Sat, 12 Apr 2003

Outlook for postwar Iraq: Diplomatic rifts

Bantarto Bandoro, Editor, 'The Indonesian Quarterly', Centre For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta,

As U.S.-led troops tightened their grip in and around Baghdad, political leaders in several countries, including key parts of the coalition forces, have already begun to reposition themselves for the next phase of the drama. The past few weeks witnessed a series of diplomatic maneuvers to search for a common stand on the future of Iraq. There was a report of a meeting in Belfast between George W. Bush and Tony Blair, at which the two leaders discussed scenarios for postwar Iraq.

As war begins to fade into postwar reconstruction, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, President Jacques Chirac of France and President Vladimir Putin of Russia plan a meeting in St. Petersburg to search for a common way forward, which may include a bid for rapprochement with Washington. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is also seeking a consensus on Iraq with the leaders of France, Germany, Britain and Russia.

The UN's role in postwar Iraq could become as great an international bone of contention as did the second UN resolution before the war.

The postwar era seems to be one in which Iraq, by design, is turning into a ground for new "projects". Political and diplomatic rifts may emerge between countries that have anticipated huge benefits, politically and economically, from such a project.

Though the Bush-Blair summit indicated their common stand on the future of Iraq, each possessed his own vision about how the future of Iraq was to be managed. Britain stressed a strong role for the UN, but the U.S., which has carried the brunt of the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, appears to be less enthusiastic about UN participation in an interim administration.

The idea that London wants to garner wide international support and UN endorsement for the future of Iraq is, perhaps, to placate antiwar countries -- particularly France and Germany -- and also to appease widespread international skepticism about the motives of the U.S. But in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Blair after the summit, President Bush modified his language, to talk about a "vital role" for the UN in postwar Iraq, rather than the secondary role he seemed to have envisioned in his earlier comments on the role of the UN.

It is doubtful whether the U.S. meant a role for the UN beyond involvement in delivering food, construction materials and other humanitarian aid, etc. The UN is likely to be sidelined again, at least at the outset of the process, in Iraq's rebuilding and reconstruction. Some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union strongly advocate that postwar Iraq be managed outside the UN framework, arguing that the UN should be the only international institution that legitimizes all work in postwar Iraq.

If the U.S. is to go ahead with its postwar Iraq plans and wishes to seek endorsement from the UN Security Council for example, France and other antiwar countries would likely vote against a resolution that would give the American and British belligerents the right to administer Iraq. Differences over how to run Iraq have put added strain on already tense relations between the U.S. and several European countries.

Signs that the U.S. will venture forth and go ahead unilaterally with its plans for postwar Iraq are reflected in the decision by Bush to dispatch to Iraq a retired American general, F.J. Walters, to bring democracy and aid to Iraq. It is reported that he will cooperate with another American retired general, Jay. Garner, whose task is to lead a postwar administration in Iraq.

The appointment of Gen. Garner would look too much like an American consul overseeing an American protectorate in Iraq. This perception would increase antagonism in the Arab world and has already angered people in Britain and other European countries.

The problem in Iraq now is not only about designing an interim government. Public facilities, such as hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure, would have to be fully rebuilt. It is against such a background that the private sector is seeking a big role in postwar Iraq. American, J.A Jones construction company, which has a longstanding record of building and managing construction of U.S. military bases, for example, has reportedly shown its preparedness to take part in huge postwar Iraq projects. Other U.S. companies are also eyeing postwar Iraq.

Worried it could be shut out of business deals in postwar Iraq, France has reportedly drawn up plans to win French companies access to lucrative oil and reconstruction contracts, despite its vigorous opposition to the war.

The strong enthusiasm demonstrated by French companies in the postwar Iraq project is perhaps due to the concern of the French that a U.S.-led administration in Iraq would favor companies from the U.S. and other prowar countries, while penalizing companies from France.

French companies, many with ties to Baghdad stretching back for decades, have established themselves as the largest suppliers of goods to Iraq since a UN trade embargo was partially lifted in 1996. A postwar Iraq is likely to witness severe diplomatic rifts as well as business competition from the private sector.

If a postwar Iraq is to be seen as a "project", it should be projected to restoring the activities of the Iraqi state in all their aspects, with the support of the world community.

Reconstruction of Iraq must also delve into the issue of power, meaning the transition and transformation from the rule of a single party to a pluralism of voices and the "reengineering" of Iraq's army to an institution of nation building and defense.

By transforming its military from a force that threatens neighboring states into an army of nation building, perhaps Iraq could provide a model that strengthens security in the region and reduces bloated military budgets.

It is almost certain that the U.S. is to lead the formation of an interim authority in Iraq, meaning that though the UN can contribute to that process, its role would be no more than auxiliary. A U.S.-led coalition will probably run the country for at least six months until a new Iraqi government is in place. Whether the U.S. and its allies have the focus and commitment for the long haul that Iraq's reconstruction requires is unclear. The questions here might properly be: Can Iraq really be rebuilt and can the rebuilding be profitable?