25 June 2003

Iraq killings bode ill for Indian troops

25 June 2003
The Times of India

Iraq killings bode ill for Indian troops


NEW DELHI: The killing of six British soldiers by an angry mob of civilians in Majar-al-Kabir near Basra in Iraq on Tuesday is a grim reminder of the dangers that await Indian troops should the Vajpayee government agree to their deployment in aid of the US-UK occupation of that country.

The British soldiers -- all military police -- were killed in circumstances that are still unclear. The Associated Press reports that the town's population was seething over intrusive searches for weapons conducted by the British and that the killing of civilians by the soldiers finally led to revenge attacks. The British defence ministry says it has no information of civilians killed but is still investigating the circumstances of the firefight.

Either way, the incident has underlined that 'peacekeeping' -- or more accurately, the enforcement of foreign occupation -- in Iraq is no tea party. "The Americans have assured us Indian troops will not be used for combat-related situations", said a senior Indian official familiar with the region, "but what happens when the situation chooses you?".

Given the frustration that the lack of basic civic services throughout Iraq is causing, Indian soldiers could well find themselves at the wrong end of an angry demonstration. And without the means to do anything about their complaints.

Officials here say Indian soldiers are "much better prepared to deal with crowds" than their US or even British counterparts (i.e. are less trigger happy) and will also have the advantage of being from a country which has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Iraq. "But all it takes is one bad incident for the mood to change", said a source.

"And once we're batting for the Americans, there'll be people out there who'll want to take pot shots at us". There are also concerns about how any untoward incident involving Indian troops would affect the Indian population elsewhere in the Arab world.

If its troops go, India will also have to overcome an additional burden, that of history.

The British used Indian troops to put down the large uprising which convulsed southern Iraq, especially the lower Euphrates region, in 1920. In his book, British air power and colonial control in Iraq, 1920-1925, University of Hull historian David Omissi has chronicled that 'pacification' campaign: Winston Churchill, who was minister of war and air at the time, believed that Mespopotamia could be "cheaply policed by aircraft armed with gas bombs, supported by as few as 4,000 British and 10,000 Indian troops".

Though the Royal Air Force was used with deadly results, Indian soldiers -- so crucial to Churchill's "cheap policing" -- were also pressed in to suppress the Iraqi freedom struggle, and many died in the fighting.


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