Foreign troop relief falls short of U.S. hopes

Occupation of Iraq maintains Western face

November 08, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - More than two months after launching a campaign to draw at least 10,000 troops from the Muslim world and India to help stabilize Iraq, the United States has seen its plans founder on a combination of Iraqi opposition, anti-American sentiment, anger over the U.S.-led invasion and alarm over mounting violence.

The Pentagon had hoped to gain an army division's worth of additional foreign soldiers as replacements for U.S. troops. Now, it is forced to use already-stretched American forces, including more than 20,000 Marines who weren't part of the troop rotation scheme.

Perhaps more important, the failure to bring in more foreign troops has maintained the Western face of the U.S.-led occupation as it battles a stubborn Iraqi insurgency. Absent are soldiers from the Muslim and developing world who might be better equipped culturally to deal with Iraqis and gather badly needed human intelligence.

Rather than relying on foreign troops, the United States has launched an accelerated drive to train and deploy tens of thousands of Iraqi security officers.

The Bush administration hasn't given up on getting troops from such Muslim nations as Pakistan and Bangladesh, and it considers Morocco a possibility.

"The story is definitely not over. We have not written these guys off," said an administration official closely involved in the effort.

Turkey withdraws offer

But Turkey, which just a few weeks ago was considered the likeliest prospect, has ruled out such a deployment.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke by phone Thursday night, and the State Department said yesterday that the two agreed that the offer of Turkish troops would be withdrawn.

Some analysts fault the administration for raising hopes about getting large numbers of troops from South Asia, Turkey and elsewhere.

"I think it was unrealistic, although it was inevitable they would try," said Teresita C. Schaffer, a South Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It was a bit of a mistake creating expectations in public."

The U.S. effort began against a backdrop of powerful anti-American sentiment in most of the Muslim world resulting from U.S. support for Israel and autocratic rulers in the region, and a perceived war on Islam after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. That anger was further inflamed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, was intent on changing the perception in Iraq and throughout the Arab world of a U.S.-dominated occupation.

Administration officials believed that a new United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a "multinational force" in Iraq would give reluctant troop contributors the political "cover" they needed. A number of developing countries frequently contribute to U.N. military missions, welcoming the relatively high pay as well as the chance to gain experience alongside American or European troops.

Complex challenge

The challenge, however, has proved to be more complex.

With Turkey, the problem lay not in its domestic public opinion but in Iraq. Encouraged by $8.5 billion in loan guarantees from Washington, Turkey's government overcame the parliamentary opposition that existed before the war and became willing - even eager - to send up to 10,000 troops into Iraq.

But the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Interim Governing Council rejected the idea, in a rare display of opposition to American desires. The IGC's Kurdish members, whose ethnic brethren have often battled Turks in the past, have been particularly adamant, but other members oppose inviting troops from any neighboring country into Iraq.

In Pakistan, analysts say American officials might have misjudged the depth of public hostility toward the United States and the political impact this had on its military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, whom Washington counts as a strong ally in the war on terror.

"Musharraf has a narrow popular base and is locked in a confrontation with Parliament," which saw Islamic parties gain strength in the 2002 elections, said Husain Haqqani, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Many Pakistanis resented the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and overthrow of the Taliban, the clerical regime that had at one time drawn Pakistani support. The war in Iraq was equally unpopular.

"There was not a single political voice in Pakistan that supported sending troops to Iraq," Haqqani said. With such an unpopular war, he added, Musharraf might have faced divisions even within the military leadership.

A Bush administration official suggested that Pakistan might have sent troops to Iraq if the United States had been willing to supply the country with more military assistance.

Balking at mercenaries

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