‘We want troops to protect UN’
* United States hopes countries will contribute troops for the protection force by September
UNITED NATIONS: The United States hopes that by September countries will contribute troops to a separate force to protect UN staff in Iraq and recognise that building a democratic Iraq is worth the risk to their soldiers, US Ambassador John Danforth said on Thursday. “Whether that’s going to happen or not, I don’t know,” he said. “But that would certainly be our hope.”
For nearly two months, the United Nations has been negotiating with about half a dozen countries for troops for the UN protection force, but Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday that no nation has offered a single soldier.
At stake is the UN role in Iraq and possibly critical help as the interim government moves toward a first round of elections by the end of January 2005.
Annan told Security Council ambassadors that at least 5,000 troops will be needed to protect the large UN staff needed to help Iraq through elections and in rebuilding the country, according to a council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. Danforth said Annan and US officials have been arguing that if countries really want the United Nations to play a major role in the upcoming elections, in the drafting of a constitution, and in the country’s reconstruction, they must provide troops for security.
The goal is a “democratic, stable, free Iraq” and building a country that can stand on its own means turning over what has been primarily a US-British operation to the broader international community with involvement of the Arab world and “people who were not part of the military operation,” the US ambassador said.
“What we want is security protection for UN personnel,” he told a small group of reporters. “We don’t want to go it alone. ... We want international participation. But there are risks in any country being involved in Iraq, as we see almost every day in the news. And I think other countries don’t want to bear that risk.”
For the next month or so, Danforth said everyone recognises that the multinational force will be responsible for security for the new UN envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi of Pakistan. He is expected to arrive in Baghdad with a small team before a national conference of political, religious and civic leaders gets under way in mid-August.
“But the hope was that over time, and sooner rather than later, other countries would participate,” Danforth said. “I think the question now is how soon can sooner be. Our definite hope would be that by September there could be an international participation.” Meanwhile the Philippine government reacted stoically on Friday to its apparent exclusion from the US “Coalition of the Willing”, saying it was ready to pay the price for its early withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Richard Boucher, a US State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that Manila was no longer a member of the coalition after its withdrawal last month to save the life of a Filipino truck driver held hostage by militants. “The President has stuck to her oath, taken responsibility and has no apologies,” Ignacio Bunye, spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said in a statement. “If this is the price to pay for being a Filipino and for leading the Filipino nation, so be it.” The Philippine foreign ministry said the US embassy in Manila had clarified that Boucher’s comment only meant that Philippine troops were no longer in Iraq rather than signaling Manila’s exclusion from the coalition that helped in post-war reconstruction.
But an embassy official would not confirm this, only reiterating that Washington was “disappointed” with the government’s decision to withdrawal. reuters/ap