Avoiding Violence In Postwar Iraq

How UN inspection teams entering Iraq can avoid friction with the local police and population

FINALLY the ordeal of the United Nations inspectors in Iraq is over and the Iraqi government has agreed to the demands of the UN team. Yet the situation is still dangerous and more problems are likely to emerge during the inspection process. My argument is based on firsthand knowledge of the kinds of problems inspectors face on the ground.If we want to avoid creating an international crisis from each encounter of the inspection teams with the Iraqis, the UN should do what it has always done concerning peacekeeping forces or inspection operations. It should establish liaison offices to work with both the Iraqi military and the UN teams. This system facilitated the verification of the terms of the Camp David treaty in the Sinai. I know, because I worked at that time as a liaison officer with the Egyptian military and the MFO (Multinational Force and Observers). The job of the liaison officer is basically that of a translator and sometimes an ad hoc mediator between a team of inspectors who are driven by the need to stick to the letter of their mandate and the extremely cautious local military personnel. Their caution is often based on a very real danger, not mere uncooperativeness. If an enlisted man or a junior officer were to allow an inspector to see things they are not supposed to see, he could be court-marshaled or executed. Thus, the insistence of the Iraqi soldiers on getting receipts from the inspectors for the things they took may reflect this fear for their lives more than it did their concern about what the UN inspectors might or might not have taken with them. The Iraqi soldiers' fear of punishment is likely to make any future surprise inspection of the Iraqi facilities very difficult and create crisis as in recent weeks. The only way to avoid such crises is to demand that the Iraqi government establish a liaison office in each installation. In these offices, Iraqi officers would have copies of the terms of the cease-fire agreement. Copies will also be given to the UN inspectors. It is important to have such a structure in place before the inspection teams continue their missions. To start the inspection without a proper structure in place is to invite more problems. Unlike previous missions the UN had in the Middle East, the present one is much more fortunate. This time the UN has the advantage of using a liaison officer from the Arab allies who speak Arabic and is familiar with the military red tape of the Arab states. Such officers are important because they can defuse any conflict based primarily on cultural misunderstanding. I recall the problems some MFO observers had in Sinai. They were merely cultural. One situation I remember very vividly is that of an observer who insisted on inspecting a Bedouin tent which was near an Egyptian military unit. The tent was suspicious for, indeed, there were some Egyptian soldiers outside the tent drinking tea and chatting with its owner. The owner of the tent refused to allow us in. The more the Bedouin refused to allow us into the tent, the more suspicious the observer became. As it turned out, the reason that the Bedouin refused to allow the foreign observer into his tent was that his wife and daughter were inside. These women, in normal situations, were not allowed to meet Arab males, let alone foreigners. And for the same reason, the Bedouin had kept his guests, the Egyptian soldiers, outside. It took time to explain local customs to the observer. Without someone to explain to the Bedouin and the observer the logic behind each other's position, the situation could have become violent. The observer would have filed an inaccurate report of a violation. THESE things seem minute in theory. Yet they create tremendous problems on the ground, especially in the current situation where angry Iraqi soldiers hold the UN responsible for the deaths of family and friends and the destruction of their country. The bitterness of the Iraqi soldiers, combined with cultural misunderstanding, could trigger isolated and irresponsible violent behavior by some soldiers. Such an incident happened in Sinai. An Egyptian private, Salman Khatter, opened fire on Israeli civilians because he felt his government compromised its sovereignty. To avoid similar events that may lead to an international crisis, it is vital to include both an Iraqi liaison officer and an Arabic- speaking one from the allies as part of the inspection teams.

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