Five months after Saddam's fall, Washington is realising it bit off more than it can chew, writes
In a major shift in his administration's policy, US President George W Bush has called for a greater UN role in Iraq, including additional international peace- keepers to help restore order. Speaking from the White House Cabinet Room Sunday, Bush said "members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation."
President Bush also urged the United Nations to overcome bitter "past differences" over the US-led invasion of Iraq, appealing even to steadfast opponents of the war for troops and money. "I recognise that not all our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power, yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties," he said.
Bush, with an eye on next year's presidential elections, is also trying to convince the American voters that the mounting death toll and expenditure of billions of dollars in Iraq is a necessary price to pay in a broader struggle against terrorism. He may also be slowly steeling the public will for a prolonged and difficult occupation of Iraq. "We will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our own nation more secure," he said in the 18- minute speech. Bush's remarks come at a time when Washington has come under intense criticism abroad for its handling of the crisis in Iraq.
Democratic presidential candidates vying for their party's support are also growing increasingly bold in lambasting Bush's failure to present a clear plan for Iraq, and for not already attracting major international help for the country's tedious reconstruction. At the same time, polls show voters' support for Bush declining as American soldiers sustain daily casualties in Iraq and have been unable to impose law and order.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told NBC television that a US- proposed Security Council resolution might result in the deployment of just 10,000- 15,000 more soldiers from its allies. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice pressed the case for greater international involvement in the stabilisation of Iraq, saying that "the time is right" for a major United Nations presence there, explaining "events are evolving on the ground in Iraq and it's important that the UN role keep pace with those events as they evolve," Rice told Fox News Sunday.
The administration's comments came as the 15- member Security Council held closed-door consultations Friday to debate a new US draft resolution that seeks to send a multinational force to Iraq. The US draft also seeks greater financial assistance for Iraqi reconstruction, and recognition of the US-installed Interim Governing Council (IGC). Delegates at the United Nations described the talks as constructive, despite divisions over the extent of the UN role in Iraq and a timetable for the restoration of full Iraqi sovereignty.
The administration's move stood in stark contrast to the triumphant tone in Bush's last speech to the nation, on 1 May, when he declared the war "one victory" in the struggle against terrorism. He also refused to grant the UN a role in post-Saddam Iraq, preferring to keep full American control over Iraqi affairs. Bush's about-face from snubbing the UN to pleading for international involvement comes after months of persistent guerrilla attacks against coalition forces have begun draining the morale of American soldiers and civilians, with a consequent impact on Bush's popularity ratings. After being excluded from any real decision-making in the run-up to Iraq, it is little surprise that the UN is unenthusiastic about cleaning up America's mess in Iraq.
There are also concerns that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Pentagon-controlled body running Iraq, is out of touch with reality, partly because its staff have been unable to leave their offices for security reasons. Some visitors to the CPA headquarters in Baghdad have painted a grim picture of their incompetence and mismanagement, and accuse the US administrative officials of a shocking level of ignorance about Iraq. The CPA is relying heavily on Iraqi exiles hired to help in reconstruction efforts and to provide links between American administrators and the Iraqi people. However, after their prolonged absence from the country, these former exiles have failed to deliver as promised.
Five months after the fall of Saddam's regime, the inability of the US to fill the power vacuum by providing security and effective administration has led to the growth of rival semi- governmental organisations. Shi'ite groups who blame a near-complete absence of security on the Americans are reportedly setting up their own armed militia, threatening to void or upstage the CPA plans for Iraq. Such militias could pose a serious challenge to US or multinational forces' attempts to assert control over the country. A UN-approved multinational force could help provide the one thing Iraq needs most now: a concrete sense of public authority.
But with doubts still deep, there has been no rush from Washington's foreign allies to answer Bush's call for troops to police Iraq. France, Russia and Germany, whose opposition deprived the US- led war of the council's explicit endorsement and legitimation remain unwilling to give approval before they know the extent of the UN role in Iraq and a timetable for the restoration of full Iraqi sovereignty. Japan, normally a loyal ally of Washington in international political affairs, offered only a lukewarm response, joining other nations in calling for a greater United Nations involvement in post-war Iraq first. India and New Zealand have reiterated their earlier stance, saying they will consider sending troops for stabilisation operations in Iraq only if authorised by the United Nations.