Role of the United Nations in dispute
az-Zaman has been reporting that 12 of the Shiite members of the Interim Governing Council, including expatriate Ahmad Chalabi, are opposed to the return to Iraq of special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. They are angry that he certified that open, direct elections could not be held before June 30, as the Shiites had wanted. And they are suspicious of his loyalties, since he is himself a Sunni Arab.
Today Brahimi struck back, saying that the UN had received a letter from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani requesting it to remain involved in Iraq. Brahimi knows that Sistani trumps Chalabi every time. Sistani’s main concern appears to be to help Iraq escape from any kind of neo-colonial American domination, and he sees the UN as a wedge in that effort. Also, just on principle, he believes that a UN Security Council resolution has legitimacy in a way that the Anglo-American Coalition Provisional occupying authority does not.
Sistani’s views seem to accord with those of the new Spanish president, Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatera, who says that he needs a new UN Security Council Resolution if he is to keep Spanish troops in Iraq. (This is another thing those critics of his got wrong when they charged “cowardice.” He hadn’t said he would run away from Iraq. He said he would only keep troops there if international law could be upheld, i.e., if the UN SC authorized it. Even the chief British legal adviser had expressed worries that without a Security Council resolution, occupation authorities in Iraq would diverge farther and farther from the Hague Regulations and the Geneva Accords as time went on.)
Ironically, the Bush Administration, after having worked so hard for the past year to marginalize the UN in Iraq, has now made an about-face and wants a new UN resolution. Just three months ago, the Coalition Provisional Authority was reportedly “deeply offended” when the Interim Governing Council decided to approach the UN about getting involved in the transition to Iraqi sovereignty. Gone are those days.
The Bush administration is clearly petrified that its ad hoc coalition in Iraq will fall apart in the next six months. The US military is stretched extremely thin, and is reducing forces in Iraq from 130,000 to 110,000 simply because it has no more to spare. Some commentators have suggested that Spain’s 1300 troops are not militarily significant. I disagree. All it would take is a handful of such countries to withdraw, and the US would be down another division. It cannot afford that. But of course the real cost of such withdrawals would be political. If it looks as though Bush’s coalition of the willing is collapsing, he will risk looking like a failure in international affairs.
It would not take anything dramatic for a lot of coalition partners with small troop contingents to pull out. Some have already talked about not staying beyond mid-summer. And, some other Bush political allies are skating on thin ice. I am told by an expat in Japan that Koizumi’s majority in parliament depends in part on a Buddhist party that is strongly pacifist and could get cold feet about the Self Defense Forces being sent to Iraq. There have also been controversies in Bulgaria, e.g, when their troops have been killed or wounded, about whether it makes sense for them to be there.
It turns out that Bush all along needed the United Nations and its mantle of legitimacy for the Iraq adventure much more than he realized.
Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that Zougam, one of the Moroccans suspected in the train bombings in Madrid, is close to both Imad Yarkas and a Moroccan religious leader called Fizazi, who head the Salafiyah Jihadiyah organization. It is suspected in last year’s bombings in Casablanca. Yarkas appears to have played a logistical role in the September 11 attacks and met with Muhammad Atta.
Newsmen in Spain are beginning to reveal that defeated Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar had called them and told them after the bombings that the Basque separatists were behind it. He apparently feared that if it were known to be al-Qaeda, he would be blamed for diverting Spain’s energies into Iraq.