Internationalizing Iraq

April 23, 2004|By William H. Luers

PRESIDENT BUSH made positive steps toward internationalizing the postwar effort in Iraq by calling on U.N. special envoy Lahkdar Brahimi to help design an interim government to assume sovereign control of Iraq on July 1 and announcing that he was sending an emissary to Iraq's neighbors.

But as the challenges of the next year loom even larger and more troubling, Mr. Bush should plan for after July 1 by bringing in more partners and making Iraq a truly international effort, thereby maximizing his chances for success.

Internationalizing support for the new Iraqi government means much more than turning it over to the United Nations. U.N. involvement can bring a high degree of legitimacy, which is greatly needed. But the United Nations lacks the capacity to do all that needs to be done - security, constitution writing, elections preparation, civil administration, reconstruction of infrastructure, border control, etc. And it can do little in the current security environment since it has virtually no ability to protect its personnel in a quasi-war zone.

The urgent task for the United States is how best to engage those powers and Iraq's neighbors that still feel the war was unjustified and do not want to participate in a mere extension of the current Anglo-American occupation. An effective multilateral effort in Iraq must be built on strong bilateral partnerships.

This will require the Bush administration to approach France, Germany, Russia and Iraq's neighbors directly to negotiate the terms under which each would agree to join the transition process in Iraq. To persuade other countries to contribute significantly, the United States will need to share decision-making authority and create real partnerships.

The announced withdrawal of Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic from the military coalition reflects reaction against the U.S.-dominated occupation. But with U.N. engagement and a sustained effort to internationalize the support for a new Iraqi government, Spain might be persuaded to return in a nonmilitary capacity.

The United Nations cannot bring this all about alone, yet its political involvement is integral to bringing in new partners and bringing legitimacy to the transition process .

Neither the United States nor the United Nations has given a strong signal of what the United Nations might be able to do - or be asked to do - to help internationalize support for an interim Iraqi government. This much is clear:

The United States and its allies must continue to be responsible for internal security and training Iraqi forces for years to come. The U.N. Security Council should approve a resolution to authorize a multilateral force under U.S. or NATO command.

The role of Mr. Brahimi as an adviser to the various Iraqi factions and ethnic/religious groups is essential to the long and tedious process of developing a consensus across Iraqi society about the nature of the new government looking to the elections in early 2005.

The size and presence of the U.N. mission in Iraq will continue to be limited by security concerns, yet the United Nations will be expected to take on the role of principal adviser to a new Iraqi government.

In order to demonstrate its desire for greater international cooperation, the United States should join with the United Nations in organizing a conference on the reconstruction of Iraq. In contrast to last fall's Madrid conference, which sought international support for reconstruction (while the plan for a political transition remained murky, at best), this new conference would explicitly link reconstruction to a new political framework.

At the same time, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan should organize related meetings in which representatives of Iraq's neighboring states, the United States and the other four permanent Security Council members - Britain, France, Russia and China - could share their concerns on the transition in Iraq. Their purpose would be to enlist closer regional cooperation and support for the new Iraqi government.

A strong demonstration of broad international support before June 30 would go far toward reducing the image of the United States as an occupying power. It also would create the best opportunity to isolate those inside Iraq who would continue to undermine reconstruction.

Mr. Bush should make an effort to seek new partners to save the enormous political, national and personal investment he has made in Iraq. By planning now with U.S. allies and friends, with the United Nations and with Iraq's neighbors, the United States could do much to restore its credibility as a world leader while taking an overdue step toward creating a worldwide commitment to stabilizing and reconstructing this ravaged nation.

William H. Luers, president of the United Nations Association of the United States of America in New York, was U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1983 to 1986 and to Venezuela from 1978 to 1982.

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