It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying that Washington failed to enlist additional European contingents to bolster US and British forces in Iraq.
Month after month, President George W. Bush danced attendance on one leader after another in an effort to persuade them put up troops for Iraq.
From the spring on, he hosted German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French president Jacques Chirac in Washington, attended the 60th D-Day anniversary ceremonies on the beaches of Normandy, presided over the G-8 summit in Georgia, visited the EU summit in Ireland and finally turned up at the 44-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference in Istanbul.
Finally, in Ireland and Istanbul, he extracted decisions “in principle” from European Union leaders to provide aid to Iraq and training for its army – principle without substance. Not a single additional European soldier will be headed that way in the next few months; neither are any Iraqi troops likely to be brought over to Europe for training. The US army hopes to organize the fledgling Iraqi armed forces on a sound footing, but it will not be under the UN or even the NATO flag.
Schroeder and Chirac still lead the holdouts, major impediments to a wider European presence in newly sovereign Iraq. The chancellor may have moderated his tune slightly, saying he will not stand in the way of NATO members and other countries who want to come to the aid of the United States in Iraq. But he insists the dispatch of German troops or security men is out of the question.
Ditto for Chirac on French forces.
But he is more obstructive than Schroeder, driven to prevent any NATO role whatever in Iraq with the same persistence he displayed in 2003 when he stood fast against the US invasion. At the Istanbul summit, the French president went to the extreme of blocking any Atlantic Alliance involvement in Afghanistan or in the global war on terror. He claimed that the Bush administration is capable of sneaking NATO troops into Iraq through the back door or of taking upon itself to hoist the UN flag over the country. Wielding the veto power held by every NATO member, Chirac blocked a decision to dispatch the NRF, the NATO Response Force, to help Afghanistan conduct a national election in September. Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai had traveled to Istanbul expressly to appeal for an extra 5,000 NATO troops without delay. He warned that stepped-up Taliban and al Qaeda aggression placed preparations for the national vote in extreme jeopardy.
Even the minimal pledge of 1,500 NATO soldiers was overturned by Chirac.
“The NRF is not designed for this,” the French leader told a news conference. “It shouldn’t be used as sticking plaster for any old crisis.”
The French president went on to argue that the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan would be a recipe for unwelcome problems in the election campaign, but declined to go into specifics.
Bush is trying hard to convey the impression that the era of bitter misunderstandings with Europe is over, but Chirac keeps on hitting sour notes.
The persistence of transatlantic discord has a disruptive effect on the timetable for training sovereign Iraqi military, security and police forces capable of underpinning the new government in Baghdad. On paper, more than 200,000 Iraqis have been recruited into the security forces – or are in the process of joining up. A target of 260,000 security personnel has been set for the end of the year. But a senior source involved in training those forces in a neighboring Middle Eastern country told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that, should prime minister Iyad Allawi stand in need of only two operational battalions composed of a mere 1,600 troops for urgent security missions, he would have to be disappointed.
“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of minimum wage earners who are awarded minimal training and conditions,” said the source. “The way the guerrilla war is going now, it will be years before an Iraqi government can command the services of any reasonable combat force of its own.”
This diagnosis translates into many more years of a US military presence and combat activity in Iraq in order to prop up central government. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military experts judge Bush in serious error if he expects the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty into the hands of the Allawi administration to lighten the combat burden borne by the US military in Iraq. If anything, that burden will grow heavier.
This standoff in Iraq will have a broad impact – not only on Iraq and Washington’s superpower status, but on many parts of the world. Its influence will affect the fortunes of all the countries fighting terror, especially in the Middle East. Some of these effects will be outlined in the next articles.