Fri, 12 Dec 2003

Part 1 of 2 : Support U.S., UN in returning peace in Iraq

Jusuf Wanandi, Member, Board of Trustees Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta

I was privileged to have listened to presentations by two American columnists during my visit to the United States last September. They were Thomas Friedman from the New York Times and Max Boots from The Wall Street Journal. They both visited the Middle East, including Iraq, in August. As is known, Friedman is a liberal while Boots is more conservative. They both concluded that the political and economic situation and developments in Iraq have improved, and in many ways things are better than during Saddam Hussein's 30-year regime. Schools and universities are open, healthcare facilities and hospitals are functioning, and electricity and water supplies have been restored.

However, signs of trouble were already emerging in September on the security front in the areas around Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. The situation has since become more serious and has become akin to an urban guerrilla war against the Coalition. This has to be overcome before the Iraqi people and the international community will have the confidence to come to Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance as well as to do business as part of the effort to rebuild Iraq.

The security issue has become the main focus for the media, which is mostly based in Baghdad, as regards the rebuilding of Iraq. The aspects that have been marked by positive developments have not attracted the attention of the media or international public opinion. Why is this the case? One reason is the credibility gap suffered by this U.S. administration. U.S. public diplomacy appears to be rather underdeveloped. However, these positive developments are real. In a poll undertaken by an international agency in August, 40 percent of the people in the survey in Baghdad said that they were worse off but 60 percent of them said they prefer the present situation than being under Saddam.

There is no doubt that security has to be restored first and at all costs. The new, more active policies of the Coalition to overcome the resistance is necessary, but they have to be undertaken in such a way that they will be understood and supported by the common people. And the people should be protected as much as possible.

The northern part of Iraq, which is under the Kurds, has seen real improvements. In the south, where the Iraqi Shiites live, who make up 60 percent of the population, the situation is stable. Their leaders are willing to introduce greater Islamic characteristics into the political system but are not promoting a theocratic Muslim state, which they saw was not working well in Iran where they had been in exile during the Saddam era.

Greater political freedom and the expansion of political space have become facts of life although it remains to be seen how this will lead to a successful democratic transition and consolidation.

In conclusion, it may be said with some confidence that despite real security problems and challenges and the limitations faced by the Coalition forces and the Coalition Provisional Authority under Ambassador Bremer there have been real improvements in Iraq. It is, therefore, important that the UN participates and provides leadership in the near future. Equally important is an early transfer of power and sovereignty to the Iraqi people and their leaders. Although general elections may not be feasible in the very near future, other means could be used as temporary measures to select Iraqi representatives.

The presence of U.S. and Coalition security forces may still be needed for the next 3 to 4 years to maintain security and to enable the interim Iraqi authority to implement its policies. The promises made by the U.S. to assist and support Iraq to get on its own feet have to be kept in order to maintain its leadership role and authority in the future, globally as well as regionally. It is in the interest of all to assist the U.S. in this matter.

On the one hand, it has to be recognized that the reasons used by the U.S. to instigate the war were not sufficiently convincing for many people across the globe, including in East Asia. However, many governments, especially in East Asia, also realize that they are still dependent on the U.S. for peace, stability and economic development. They have restrained their populations from creating major disruptions in their relations with the U.S.

Now that the war in Iraq, in the narrow sense of the word, is over, the East Asian region, including Indonesia and ASEAN, should make serious efforts to cooperate with the U.S. because of the latter's critical role in the region. Support should be given to the U.S. to complete its peace-building efforts in Iraq. In this regard, the role of the UN is critical in providing legitimacy, personnel, technical and financial support. The U.S. has become more open on this, and Indonesia should definitely play an active part in these efforts.