Questions On Un Option In Iraq Reader

Questions on UN Option in Iraq

A reader with a US military background writes:

“I noted your recent proposal for increased UN military involvement with some questions.

1. With great oversimplification, the civil war in Iraq is being fought by factions who desire to have the long term control of either the government of the whole country, or their own particular region (ie Kurdistan, or to a lesser extent Sadrist Basra).

To that end, although the violence is extremely messy, violent, and disproportionately affects non-political actors–it is being utilized to the most basic of political ends, and thus has a “motive”. Although all of us are revolted to see scenes of bloody children and destroyed markets, the tactic is not “random” and seeks to undermine confidence in the new goverment.

Hence, the idea that UN involvement would reduce the violence due to its [being] relatively less partisan was probably at least partially destroyed with the UN building in August 2003 (where my unit was involved with rescues). No one involved in Iraq, be it the Red Cross, UN, or nearly any other group, can hope to see itself as “neutral”, if their presence or actions serve to deter any one faction (particularly the Baathist faction now, but any others would be capable.)

Unlike the sucessful UN operations (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor), in Iraq the factions are fighting because they believe they can win what they want. Iraqi factions (both the ones we’ve met and the ones we haven’t) believe in violence and fear, and the general public has not yet displayed the complete frustration from the violence that in some part enabled the peace process in Bosnia (although the military strength of Croatia certainly helped a lot too).

One article I recently read was from a Baathist who blatently said that their goal was to first throw out the United States, so that they could return to power on the lines of the coups of the 1960s. (the comment on your site on picking the right time for peace processes I found to be particularly instructive.

2. Contributing troops to a UN force will neither end the conflict nor support a negotiated settlement on their own.

Your mandate would be militarily insufficient to end or even limit the hostilities. If the new government of Iraq is to have any legitimacy, it cannot have insurgent armies forming in Anbar and Diyala, and then using civilian vehicles and highways to cause bombings and assasinations in Najaf, Baghdad, and Mosul. It would seem a mandate to “keep the factions” apart would do nothing to the insurgents, but handicap the goverment from any sort of “official” military or police operation, and resort instead to assasinations and bombings of its own. I’m not sure the people in Iraq are willing to wait for their force to be trained during this time, and it doesnt bode well when your government’s security strategy involves SCIRI hit teams (the most dangerous trend in Iraq, in my opinion).

The problems of the original UNPROFOR in Bosnia, which had a similar limited mandate, are well documented. Keeping the sides of a civil conflict like this apart are almost impossible, and a purely defensive UN force would still have to resort to being supplied on the roads. Logistics were severely hampered by the Serbs in Bosnia, and we all know how it works in Iraq.

So much of the violence is fought at a very low level–ie shooting the local guy who works at the tax office–that a generally passive UN mandate would be more of the same in Iraq, or even worse.

Again, if a negotiated settlement is the goal–what sort of negotiated settlement would have any authority when it would be voted down by the guys with the guns? While supporting those who want to participate in the goverment is to be welcomed, its not clear, as you have made clear, that they could carry the day back home.

3. Military force must be backed by political will–my experience with coalition forces from all over requires that. Even if the force is well trained, it has to be allowed to do its job. For instance, when the well-trained South Koreans deployed, they received assurances that they would not be used for offensive operations, even house raids. I’m not sure if that helped the instability in Kirkuk at all. Peacekeeping and enforcement is more than just doing footpatrols and opening new gas stations–it requires national consensus to both take, and sometimes inflict, casualties. India, South Africa, Brazil are some militaries that come to mind, but I’m not sure any would be interested.

If free access to oil didn’t convince countries in March 2003, I’m not sure who it would convince now. Most of the world’s large militaries are designed to operate in their own countries for the purposes of domestic order (with less than democratic ideals), and given some other peacekeeping operations, inviting many of these militaries would make us look back fondly at the mild days of Abu Ghraib. My experience is also that, in general, Iraqis don’t like to be occupied, but they especially won’t like being occupied by the countries of the Third World (a problem of escalating expectations and self image, I guess).

Lastly, supporting any peacekeeping force in Iraq would require an immense logistical effort. Right now, only the United States has the global and transportation resources to manage such a force. In the near term, at the least that would require a large American logistical presence (although things like truck companies could of course be provided by the contributing countries).

4. Your point is an excellent one–and I see it has produced some lively debate already. The question of how to turn over management of the struggle to the Iraqis has not been satisfactorily faced. I’m quite interested to see to what extent your proposal [is taken up]. We who have served in Iraq hope for a political solution that will end the violence and allow opportunity to some great young people–but there are some tough characters out there who are playing for keeps.

Thanks again for your contribution to open-mindedness and free debate in our country.”

Cole: These are all excellent and well taken points. The only clarification I would make is that I am not advocating a passive UN “peace-keeping” mission. Rather, I’m arguing for a UN army with an active peace-enforcing mandate. I don’t deny it is a tall order. But then, the US military mission is a tall order as it is. The reader correctly sees that I envisage it as a transitional phase from US military occupation to full Iraqi sovereignty.

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