REGION: Troops to Iraq — US gets extra nice with India
Rice pulls up Bremer for ignoring Indian official
* MEA representative received by Kurd leaders
* Being told Indian troops were welcome in Kurdistan
By Jyoti Malhotra
NEW DELHI: In a sign of Washington’s keenness to get India to commit combat troops in Iraq, its National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice apologised to Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal over the lack of an American reception for a senior Indian official visiting Baghdad recently.
Rice even shot off a written directive to US top civilian administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer asking him to make amends. Bremer is said to have glossed over an earlier message from Washington to meet R M Abhyankar, Secretary (Asia, North Africa), who was in Iraq on a recent reconnaisance trip.
Bremer then promptly asked for an appointment with Indian Ambassador to Iraq B B Tyagi. The two met in Baghdad on July 3, barely a week after Abhyankar returned after his trip that began in Jordan and ended in Abu Dhabi.
Sibal’s visit to Washington last week, ostensibly to get the dialogue going on the transfer of non-dual use high technology to India, was swamped with consultations on Iraq.
Clearly, Washington was pulling out all the stops to persuade India’s top diplomat that the two nations could not only do business together in Iraq, but also later.
Within hours of Rice’s return from the Middle East, she was meeting Sibal. Over the rest of the week, Sibal also met US deputy defence secretary and a key ideologue in Washington’s neo-conservative stable Paul Wolfowitz. He wound up his talks with an exhaustive tete-a-tete with the deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage.
But even as the government inexorably moves towards a decision on committing troops before Parliament convenes in a fortnight, the story about Abhyankar’s trip to northern Iraq in the last week of June must constitute one of its most interesting elements.
Accompanying minister of state in the MEA Vinod Khanna to a seminar in Amman, Jordan on June 22, Abhyankar peeled off after the conclusion of the seminar to drive southwards into Baghdad.
Really, though, the MEA had enjoined Abhyankar to head for northern Iraq—which includes the Kurdistan sector offered by the US to India to keep the peace—and get a sense about India from the two key Kurd leaders, Jalal Talebani of the People’s Union of Kurdiustan (PUK) and Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The first encounter took place in Salahadin, a town north of Erbil in the heart of Kurdistan, where Abhyankar met Barzani. Later, travelling southwards to Dokan, a town on a beautiful large lake, the MEA officer was received by Talebani. Both Kurd leaders are said to have given him a very warm reception and told him that they would not have any problem with Indian troops keeping the peace in Kurdistan.
Back in Baghdad, while he waited for the invitation from Bremer which never came, Abhyankar also met Ghassan Mohsin Hussain, the former South Asia head in the Iraqi foreign office. Hussain had survived the post-Saddam Hussein purge because he turned out to be a non-Baathist.
On his way out of Baghdad, Abhyankar took a flight to Abu Dhabi to meet the redoubtable Adnan Pachachi, the 80-year-old former Iraqi foreign minister who is being groomed by Washington to possibly lead the future interim authority in Baghdad.
Sibal and Abhyankar’s reports from Washington and Iraq respectively will now be placed before the CCS when it meets soon to take a decision on committing troops, highly placed sources here said.
As the pieces in the jigsaw slowly fall into place, it seems that both Kurd leaders—Talebani and Barzani—could issue some sort of a general statement which, although it may fall short of a formal invitation, could say that the people of Kurdistan have no problem with Indian troops keeping the peace in that region.
It helps that the Kurdistan sector is the most peaceful amongst the five sectors the Americans have divided Iraq into.
Unlike central or southern Iraq, where US and British soldiers have conducted humiliating night searches as well as killed a number of Iraqi civilians—and been shot at in return—Kurdistan has remained largely peaceful. —IE