Spain’s 1,300 troops amount to less than one percent of all “coalition”
forces in Iraq, but Sunday’s announcement by the
newly-elected Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero that they
leave Iraq in the “shortest time,” was another
sign that the United States’ has failed to internationalize
and legitimize its occupation.
Even though a Spanish withdrawal was expected, it wasn’t
supposed to have come before June 30th — when the
Coalition Authority transfers sovereignty to the Iraqis.
Following the Spanish announcement, Honduras — whose
forces serve under Spanish command — said that it will
withdraw its troops as well, and the commitment of other
Central American countries is now in question.
Zapatero, like 90 percent of Spaniards, opposed the war, and he
ran for election on a promise to withdraw Spanish troops. The Bush administration chided Spain for
wrong message to the terrorists, but noted — or at any rate asserted — that the
coalition is going strong, with the U.K., Ukraine, and Albania still
on board. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
infamously tagged the U.S.’s allies in the Iraq war —
Spain, Poland, and Bulgaria — the “New Europe.” But the Spanish pullout brings Spain into alignment with France and Germany (“Old Europe”), who of course opposed the war, and who now want the U.N. to have a central role in Iraq. As European Commission President
Romano Prodi said:
“With this decision, Spain has returned to our position. …The
split that had prevented Europe from having a common
position is being healed.”
Prodi is due to lead the Italian left in the 2006
elections against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who sent
Italian troops to Iraq in the face of overwhelming domestic
position. With increased violence in Iraq, including the
kidnapping and videotaped execution of an Italian
contractor, Berlusconi could meet the electoral fate of
Spain’s former Prime Minister José María Aznar.
The U.S. would like
more troops from Europe — “Old” and “New” — and beyond.
135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq make up the bulk of the “coalition.” The second-largest contingent, the British, chip in
8,700 troops. The Pentagon insists that U.S. troops
are not overextended, but recent extensions of tour of duty
amid heightened violence suggest otherwise.
Ukraine, which has 1,650 troops in Iraq, said it has no plans to pull them, but it withdrew Ukrainian troops from Kut after one
of its soldiers was killed in clashes with Shia militants.
Russian companies removed nearly 500 civil contractors from
Iraq after several of them were kidnapped and released.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Yakovenko
told the Associated Press that:
“The Russian side cannot guarantee the safety of its
citizens in Iraq today, just as the coalition forces cannot
do so. As soon as the situation stabilizes in terms of
security, our specialists will return there. … In no way are we
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged the U.S.
to come back to the U.N., saying that a
Security Council resolution “that will allow us to
point the way towards political transition in Iraq” is needed.
The Bush administration has begun to listen, in part
because it hopes that a more active U.N. role will
translate into greater contribution of troops and aid from
its members. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.’s special envoy to
Iraq’s, has drafted a plan that may become the blueprint for
the post-June 30th Iraqi government. As the
Christian Science Monitor reports:
“Brahimi’s plan seeks to appoint a ‘caretaker’ government
limited to election responsibilities. It would deemphasize
religious and ethnic quota policies that the US supports. He
envisions a transitional government with a prime minister, a
president as head of state, and a broad-based consultative
council to advise the transitional leadership but with no
lawmaking powers. The top leaders would probably be selected by the U.N.”
Washington Post editorialized thusly:
“The greatest remaining asset of the United Nations in Iraq
is still a potentially powerful one: It is not the United
States, and so it has a better chance of overseeing the
creation of a new Iraqi government without provoking a
nationalist backlash. Key leaders who won’t agree even to
meet with U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, such as Shiite
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, have talked to Mr. Brahimi and
even invited his intervention. But it’s not yet clear
whether Mr. Sistani will accept Mr. Brahimi’s proposal for a
transitional Iraqi government. Even if he does, it’s
uncertain whether a U.N.-selected administration will have
enough support from Iraqis to help turn around the
deteriorating security situation.”
But the Spanish
El Pais argued that:
“The chaos and violence that Iraq is experiencing make it
enormously difficult for the United Nations to assume
political direction of that country. As for direction of the
military, the United States had clearly let Zapatero and his
associates know that it would not agree to American troops
being placed under the command of that world organization or
A military role for the U.N. is not a viable option.
At present, the U.N. has neither the will nor the
capability to get itself embroiled in open combat. The U.N.
withdrew its international staff last year when its Baghdad
headquarters were attacked by suicide bombers, killing the U.N.’s special representative Sergio de Mello. As for NATO
countries, whose leaders and populations bitterly opposed
the war, there is little desire to send troops to fight for a
“peace” that has resulted in more coalition casualties than
Regardless of the political arrangement following June 30th
— which will involve the U.S. and the U.N. hand-picking yet
another government until elections can take place — the security function will remain the responsibility of the
U.S. The new Iraqi government will continue to rely not on
its domestic popularity but on
American military power for its survival. The latter maybe bolstered by a
greater U.N. role — especially if progress is made on
holding nationwide elections.
So far, however, the Bush administration has failed to either internationalize or
legitimize the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Even its former
coalition partners are voting with their feet.