Magazine

Iraq: A U.N. Deal Still Won't Pay The Bills


On Oct. 16, the Bush Administration won support from the U.N. Security Council for a resolution on Iraq's future. Washington hopes the U.N. vote will spur other governments to provide desperately needed troops and financial support for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. Indeed, the U.S. hurried to push the resolution through before an Oct. 23-24 conference of 60 international donors in Madrid. There, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council will ask for tens of billions of dollars to repair everything from Iraq's electricity grid to its health system.

Is this the breakthrough for the U.S.'s troubled postwar effort? Don't bet on it. The conference will be a success, ventures a State Dept. official, "if Iraqis walk away with the conclusion that the international community is strongly behind them." But that is not in the cards. True, there are some positive signs. Japan is expected to pledge $5 billion over four years, and may send a few hundred peacekeepers. America's coalition partner, Britain, is planning to commit more than $900 million for reconstruction over the next three years.

But few other European countries have so far stepped forward with their own pledges. And the European Union has offered a mere $230 million from its stretched budget. Meanwhile, some 30 countries are supplying a total of 22,000 troops. But that's not much compared with the 122,000 U.S. and British soldiers still on the ground. So far, only Ankara has offered a major force of 10,000 peacekeepers, despite opposition in Turkey and Iraq. Less than a week after the Turkish Parliament's vote to send the troops, a suicide bomber attacked the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad on Oct. 14.

From Islamabad to Berlin, political leaders still find a myriad of reasons to hold back from committing either troops or funds. Germany and France point to their economic woes, not to mention their opposition to the war. Pakistan has considered sending troops, but only if several Muslim countries do so -- an unlikely prospect so far.

Isolationism's High Price

And there remain strong differences over when the U.S. should hand back sovereignty to Iraq. Washington insists on transferring control only after Iraqis draft a constitution and hold elections, which could take at least a year. Other nations, led by France, Russia, and Germany, think the process should be sharply sped up and overseen by the U.N., not Washington. "The Bush Administration won't consider what the rest of the world wants, which is [for the U.S.] to give up control," says Ivo H. Daalder, a foreign policy expert at Brookings Institution.

The reluctance of other countries to contribute explains why President George W. Bush asked Congress for $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction for 2004 alone. But more will be needed. The World Bank and U.N. recently estimated that Iraq requires $55 billion through 2007. Given the expected outcome in Madrid, Iraqi participants are likely to walk away disappointed -- not confident in the international community's support. And Washington will have to shoulder the burden in Iraq for much longer than the Bush team had hoped. By Stan Crock in Washington, with bureau reports

EDITED BY Edited by Rose Brady


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