OUT: UN IN
And Experts Favour UN Troops
JNV Anti-War Briefing 83
26 July 2005
shortened version of this briefing is available as a pdf
Posted: 27 July
The US policy
of attacking any potential threat to its troops causes massive
civilian casualties. An October
2003 Human Rights Watch report found ‘a pattern by
U.S. forces of over-aggressive tactics, indiscriminate shooting
in residential areas and a quick reliance on lethal force.’
This pattern continues to this day, and is the major driver
of the Iraqi insurgency.
Given the US-UK role in generating violence in Iraq the starting
point for discussion must be US-UK withdrawal from Iraq.
THE FT: A STRUCTURED WITHDRAWAL
Times has proposed one way out of Iraq:
‘The core question to be addressed
is this: is the continuing presence of US military forces in
Iraq part of the solution or part of the problem? As occupying
power, the US bears responsibility for Iraq under international
law, and is duty-bound to try to leave it in better shape than
it found it. But there is no sign of that happening.’
has therefore come to consider whether a structured
withdrawal of US and remaining allied troops,
in tandem with a workable handover of security to Iraqi forces
and a legitimate and inclusive political process, can chart
a path out of the current chaos.’
eventual withdrawal, there would have to be a policy of
military restraint, imposed
above all on those US commanders who have operated without reference
to their own superiors, let alone the notionally sovereign Iraqi
government. [There also needs to be] an amnesty,
which should help Iraqi authorities acquire the legitimacy to
crush jihadist and other hold-outs. Ideally, the US would accompany
withdrawal by stating it has no
intention of establishing bases
in Iraq, and instead wishes to facilitate regional security
10 September 2004)
JUAN COLE: THE UN OPTION
Juan Cole, perhaps the
world’s most respected commentator on Iraq, recently put
forward a complementary proposal.
The US-led forces cannot defeat the insurgency;
their actions fuel the insurgency; and Iraq is coming closer
to civil war.
However, ‘If the US drew down its
troop strength in Iraq too rapidly, the guerrillas would simply
kill the new political class and stabilizing figures such as
Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Although US forces have arguably done
more harm than good in many Sunni Arab areas, they have prevented
set-piece battles from being staged by ethnic militias, and
they have prevented a number of attempted assassinations.’
His solution? ‘In an ideal world,
the United States would relinquish Iraq to a United Nations
military command, and the world would pony up the troops needed
to establish order in the country in return for Iraqi good will
in post-war contract bids.’ (25 May 2005)
We should note two aspects of the Cole
Plan: firstly, this is ‘a peace-enforcing, not a peace-keeping,
force. That is, its rules of engagement should allow robust
military operations to prevent the parties from massacring one
another, and UN troops should always be permitted to defend
themselves resolutely if attacked.’
Secondly, Juan Cole is willing to accept
‘perhaps, one or two remaining US divisions’ in
this force—JNV does not
accept such a possibility for the reasons given above,
ACCEPTABLE TO THE IRAQIS?
This military presence should be accompanied
by a UN political mission designed to support Iraqi parties
in reaching agreement on a new political structure. Cole writes:
‘All Iraqis would see the United Nations as having more
legitimacy than the United States. The UN would be much more
likely to be able to negotiate a settlement among the Sunnis
and Shiites than is the US.’
He asks: ‘Would the Iraqi government
accept a United Nations military mission? Almost certainly.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has often attempted to involve the
UN, and would welcome such a development. The Sunni Arabs would
also much prefer to deal with the UN than with the US.’
THE PEOPLE ARE AGNOSTIC
A national Oxford Research International
(ORI) poll of Iraq in March 2004, and a six-city IIACSS (Independent
Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies) poll
in May 2004, found little confidence in the UN (though dramatically
more than in the occupation forces).
By June 2004, however, a national poll
by Oxford Research International found 58 per cent expressing
confidence in the UN, and 42 per cent not. The UN came out just
ahead of the new Iraqi ministries, and way ahead of Iraqi political
parties. 42 per cent of those polled favoured a UN transitional
government of Iraq, and 58 per cent did not.
(These polls and others have been collated
by the Iraq Analysis Group.)
The evidence from mid-2004, then, is that
there was quite possibly majority support for the UN; certainly
not wholehearted rejection.
No publicly-available poll, however, has
asked the key question: would you rather Iraq was under a US-UK
occupation, a UN peace-enforcing mission/transitional administration,
or just be left alone.
SHIA INSURGENTS PREFER THE UN
As negotiations broke down before the
US onslaught on Najaf, a
spokesperson for Muqtada al-Sadr called for UN troops to
replace US troops: ‘We prefer the UN to the [US-led] occupation
forces, because Iraq is a member of the United Nations,’
Sheikh Ahmed al-Shaibani said. ‘There is a big difference
between the blue helmets [of UN troops] and the occupation troops.’
SUNNI INSURGENTS PREFER THE UN
In December 2003, US journalist Robert
Collier interviewed ‘dozens of Shiite leaders, Sunni
clerics, and Baathists of all levels in Baghdad and the nearby
cities of Falluja, Samarra, and Sadr City’:
‘I asked them two simple questions:
What would stop the rebellion?
And what would persuade them and the guerrillas to give some
breathing space to a new foreign coalition?’ Collier found
differences, but also ‘commonalities’ that suggested
‘a transition plan that
could stop most of the guerrilla attacks, allow the introduction
of UN civilian and military forces, and facilitate the withdrawal
of large numbers of American troops.’
Among the commonalities was this: ‘Give
the United Nations overall control of the Iraqi transition process,
even though not all attacks will cease. Baathists
insist that the United Nations is not the enemy, despite
the terrorist bombings in August and September that caused it
to flee the country.'
the United Nations is acting by itself, and not just on behalf
of the Americans, it will be welcomed,” said a
former high-ranking Foreign Ministry official. “When I
see a blue helmet, it’s totally different from seeing
an American helmet, even psychologically. If
the United Nations took over from the Americans, it would create
a new atmosphere.”
THE UN’S FLAWS
The UN’s record in Iraq since the
war is awful, as is admitted by Salim
Lone, former UN Communications Director in Baghdad.
The UN is not a panacea.
However, as Lone
also argues, ‘The only way to undercut the insurgency
is through a political, not military, solution, and to negotiate
a complete political and military handover to a UN mission with
a strong Arab and Muslim component,’ a force unmistakeably
free from US-UK control.
UN inspectors defied the US drive to war.
With support from the international community, UN troops and
diplomats can defy US domination, and help Iraq to find its
own way to independence. If we can force the US out of Iraq,
we can force the US out of a UN mission to Iraq.
Cole: ‘My main point was to try to find a progressive/centrist
approach to Iraq that avoided the two extremes of a) agreeing
with the Bushies that we should stay “until the mission
is accomplished” or b) simple-mindedly chanting “bring
the troops home” with no thought for the world-class disaster
that might befall us from the resulting power vacuum.’
paragraphs do not appear in the pdf of the briefing, for reasons
JNV does not believe that anti-war activists
who demand unconditional and immediate US/UK withdrawal are
'simple-minded'. However, we do believe, on the basis of votes
taken in dozens of anti-war meetings throughout Scotland, Wales,
England and the United States, that the majority of anti-war
activists prefer to demand a rapid, structured withdrawal, with
replacement by an unbiased international security force and
international support for a transitional Iraqi process.
The best option available, and one that
still may be acceptable to most Iraqi insurgent forces, seems
to be the United Nations. A United Nations force freed from
US domination by the overwhelming pressure of world opinion.
Opinion polls show increasing opposition
to the war in Iraq on both sides of the Atlantic. However, this
shift in the public mood does not demonstrate itself in a passionate
demand for US/UK withdrawal. The numbers change, but not the
We believe that the primary reason for
this is the fear shared by ordinary people across the political
spectrum that a hasty withdrawal from Iraq - without an alternative
security structure in place - would lead to what Juan Cole calls
a 'world-class disaster'.
If this analysis is correct, the anti-war
majority can only be mobilised if there is a coherent alternative
security framework which has a chance of protecting the Iraqi
people from civil war.
If your overwhelming priority is to get
the US and Britain out of Iraq, then, on this analysis, whether
or not you believe in the UN Option, you should argue for it,
in order to maximise public pressure on the US and British governments
to leave Iraq.
CHANCES OF SUCCESS?
What are the chances of forcing the US
to relinquish control of Iraq to a UN force? The question is
rather: What are the chances of forcing the US out of one of
the primary sources of oil wealth in the world, in an area of
primary geostrategic significance?
Does that mean we have the freedom to make
any 'impossible' demands we want, in the disheartening knowledge
that what we push for will never come to pass?
Not at all.
We who failed to prevent the invasion of
Iraq have a duty to the people of Iraq to do everything in our
power to accelerate the withdrawal of US and British forces,
to end US and British control of Iraq, and to do so in a way
that gives the Iraqi people the best chance of making their
In our view, that means putting forward
a coherent, workable withdrawal-and-replacement exit strategy
for Iraq, based on the FT principles,
the Juan Cole plan (minus US/UK military involvement), and the
expressed wishes of the mainstream Iraqi insurgency.
It means putting this strategy to the British
and US peoples, and seeking to win majority support for this
strategy, and turning that support into political pressure.
Chomsky has often written, 'We are faced with a kind of
Pascal's wager: assume the worst, and it will surely arrive;
commit oneself to the struggle for freedom and justice, and
its cause may be advanced.'
We have to act as if we can force the US
and Britain out of Iraq. Only then may we win.