The Iraqi Jockey Club

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By John Metzler

Friday, April 18, 2003

UNITED NATIONS — It’s seems that everybody is jockeying for their position to get a piece of the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. But amid the political posturing on all sides following the fall of Saddam’s regime, and given the political interregnum between governments, the key issue remains focused on forthcoming humanitarian assistance — and NOW.

We are still in the stage of political theatre. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to a “vital role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq.” Yet that view reflects bringing the UN on narrowly scripted humanitarian plan to do what it does very well — distribute aid food aid and medicine and provide refugee assistance. Anglo/American enthusiasm for inviting the UN into the political mix remains notably lacking. European Union states, in the meantime, many of whom opposed the liberation of Iraq, now are lining up for the economic spoils of the post-Saddam era. The EU is deeply divided on the Iraqi issue. Still many EU members such as Spain and Denmark are prepared to actively assist in the military stabilization efforts.

Tony Blair said it best when he warned the world to avoid “endless diplomatic wrangles” over the future of Iraq similar to the political imbroglio in the UN Security Council on the eve of the conflict. Both Bush and Blair thus are reluctant to bring any new political arrangements before the Security Council lest the pre-war deleterious debate and acrimony return to plague and poison the post-war reconstruction phase. American, British, and Australian troops were the ones in the field shedding the sweat and blood to liberate Iraq.

So in other words, rather than reopening a political Pandora’s Box in the Security Council, the US and Britain are looking at an interim authority to run Iraq before the handover to local political factions. The original model that Washington would send a Douglas Mac Arthur figure as a Viceroy of Baghdad recalling the post-war occupation of Japan, is happily not in the cards. Iraq remains a work in progress.

Mind you, the United Nations holds a very different view. Secretary General Kofi Annan has harnessed the myriad of UN humanitarian agencies in a concerted effort to assist Iraq. The UN is certainly up to the humanitarian challenge and is expected to perform admirably. Still the UN wants a piece of the political action, something George Bush is hesitant to give.

What the UN can and should do now is to reassess the entire legal framework regarding Iraq — namely the economic sanctions resulting from Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The strangling sanctions, as well as a myriad of legal entanglements slapped on Baghdad by the Security Council remains a major millstone to any Iraqi rehabilitation.

Since many sanctions deal with the full and certifiable disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (a work in progress!), the sanctions should be “suspended “ prior to being fully dropped at full certification.

Secondly the UN’s “Oil for Food Program” has allowed Iraq to sell its oil in a tightly scripted plan exchanging the revenue for food and medicine. When petroleum will be pumped soon again, Iraq has both the wealth and resources to rebuild fairly quickly. Contracts, always pending a cumbersome review in the sanctions committees, should be streamlined as to facilitate supplies a few billion dollars of which are already in the pipeline from before the war.

Naturally these steps must go through the Security Council which framed the resolutions over a twelve year period prior to the conflict. Here China, France and Russia will have the undeniable advantage of traditionally profiting from the oil for food humanitarian and machinery contracts to be awarded. Fine.

But when it comes to major reconstruction, France and Russia appear to have misunderstood however that their prewar actions of political obstructionism in the Security Council have an economic consequence. C’est la vie!

Conversely political support for Washington from Tokyo, Manila and Seoul put those capitals in a stronger position in the post-war period. The actual rebuilding will create a possible windfall for Japanese, Philippine and South Korean companies.

So the USA, EU, and the UN are all at the proverbial starting gate in Baghdad-jockeying for their places in the pending political race. .

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World

Friday, April 18, 2002

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