Will Anybody Help the U.S. on Iraq?

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It's hardly surprising that France and Germany have rejected the Bush administration's new draft UN resolution on Iraq. After all, who'd want to send their troops into the maelstrom of a mounting insurgency punctuated by spectacular terror attacks? But France and Germany aren't rejecting the idea of a UN-authorized force joining U.S. troops in Iraq. That means the U.S. and Europe will be engaged in some tough bargaining in the coming weeks over issues ranging from the political authority of the UN in Iraq and the transfer of power to an Iraqi authority, to less noble concerns such as the distribution of reconstruction contracts.

The Bush administration won't find it as easy as before the war to simply walk away from the UN. It is fast becoming obvious that Washington is straining under the burden continuing to go it alone with a limited coalition. Sothe latest exchange is likely to be mark the opening of what will be protracted and substantial season of horse-trading.

The powers of "Old Europe" are all to aware that the reason Washington is suddenly turning to the UN for help is precisely because of the difficulties it has encountered in Iraq; if the Bush administration thought it could get by on its own it wouldn't be asking. And the scale of the burden is plain to see: The Bush administration is reportedly preparing to ask Congress for a further $60-70 billion to fund ongoing operations in Iraq, and the cost of the first year of war and occupation looks set to run upward of $100 billion — and that's before the serious investment required for reconstruction even begins. A donor conference is scheduled to be held in Madrid in October, at which a number of wealthy countries are expected to help underwrite reconstruction costs. But many say they canít fund the U.S.-British occupation mission — as the current arrangement in Baghdad is currently defined in legal terms set by Washington and London — and call for dramatic improvements in security in Iraq as a precondition for dispensing aid.

The military situation is equally pressing. The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that on the basis of current rotation schedules, the Pentagon will run out of fresh troops for Iraq by the spring of 2004, meaning that to maintain current force levels tours of duty would have to be extended or two new divisions would have to be created at a cost of billions over five years. The ideal option, of course, would simply be to reduce the troop levels, but even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld — who has long resisted arguments that force levels in Iraq are insufficient to the mission — concedes that the current security situation requires more troops, although he insists those must come from other countries, or, preferably, from Iraq itself. The U.S. has begun training some 18,000 prospective Iraqi policemen, but that process will take two years to complete. And most of the potential soldiers in Iraq right now are either veterans of the now-disbanded Iraqi army, or else are members of militias answerable to political parties. If some of the U.S. divisions currently deployed in Iraq are to be rotated out by early next year, Washington's best bet appears to be enticing Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India to send a division each — which would generate a further 60-70,000.

The original impetus for the administration's return to the UN may, in fact, have been the insistence of these countries that they'd need UN cover to join the U.S. in Iraq. Even with UN authorization, they're unlikely to be encouraged by the fact that the insurgency continues to spread in scale and sophistication. Not only has the U.S. lost more troops in the postwar period than during the invasion itself; the fact that the number of American soldiers wounded in action currently averages 10 a day speaks to the scale of the resistance they're encountering. That alone may prompt some potential troop donors to find reasons to stay home from what remains, domestically, an unpopular venture.

Even though they're not openly gloating, the French and Germans have made no secret of the fact that they believe events in Iraq have vindicated rather than undermined their earlier opposition to the war — no weapons of mass destruction have been found and the terror threat appears to have increased rather than decreased as a result of the war. Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff has reportedly slammed the Pentagon's postwar planning as woefully inadequate. Still, the sober heads in the capitals of "Old Europe" recognize that failure in Iraq could have a catastrophic effect on the relations between Western nations and the Middle East, and if the U.S. proves more accommodating of their concerns than at present, they'll feel pressure to help.

As the French and Germans see it, the U.S. proposal does not go far enough in conceding U.S. authority in Baghdad either to Iraqis or to the UN. Two key areas will likely be the focus of transatlantic negotiations in the coming weeks: the nature of the military command; and the question of political authority in Baghdad. Powell's proposal suggests an international force under U.S. command as a way around the objection from states unwilling to put their own troops at the disposal of the United States. The model under consideration in Iraq is akin to the UN-mandated forces in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan, where the UN Security Council created a legal framework for security forces under command of the major troop contributors. Even if countries such as France remain unwilling to participate directly, their support for a UN resolution may be needed to persuade even more willing nations to send troops.

The more pressing, and contentious, issue concerns political control. The Security Council is unlikely to authorize a force to strengthen what is currently defined as an occupation mission. The Bush administration and the Europeans agree that the ultimate solution is to transfer authority to Iraqis themselves, and to set a timetable for doing so. The U.S. is proposing that the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) established by its administrator, Paul Bremer, be recognized as "the principal body of an Iraqi interim administration," and be asked to set its own timetable for elections. The draft resolution also recommends that the UN play a major role in helping prepare for elections. Thus far, the Security Council has stopped short of formally recognizing the IGC out of concerns over the legitimacy of a body handpicked by Bremer. The same concern was widely voiced in Iraq, even by many of the participants in the IGC, and it has also prompted the Arab League to keep the IGC at arm's length. And France and Germany are demanding far greater clarity on the role envisaged for the UN. While they'd agree with the principle of transferring power to the Iraqis, the "Old Europeans" are going to demand that the UN, rather than the Bush administration, be given authority over the political process in the interim. And that may be more than the administration is willing to concede at this point. September will be a long month, diplomatically, but there is a growing recognition on both sides of the Atlantic that rebooting the transition in Iraq is increasingly urgent.