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US bartering arms for soldiers for Iraq
By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - Faced with a rising death toll among its soldiers in Iraq, the United States is trying to "buy" foreign troops for a proposed 30,000-strong multinational force in Baghdad.

"When they were seeking UN support for a war on Iraq, they were twisting arms," one Asian diplomat said. "Now they are offering carrots in exchange for our troops."

The inducements - including weapons and increased military aid - have apparently been offered to at least three countries whose troops Washington desperately needs to bolster the fledgling multinational force in Iraq and relieve the pressure on US forces in the war-ravaged country.

The administration of President George W Bush has intensified efforts to seek troops from India, Pakistan and Turkey in order to bolster a multinational force that now includes troops mostly from former Soviet republics and Latin American nations.

The Indian government, which withdrew its offer of 17,000 troops under heavy domestic political pressure, is being lobbied once again with an offer of sophisticated military equipment. The quid pro quo, according to diplomatic sources, is approval of the proposed sale of the state-of-the-art Arrow-2 missile defense system by Israel. Since the US$100 million system includes US components and funding, Israel needs US approval to close the deal.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now in New Delhi to try to persuade the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to change its stance on troops for Iraq. The London Financial Times said on Tuesday that the Bush administration has also pledged to relax the sale of dual-use technology to India in return for that country sending troops to Iraq.

France, Germany, India, Pakistan and several other nations have declined to provide troops unless there is a new United Nations resolution authorizing the proposed multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq.

But India could change its position, said Professor Stephen Cohen, director of the South Asia program at the Brookings Institution. "For all we know, they are still talking about terms under which India might come," he said in an interview. "That's part of the bargaining game that's going on."

Since the war on Iraq began on March 19, at least 247 US soldiers have died. The rising death toll looms as a political liability for Bush, who faces re-election next year.

The 150,000 US troops in Iraq are backed by 12,000 from Britain. Among the key countries that have pledged troops for the new multinational force are Spain, Poland, Japan and Ukraine.

Washington is also expecting smaller units from Hungary, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, the Philippines and Nicaragua. It has logistical support from Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and South Korea.

The Washington Post reported that some of the countries were providing troops only at a cost to US taxpayers.

The Bush administration has agreed to pay $240 million in support costs to the Polish contingent of about 9,000 troops. The costs will cover airlift transportation, meals, medical care and other expenses.

The proposed Indian contingent of 17,000 troops would have been the largest single foreign force, exceeding the 12,000 troops from Britain, Washington's main coalition partner in the war against Iraq. But the move to provide Indian troops generated strong political and public opposition in New Delhi, threatening a government that faces elections next year.

India's neighbor and foe Pakistan has been offered $3 billion in US aid over the next five years, of which $1.5 billion will be in military aid.

And according to the Ankara-based Hurriyet newspaper, the United States has been lobbying the Turkish government for about 10,000 troops for Iraq.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the administration was discussing troop deployments both by Pakistan and Turkey.

"The Bush administration is doing the right thing in looking for additional help in Iraq," said Natalie J Goldring, executive director of the Program on Global Security and Disarmament at the University of Maryland. "But the US government should be seeking that help through the United Nations. Instead, US political and military leaders are once again trying to buy countries' cooperation with weapons transfers and military aid," she said.

Goldring added that there is no evidence that providing India with a missile defense system will decrease the level of conflict in the unstable South Asian region. "Quite the contrary. Past attempts by India or Pakistan to gain military advantage have inevitably been matched or countered by the other country, continuing and often accelerating the already dangerous arms race in that part of the world," she said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he believes that the international community is seeking to "internationalize" the Iraqi operations under a UN umbrella. "It is important for them - not just for Europe or India, but also for the region. The Arab states will feel more comfortable" providing troops under UN auspices, he said.

The United States has refused to seek approval for a UN peacekeeping force because it might have to concede some of its military authority to the United Nations.

Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Washington would agree to a UN resolution only if it did not curtail US military authority.

(Inter Press Service)
Aug 1, 2003

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