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What Role for UN in a Post-War Iraq? - 2003-03-11


President Bush says, if the United Nations does not follow up on its commitment to disarm Iraq, even if that means war, the international body will become irrelevant. But will the Bush administration find the world body relevant for assisting in post-war reconstruction?

President Bush said in a speech last month that, if there is a war in Iraq, the United States would not be alone in the lengthy, complicated, and expensive job of post-war reconstruction. "Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own," said Mr. Bush. But Mr. Bush spoke little of how, or if, the United Nations would be a part of that effort.

Chas Freeman was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He is critical of the current administration's determination to pursue military action, even if it does not get U.N. backing. But Mr. Freeman says President Bush will find the world body relevant when it comes to the long, hard, and costly reconstruction. "Since it will be in our interest to pass the buck [hand off the problem], and try to involve the international community in cleaning up whatever mess exists in Iraq, I suspect we are going to turn to the U.N. with a sense of renewed hope and discovery," says Mr. Freeman.

At a briefing at the policy foundation, The Brookings Institution, Senior Brookings Fellow Kenneth Pollack said working through the United Nations would be useful for another reason. He says the Bush administration has failed to convince the world that the United States' goals are not simply related to controlling Iraqi oil. "I think it is critical that at least there be the imprimatur of the United Nations over this operation to reassure the people of the Middle East, the people of Iraq, the people of the rest of the world that this is not intended to be simply a U.S. occupation of Iraq," says Mr. Pollack.

And, Mr. Pollack says, allies will be more willing to supply troops and money, if the United Nations is in charge, not the United States. But support for a strong U.N. role in a post-war Iraq is not universal. "It is not at all self-evident that the U.N. is the best-suited institution to take over the development of a new government for Iraq."

Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan administration, says the world body has not done a very good job with nation-building in the past. But no one has, she says, except the allies after World War II.

Ms. Kirkpatrick says, if Afghanistan is any guide, the United Nations may be involved in civilian roles in rebuilding Iraq. But she doubts the U.S. military would ask for a U.N. peacekeeping force to handle security.

Policy analyst Nile Gardiner at the Heritage Institute, agrees. He says peacekeepers may come from allies who have been more supportive of war, like Australia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. But, he says, the United Nations could be involved in other ways. "The United Nations does have an important role to play, I think, in terms of humanitarian, economic, and political reconstruction," says Mr. Gardiner.

Media reports say the United Nations has begun planning for a reconstruction role similar to its position in Afghanistan. The world body helped organize Afghanistan's transition to a provisional government after the United States and its allies defeated the Taleban in late 2001. The United Nations also coordinates reconstruction and humanitarian programs in that country.

But it is not clear that the United States has the same idea in mind for Iraq. A State Department official, who did not want to be identified, says the United Nations would probably play a major part in humanitarian programs. But, the official says, it is unclear what the U.N. role would be in forming a post-Saddam government.

Foreign policy analyst Ted Galen Carpenter, from the Cato Institute, says that role may depend on whether the U.N. Security Council backs a second resolution paving the way for war against Iraq. "If that resolution is vetoed, the [U.S.] administration could try to limit the U.N.'s role in postwar Iraq.

The Brookings Institution's Ken Pollack says the United States could possibly rebuild Iraq on its own, but it would be much harder and riskier than doing it with the United Nations.

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