Arm twisting and cheque book diplomacy over Iraq
NEW YORK-- As the American death toll keeps rising in Iraq, the only viable exit strategy for the United States is the arrival of a multinational peacekeeping force -- under a United Nations umbrella.

But US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative right wing hawks, who are contemptuous of the world body, are clearly opposed to a proposed new Security Council resolution creating such a force.

The Bush administration has failed to articulate a common position because it is split right down the middle over the proposal. Any UN force would mean the US would have to abdicate some of its military and administrative authority to the very world body which it openly defied in the run-up to the war.

The readout from the Pentagon is clear: it just does not want to lose face. And as one critic asked: "How many lives is Defence Secretary Donald Rumsefeld's face worth?"

Since the war on Iraq began March 19, about 246 US soldiers have died – 165 from hostile actions and 81 from accidents. The rising death toll looms as a political liability for President Bush who faces re-election next year.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the UN stands ready for the creation of its own peacekeeping force and "internationalise" the Iraqi operation. But there are no takers so far.

The UN is assuming that the Iraqis would be more accommodating towards the world body than towards the United States. But this could also be a false assumption. The Iraqis may not want any foreign troops in their native soil.

The contempt for US troops in Iraq was best exemplified by a comment from an American soldier in Baghdad, Higinio Nunez of Fresno, California, who was quoted in the New York Times as saying: "All we want is for people to see that we are here to protect them, but the Iraqis call us Ali Babas" -- a derogatory term dismissing US soldiers as common thieves who have stolen their country and their sovereignty.

The Bush administration's foreign policy – marked by the abandonment of multilateralism – is also characterised by aggressive arm-twisting and cheque book diplomacy.

A separate US proposal for a 30,000-strong multinational force in Iraq – with no UN involvement – is struggling to get off the ground.

But in a desperate attempt to raise troops for this force, the administration is offering weapons and military aid.

The inducements have apparently been offered to at least three countries – India, Pakistan and Turkey – whose troops Washington needs to bolster the fledgling multinational force in Iraq and relieve the pressure on US forces in the war-ravaged country. The Indian government, which withdrew its offer of 17,000 troops under heavy domestic political pressure in New Delhi, is being lobbied once again with an offer of sophisticated military equipment.

The quid pro quo, according to diplomatic sources, is approval of the proposed sale of the state-of-the-art Arrow-2 missile defence system by Israel. Since the $100-million system includes US components and funding, Israel needs American approval to close the deal.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in New Delhi last week trying to convince the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to change its stance on troops for Iraq.

The London 'Financial Times' said last week that the Bush administration has also pledged to further relax the sale of dual-use, civilian-military technology to India in return for troops.

France, Germany, India, Pakistan and several other nations have declined to provide troops unless there is a new UN resolution authorising the proposed multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq.

The 150,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq are backed by 12,000 from Britain. But among the key countries that have pledged troops for the new multinational force are Spain, Poland, Japan and Ukraine.

Washington is also expecting smaller units from Hungary, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, the Philippines and Nicaragua. It has logistical support from Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and South Korea.

The 'Washington Post' reported last week that some of the countries were providing troops only at a cost to US taxpayers. The Bush administration has agreed to pay $240 million in support costs to the Polish contingent of about 9,000 troops.

The proposed Indian contingent of 17,000 troops would have been the largest single foreign force, exceeding the 12,000 troops from Britain, Washington's coalition partner in the war against Iraq.

But the move to provide Indian troops generated strong political and public opposition in New Delhi. India's neighbour and foe Pakistan has been offered $3 billion in US aid over the next five years, of which about $1.5 billion will be in military aid.

And according to the Ankara-based 'Hurriyet' newspaper, the United States has been lobbying the Turkish government for about 10,000 troops for Iraq.

Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration was discussing troop deployments both by Pakistan and Turkey.

The US would agree to a UN resolution, he said, only if it did not curtail American military authority in Iraq.

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