World balks at growing Iraq perils
Other nations hesitate about sending peacekeepers because of concerns about a growing guerrilla war.
WASHINGTON — Whether the American request for more international involvement in Iraq is granted is seen to hinge on US willingness to give up some measure of control in postwar operations to the United Nations. Yet for countries that may send troops to Iraq, the question of a broader UN mandate is not the only qualm holding them up.
Although before the war countries balked at what they believed would be opening the door to a muscle-flexing America, now concerns are growing that the postwar stage is turning into the beginning of a guerrilla war with global terrorists. Signs are multiplying that anyone associated with the occupation will be targeted, as last week's bombing of the UN building in Baghdad and Saturday's deadly attack on British forces in Basra suggest. With this in mind, countries are reluctant to sign on to something that is still seen too much as America's war and not enough of a campaign to help Iraqis.
"People feel Iraq is a mess that could still go either way, and that explains to a great extent the reluctance to send soldiers," says Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington.
"Iraq could be the best country in the Middle East, with a democracy that gives its citizens a sense of progress, or it could be the worst country, with more violence, terrorism, and increasing anarchy," says Mr. Masmoudi.
President Bush said Friday that the US would submit a new resolution to the UN Security Council to encourage more countries to provide security forces in Iraq. At the same time, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he thought a formula could be found to satisfy both the US insistence on maintaining military control, and other countries' desire to go in under a UN mandate.
Still, he warned that some measure of "not just burden-sharing, but also sharing decisions and responsibilities" would be necessary for a resolution to pass.
The US appears most interested in persuading one or more countries with significant peacekeeping experience and Muslim populations - Turkey, Pakistan, India - to give a brotherly Muslim face to foreign forces in Iraq. But doubts about how far the US will be willing to go to meet other countries' concerns have many of them sitting on the fence, other experts say.
"There's a kind of wait-and-see attitude right now among countries that otherwise might go in," says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.
Continued high domestic opposition to the "American occupation" means countries want to make sure that if they did send troops to Iraq, it would be with "international legitimacy," he says. Most Middle East leaders believe "the worst is still to come" in Iraq, he says, and they want a clearer idea of how the US is going to respond to deepening adversity.
More than anything else, Arabs and Muslims want to see Iraq more quickly turned over to Iraqis, Mr. Gerges says. He says countries also want a clearer picture of what benefits they would derive.
Gerges believes that, other than Iran and Syria, the countries in the region genuinely want "the American project" to succeed - much more so than chaos and growing Islamic extremism. But he adds they also want assurances, "that if Iraq's rebuilding succeeds, Washington will not follow the administration hard-liners' zeal to topple the existing order in the Middle East."
The widespread feeling in the region is not so much that the UN is the tarnish-free answer to Iraq's problems, analysts say, but that its motives in any case are less suspect than those of the US.
"It's not that there is an enthusiasm to see the UN in charge. People don't really trust the UN, either," says Masmoudi. Rather, "they want to see a legitimate government and the Iraqis in charge of their own country."
The depth of domestic opposition to involvement in Iraq is exemplified by Pakistan, where last week Islamic clerics associated with six parliamentary Islamic parties issued a fatwa, or edict, against sending any troops to work under the US occupation. Pakistani officials say their government's action will not be based on pressure from opposition political parties, but rather on principles Pakistan has followed over more than 40 years of contributing to peacekeeping forces. "We are not looking for an excuse not to contribute troops, but we are looking for an international mandate," says Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan's acting ambassador in Washington.
A relatively new attitude is also emerging in Europe: that the predicament of the US occupation of Iraq requires something more nuanced than mere opposition. Countries such as France and Germany now consider the US as "trapped," and that its failure there would not be in the world's interest. At the same time, there is sneaking anxiety that Iraq is only the beginning of a wider and longer civilizational war.
"It seems to be dawning on people that Iraq, instead of the end of something, is only the beginning of a very long global struggle between Western modernity and a more traditional identity," says Philippe Moreau Defarges, a senior fellow at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "But in Europe, people are just now digesting that, so what action to take about it remains up in the air."