Mon, 14 Apr 2003

RI requests UN meeting on postwar Iraq

Berni K. Moestafa and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Following the fall of Baghdad to coalition forces, Indonesia has made a request to the United Nations through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to convene a General Assembly meeting as soon as possible to discuss postwar Iraq.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Sunday that the UN involvement in postwar Iraq was needed both for its reconstruction and the establishment of a legitimate interim government in Iraq.

"The General Assembly meeting should address the postwar situation. We, through NAM, have requested the meeting," Hassan said on Sunday.

Indonesia earlier took the request through NAM to convene a UN Security Council emergency meeting at the beginning of the war. Although the meeting failed to produce anything concrete to stop the war, Indonesia made it clear to the world that its position was against the war.

Hassan said on Sunday that Indonesia's involvement in postwar Iraq would be subject to the role of the UN there.

"Our participation depends on the UN participation there and we have called for the General Assembly meeting through NAM to discuss the postwar situation in Iraq," Hassan added.

The minister also said that the UN should once again send its weapons inspection team to Iraq to prove whether the U.S. accusation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was true.

The U.S. has promised a "vital role" for the UN, but to the dismay of the European antiwar camp, senior U.S. officials had indicated that this would be confined to humanitarian aid and on non-political issues.

Meanwhile, local experts said that Indonesia must push for a role in reconstructing postwar Iraq even if only to help counterbalance America's presence.

"Indonesia must be more proactive in getting itself involved in the reconstruction efforts under the UN," said Riza Sihbudi, a Middle East expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Billions of dollars worth of contracts are soon up for grabs in rebuilding Iraq after 12 years of economic sanctions and three weeks of relentless bombing during the war. Many parts of the oil-rich country need major reconstruction work.

Leading antiwar governments France, Germany and Russia had no qualms in demanding a stake as soon as Saddam Hussein's regime appeared to have ended.

Indonesia, meanwhile, hesitated, wary about continued fighting in some parts of Iraq and the absence of any UN role after the war.

The U.S. will look to the institutions that it has great influence in, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to outline policies that would, among other things, govern Iraq's vast oil resources.

Smith Alhadar of the Indonesian Society for Middle East Studies (ISMES) said if the U.S. continued to insist on establishing a U.S.-led military government that, albeit temporary, it would only prolong criticism of an illegal occupation.

"A dominant American role would only lead to resistance among the Iraqis," said Smith on Saturday. "The more that countries participate the better."

Calls for Indonesia to step in have also come from the U.S. itself, when U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce called on Indonesia last week to participate in rebuilding Iraq, describing this country's role as "very important".