Is the U.S. Considering a Return to the UN ?

Tuesday 2 September 2003, by Phyllis BENNIS

The recent Bush administration trial balloons regarding a new role for the United Nations in Iraq reflect a growing concern regarding what the New York called the "high cost of occupation" for the U.S. in Iraq — costs both in U.S.soldiers’ lives and in dollars. The emerging reassessment is not a reflection of any concern regarding the illegality of the occupation, the lack of legitimacy of the U.S. presence in Iraq, or the impact on Iraqis of Washington’s abject failure to provide for even the minimal humanitarian needs of the population.

The high price in dollars is being paid by U.S. taxpayers while corporations close to the Bush administration, notably Halliburton and Bechtel, are earning billions of dollars. According to Paul Bremer the U.S. will have to pay "several tens of billions of dollars" for Iraqi reconstruction for next year alone. The high price in lives is being paid by U.S. troops assigned to state-building duties for which they have no training, by Iraqi translators and other Iraqis working with and for the U.S. occupation authorities, and by UN humanitarian staff who are seen as working under or within the U.S. occupation structure. The highest price inlives is paid by Iraqi civilians, both in armed attacks and as a result of the lack of sufficient clean water, electricity, medical care, etc.

The proposal under tentative U.S. consideration would call for creation of a UN- endorsed multi-lateral military force to join the U.S.occupation force in Iraq. It might function as a separate, parallel force with a separate command structure, but the commander would be an American. U.S. officials make clear their intention that the multi-lateral force would be accountable to the Pentagon’s strategic control. (There is a history of this kind of U.S. control of UN peacekeeping operations through imposing a U.S.general or admiral as UN commander. This was U.S. practice during the Clinton administration in Somalia, Haiti and elsewhere.)

The plan does not envision Washington even sharing authority and decision-making with the UN itself or with the governments sending international contingents, let alone ending its occupation and turning overfull authority to the UN to oversee a rapid return to Iraqi independence.

A new UN resolution would also likely include a call authorizing, perhaps even "encouraging" other countries to contribute funds, as well as troops, to the U.S. occupation. A donors conference is scheduled for late October in Spain, a key U.S. ally. But there are serious doubts whether other countries will provide funds while all decision-making remains in U.S.hands.

A number of countries, facing U.S. pressure, might be prepared to send troops under the existing U.S.-controlled scenario, if they could point to anew UN resolution providing an international imprimatur. U.S. officials have actually described a future UN resolution’s value as providing "political cover" to governments wanting to participate but restrained bypublic opposition. Countries under particular pressure to send troops include Pakistan, Turkey and India. It is likely that many members of the Security Council might be willing to cave in to such pressure. Any resolution, however,would also have to win approval from Russia, Germany, and especially France —which are less likely to accept Washington’s terms. French Foreign MinisterDominique de Villepin said that "the eventual arrangements cannot just be the enlargement or adjustment of the current occupation forces. We have to install a real international force under a mandate of the United Nations Security Council."

So what do we propose ?

We oppose any new UN resolution aimed at providing more legitimacy for the U.S.-UK occupation of Iraq. We are against any countries sending troops or funds to maintain or strengthen or "internationalize" Washington’s occupation.

The Bush administration should immediately release a detailed timetable of plans to end their occupation and turn over power to Iraqis. We oppose Richard Perle’s claim that "our main mistake is that we haven’t succeeded in working closely with Iraqis before the war so that an Iraqi opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand." Instead we recognize that the over-reliance of the Bush administration on the claims of the exiled Iraqi opposition, driven by self-interest and ideological fervor rather than grounded information, was one of the main reasons for the U.S. failure to anticipate the post-war crisis in Iraq.

Only after the U.S.-UK occupation has ended should the United Nations and a multi-lateral peacekeeping force return to Iraq. Their mandate should be for a very short and defined period, with the goal of assisting Iraq in reconstruction and overseeing election of a governing authority.

As belligerent powers who initiated the war, and as occupying powers, the U.S. and the UK are required to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. While their military occupation should be ended immediately, Washington and London remain obligated to pay the continuing costs of Iraq’s reconstruction, including the bulk of the cost of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping deployments. The U.S. should immediately make public a realistic estimate for the cost of reconstruction in Iraq. Washington should turn over funds to UN authority, beginning witha direct grant of at least $75 billion (the initial amount spent on waging the war) for reconstruction work. These funds should be raised from an excess profits tax on corporations benefiting from the war and post-war privatizationin Iraq, as well as from Pentagon budget lines initially aimed at carrying out war in Iraq.

The U.S. should use this moment to reverseits longstanding opposition to the creation of a standing UN rapid-reaction military force, beginning with reconstituting the UN Charter-mandated Military Staff Committee.


Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of both TNI and the Insitute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. She is a journalist specialising in Middle East and United Nations issues. Formerly based at the United Nations, she has worked on US domination of the UN leading up to the Gulf War, economic sanctions on Iraq, international interventions and US foreign policy in the Middle East.

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