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A European proposal for an exit strategy from Iraq

by Franck Biancheri


In the present circumstances Iraq has no way out from chaos. Quite the contrary : everyday seems to bring even more confusion and sense of tragedy : militia fights, jail abuses, terrorist attacks, bitter oppositions within the US, soaring human and financial costs of US occupation, lack of leadership and vision, collapse of the ‘coalition of willing’, … .

Even if Washington wants to make US citizens believe that things will change and improve after June 30th, any informed observer knows that there will not be any significant UN resolution passed at that time, that not one single new country will send forces in Iraq (most probably countries like Italy or the Netherlands if not Poland, may pull out during summer) and that the US troops will find themselves even more lonely in front of growing Iraqi rebellions.

Now, once we have said that, it is time for Europeans as such to play a constructive role and help the international community as well as the Iraqi people find a way out from chaos, towards stability, peace and prosperity (in this very precise order). Being in good terms with the Arab world and in speaking terms with Iran, having been a tactical partner of Russia and China all over last years’ UN Security Council crisis and being a 60 year-old strategic partner of the USA, the European Union seems to be the only broker available to forge a possible lasting solution for Iraq.

The European Union was divided at leaders’ level on the issue of Iraq invasion, but extremely homogeneous at peoples’ level (opposed to the invasion). Surprisingly enough, today this odd situation could turn out to be an advantage to propose and implement a stabilization process.

Before getting into the proposal itself, four major facts have to be recognised. It could take a few months before all parties recognise them but I am confident that by November 2004 at last, everybody will agree upon them (especially in Washington) :

1. any stabilization process requires the UN blessing (with unanimous support from Security Council members)

2. the UN cannot and will not play an operational role, especially in the field of troops command, during the stabilization phase (past experiences, like ex-Yugoslavia or Rwanda, have shown that the UN is currently unable to manage military force during conflict)

3. the present priority is to stabilize Iraq by stopping violence coming from all sorts of groups (international terrorists, religious militia, rebels to US presence, ..) while preserving the country’s unity and shaping up a process giving back true power to Iraqi people and leaders as soon as possible ; then only will come the time to support Iraqi efforts to rebuild their country.

4. US military presence and especially the US leadership upon the coalition forces and political authorities (which June 30th plan will not significantly change) has become part of the problem and not anymore part of the solution.

When those four key elements will have been agreed upon by all parties (today one can say that almost everybody on this planet, including governments supporting US coalition, already share these convictions, except for today’s US administration), then time will be ripe to implement the plan itself which is made of 5 simple ideas :

1. Iraq crisis covers three different regions, each generating very different problems. Therefore, each of these regions should host a stabilization force coming from three different group of countries with special political and cultural affinity with this region. Due to existing political, historical and religious links, the distribution seems pretty obvious : European Union and Iranian forces in the South (Shiite area), Russian and Arab league forces in the centre (Sunni triangle) and the USA in the North (Kurd area). More countries of course may contribute, but most troops in each region should come from the indicated countries.

2. A central command and coordination must be established in Baghdad under British control, to coordinate this Iraq Stabilization Force. Indeed the UK is probably the one and only country likely to be trust by both sides of the Atlantic ; and in order to get the UN and international community on the move to solve the Iraq crisis, Transatlantic cooperation is instrumental.

3. To match the current troop level of about 150.000 soldiers, each regional stabilization force should provide 50.000 troops. That is to say : 50.000 for the EU and Iranians in the South, 50.000 for the Russians and Arab League countries in the centre and 50.000 US troops in the North.

4. The stabilization force should be given a two year- mandate by the UN, which politically will include general elections and full sovereignty of Iraq government on the country by the end of 2005.

5. Funding will come partially from each participating country and from an increased US contribution to the UN budget (then used to channel money to countries sending troops for the Iraq Stabilization Force) equivalent to the difference between keeping 50.000 instead of 100.000 troops in Iraq. Iraq oil revenues should only be used to rebuild the country ; not to pay for foreign troops on its soil.

All components of this plan are already available for implementation. It would drastically decrease the human and financial burden weighing over US army and budget (from 150.000 troops to 50.000). It would offer Iraqis a complete different set of partners to rebuild their country showing a clear sign that invasion is over. In terms of military forces and costs, it is within reach of all countries mentioned. And in terms of 21st century global governance, it would create a ‘precedent’ with long-term positive effects, showing that the international community is able to pull efficiently its forces together.

Of course, it would also require from Washington to acknowledge that it can no longer play the game by its own rules. The European Union has to put an alternative solution on the table and press for it, even if it is only in November 2004 that it may start being implemented.

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