidence of body bags of soldiers at home, America is trying to assemble what it describes as an international stabilisation force to replace the coalition forces. Besides, the objective may be to add a Muslim and Asian face to the occupation army to give a look of legitimacy for acceptance by the Iraqis. But Iraq has been destabilised by America led invasion and occupation. The chaos, mess and muddle in Iraq is their own creation and it is their responsibility to fix it, not by so called stabilisation forces from outside. Secretary General Kofi Annan has rightly said after his meeting with Tony Blair that the 'occupying powers' had the responsibility to provide security and effective administration to the people of Iraq

According to press reports America has requested for one division Indian troops as stabilisation force. During recent visits of Indian deputy prime minister LK Advani, foreign minister Yaswant Sinha and national security adviser Brajseh Misra to Washington, the US Administration including President Bush, defence secretary Rumsfeld, national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice and secretary of state Colin Powell reportedly discussed the issue. According to a report in the Indian Express circulated by AFP, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has told Yaswant Sinha in course of his recent meeting with him not to send troops to Iraq. India so far has been reluctant to accede to the proposal but signs are that it is going to yield to American pressure finally as India is a strong US ally who counts on US support to stop cross border terrorism by Pakistan militant forces and contain Pakistan's not so infrequent belligerent posture over Kashmir. President Bush recently sent a team of high level Pentagon officials to Delhi to discuss the questions raised by the foreign ministry about command and control of the stabilisation force.

Pakistan President Musharraf has received favoured nation treatment at Camp David retreat of President Bush and a pledge of 3 billion dollars aid package in addition to generous economic assistance of millions of dollars and forgoing of huge debt repayments in the wake of Pakistan's support and cooperation with America for its war against Afghanistan and the ongoing campaign against Al Qaida terrorist fugitives in Pakistan. Besides, Pakistan is beholden to US support for solution of the festering Kashmir dispute. It may be truly difficult for Pakistan not to oblige with the American request.

But for Bangladesh it is a different matter. Bangladesh whose heart still rankles from its unjustified inclusion in the list of perceived terrorist prone countries under the US National Security and Entry and Exit Registration system, hopefully is not hamstrung by any such compelling leverage from America. Colin Powell, however, as a quid pro quo has dangled the carrot of duty free market access of Bangladesh products to America under the proposed 18-nation Middle East Trade and Engagement Act 2003 now being debated in the US Congress.

Nevertheless, the stabilisation force, for all intents and purposes, will be a combat force to engage in security and search operations against Iraqis suspected to possess hidden arsenals and harbouring hostile intents and may well be vulnerable to dangers of spiraling hit and run guerilla attacks now being directed against Anglo-American occupation forces. There is no way we can put our troops in harms way to bail out the besieged occupation forces for a mess of pottage. Besides, the government has all along opposed war on Iraq without UN approval as a matter of principle and indicated several times that it was willing to participate in peace keeping operation in Iraq only under UN aegis. Now sending troops to Iraq to work under the command and control of Anglo-American coalition forces will be an ignoble climb down to legitimise the consequences of the war.

The reinforcement of coalition troops or their replacement by an international stabilisation force is not the answer to the problem. What is urgently needed to successfully come to grips with the deteriorating security situation in Iraq is for the occupation forces to pack up and immediately hand over the authority of American interim Administration in Iraq to UN for quickly holding election for installing a truly representative Iraqi government. Iraqis proud of the rich tradition, culture and civilization of their past are fiercely nationalist.

The government apparently is in a serious dilemma and predicament faced with the request for troops from the almost unilateralist Bush Administration blamed as notorious to have its way by bullying or bribery. Hence the government's ambivalence which is understandable as it does not have easy answers to deal with the issue. But one thing is certain. A decision in favour of the request without a broad consensus of views by wide spectrum of public and political parties will be a recipe for political disaster.

Abdul Hannan is a former Press Counsellor, Bangladesh UN Mission in New York