03 July 2003

Iraq's neighbours want UN, not India

3 July 2003
The Times of India

Iraq's neighbours want UN, not India


NEW DELHI: The government may have secured the backing of US allies Kuwait, Jordan and the UAE, but virtually no major neighbour of Iraq -- certainly not Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Iran -- appears enthusiastic about the prospect of Indian troops helping to enforce the US occupation of that country.

Perhaps for this reason -- and contrary to stated policy -- New Delhi has not made efforts to ``consult'' these or other key countries in the region on the question of troop deployment.

``The fact is, none of us has been asked to sound anyone out about anything'', a senior external affairs ministry official familiar with the issue told The Times of India on condition of anonymity. Diplomats confirmed that news of a possible Indian deployment is known to Iraq's neighbours ``only through the newspapers... there has been no consultation as such''.

In interviews with a cross-section of regional and Indian diplomats and officials in New Delhi and abroad, the picture that emerges is crystal clear: All the neighbours believe the US is incapable of handling the situation in Iraq and that to the extent to which an Indian presence delays the inevitable US exit, the proposed deployment may even have a negative impact on regional security.

``The US policy will lead to the radicalisation of Iraqi society'', said a diplomat from the region, ``which will be worse for everyone''. The only way out is if the UN takes charge of the stabilisation and rebuilding of Iraq, he said, adding that his government hoped India would act in such a way as to ``help the UN and the Iraqi people play a central role'' rather than the foreign occupiers.

The view from a key neighbouring capital is similar. ``To go forward, you have to have an international mandate under the UN. India cannot hope to contribute to the political process in Iraq when it is part of an army of occupation,'' said an official.

Diplomats also warn against the assumption that deployment in Iraqi Kurdistan would be a soft option for Indian troops. ``Mosul and Kirkuk are hotspots. For the first time in a century, the Kurdish groups feel they have a real chance to push for their own state'', said an Indian official familiar with the area, adding, ```Iraqi towns are strewn with the graves of Indian soldiers (from colonial times). That should be warning enough''.

The issue of Indian workers in West Asia is also emerging as a factor, with an Indian official familiar with the Gulf telling the TOI, ``If we become an occupying army in Iraq, terrorists here will consider Indians a legitimate target. Right now, we are the safest community. Why do we want to jeopardise that?''.

One West Asian diplomat compared the ``Iraqi disaster'' to the situation in Afghanistan. ``There, the UN played the key role in working out a political roadmap through the Bonn Agreement. So today you have an Afghan face running the country. Karzai may not be the best, but at least he's better than Bremer'', the US viceroy running Iraq. The diplomat stressed that unless there was ``a political roadmap'', merely sending forces would not help the situation.

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