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Extract from Juan Cole's "Informed Comment" 30 july 2004

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Kerry Plan on Iraq:
How it Could Work if the UN were Brought In

In his speech to the National Democratic Convention, John Kerry devoted a few passages to Iraq. He said:

"I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, and reduce the risk to American soldiers. That's the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home.

Here is the reality: that won't happen until we have a president who restores America's respect and leadership - so we don't have to go it alone in the world.

And we need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us."

Media pundits are already charging that these passages are vague and lack specifics. I thought I would try to envision how this plan might work in the real world.

The first problem with involving the international community is that the US effort in Iraq lacks international legitimacy. Moreover, the Bush administration has insisted that the troops of its coalition partners (some of whom, like the Poles, are being paid by the US to be in Iraq) remain under over-all United States military command. This demand is unacceptable to most countries that might plausibly supply troops.

For instance, Colin Powell has been speaking with the Saudis about the possibility of a Muslim military force to help stabilize Iraq. But most Muslim countries would refuse to go under a US military command, as this report from the Scotsman notes:

' In Jakarta yesterday, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said: “Our position remains that any possible Indonesian involvement, including dispatching our military personnel to Iraq, has to be within and under a UN framework.”

Yemen had offered earlier this month to help in a UN mission in Iraq, provided all coalition forces withdraw . . .

Commenting on the Muslim force proposal, Arab League envoy to Britain Ali Hamid said in London that the idea could gain international support as long as it was accompanied by a clear US commitment to withdraw from Iraq and was mandated by the United Nations Security Council.

Many Arab countries have indicated they would be willing to get more involved in Iraq if they can do so under the UN, rather than a perceived US, umbrella. '

So the big stumbling block is the US auspices of the foreign occupation of Iraq, and Bush administration insistence on the US leading the over-all military command.

Another problem is that the European Community simply does not have many spare troops to send abroad, so the EU is unlikely to be the solution here. (They are likely to be busier and busier with Afghanistan, anyway).

So here is how the Kerry plan could work, with specifics.

Let us say that Iraq really does hold parliamentary elections in January of 2005, and that the new government elects a prime minister. The resulting Iraqi government would have full international legitimacy, and would be in a position to play a strong role at the UN, on the Arab League, and other international bodies.

Let us say that the new Iraq Prime Minister gets the backing of his cabinet and parliament to go to the United Nations Security Council and ask for a UN peace-enforcing effort. (Bosnia is an analogous precedent). The Kerry Administration ambassador to the UN supports this effort, as do the UK, France, China and Russia, along with the rotating members.

The UN Resolution should specify that UN troops in Iraq have the right to use force to enforce the peace. That is, they would not be mere observers or peacekeepers, but active peace enforcers.

The UN peace enforcing military mission in Iraq would be funded by a special fund, to which the US, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would contribute, since it is in all their interests that Iraq be stabilized.

The UN Security Council and the Iraqi government would then go the Arab League seeking a commitment from it to support peace-enforcement in Iraq. At this point, Egypt gets on board, and swings the others to support the proposal.

The Iraqi government, the UNSC and the Arab League then go to non-neighbor Muslim and other countries and ask for about 10,000 men from each. Each two such half-divisions would allow the US to rotate out a division of its own. If 10 countries could be convinced to come in, all but two US divisions could leave. If the effort were seen as one of ending the US occupation by supplanting the US with a UN/Arab League force, many governments that now fear to buck their own public opinion by collaborating with the US might be in a much better position to send troops. Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Yemen and Morocco could all easily spare 10,000 troops each, and more such partners could be found. Perhaps under these conditions even the French and the Russians would be willing to come in, as well. The British would stay for as long as necessary, though likely the Poles and others would want to rotate out early in 2005. That would be all right, since under this plan they could be replaced. Some countries might supply police or gendarmes rather than military troops, as needed in the provinces to which they were assigned (Samawah might just need civilian police for a while; al-Anbar probably needs military troops).

Remember that the poorer countries involved would receive substantial reimbursement for coming aboard. They would also be in line to receive "strategic rent" from the US and other wealthy countries--debt forgiveness, favorable trade treaties, etc. Countries like Russia and France would enhance the access of their companies to the Iraqi market once the security situation had settled down.

This genuinely multinational force could intervene wherever order broke down so badly that Iraqi police and security forces could not handle it. They would be backed up where necessary by US air power for as long as the Iraqi government and the UN wanted it.

The UN force would have as its mandate to help negotiate a final settlement with the Kurds and to supervise the integration of the peshmerga and the Shiite militias into the new Iraqi army, which would have mixed units for national cohesion. It would also work to develop safeguards for minority rights so as to mollify the Sunni Arabs in places like al-Anbar. (That there would be a strong Sunni Muslim presence among the UN troops might help in this mollifying process, though it would not change the fact that the parliament is Shiite-dominated).

This UN force, with vastly reduced US participation under a UN general, would give the new, elected Iraqi government time to rebuild its own armed forces and national guard. As effective Iraqi divisions were trained and equipped, they could begin relieving UN troops, allowing all the multinational forces, including those of the US, gradually to rotate out of the country as they were no longer needed. At the end of this process, Iraq would have an army of 60,000 men, able to maintain order in the country but posing no threat to neighbors. It would be an independent country, midwifed by the United Nations. The US would have finally gracefully exited the country, since it is unlikely that an elected Iraqi government would want foreign troops on its soil any longer than necessary.

I would be the first to admit that the plan is not perfect. Sometimes UN troops have not performed very well. Iraq is a complex and highly armed society, and would be the biggest challenge ever faced by the UN. But I think the plan has at least a chance of working. And, it is hard to see how it could produce results worse than those produced by the Bush administration in the past miserable 16 months.