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Iraqis oppose role for India in Iraq

Shyam Bhatia in London | June 28, 2003 13:23 IST

Leading Iraqis have denounced proposals to deploy Indian peace keepers in their country, saying Iraqis alone should be responsible for their security.

The Iraqi reactions follow continuing political and military tensions within the country, which has been occupied by US and British troops and a small Polish contingent since the end of April.

Pentagon's hopes of delegating the responsibility for policing Iraq by involving the Indian army followed repeated attacks on US soldiers, who have been suffering casualties at the rate of one every day since hostilities against the Saddam Hussein regime were formally ended on May 1.

British troops have also suffered casualties, most recently Tuesday, when six soldiers were killed by an angry mob in the town of Al Amarah. Eight other British soldiers were wounded in a separate incident the same day.

The Pentagon request for 20,000-25,000 Indian soldiers for peace-keeping in Iraq was conveyed by US Defence
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when he met visiting Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani in Washington.

Advani had revealed to rediff.com that the issue also came up for discussion during his 30-minute interaction with President George W Bush in Washington.

Back in New Delhi the Pentagon proposal has been rejected by opposition politicians, notably Congress foreign affairs expert K Natwar Singh, who believes that sending Indian troops to Iraq without a UN mandate would be a mistake.

Iraqis who agree with him include Dr Hamid Bayati of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. "I don't know why they should ask India," Bayati told rediff.com. "It surprises me. Perhaps the Americans think it will relieve the pressure on them, but the pressure will then be applied to the Indians.

"I don't know what the Americans are up to, but they are acting as occupying forces. It's not going to be acceptable to Iraq or any other country in the region. If the Indians went in under a UN flag that would be very reasonable, otherwise they would be very vulnerable."

Bayati, who is currently touring Europe, said only the Iraqis themselves know how to tackle their security needs.

He cites the example of Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, where the two main Kurdish political parties have successfully maintained stability and prosperity since 1991.

If the Kurdish model of government was applied across the rest of the country, stability would follow, he argued.

"Iraq needs a government supported by an Iraqi national assembly elected by all Iraqis. If that is not acceptable to the Americans we have told them we have a leadership council of seven that will expand to 15 or 20 and include all political parties and representatives – but the Americans  refused.

"Then we said we have a 65 member follow up and co-ordination committee which has come up from last year's London conference of Iraqi political parties. We said we could expand that to 130-150 and represent all Iraqi parties and groups. The Americans say they are open minded, that they are open to compromise, yet we haven't had any suggestion from them."

Bayati's assessment is shared by Iraq's other main political movement, the Iraqi National Congress headed by MIT-educated Dr Ahmed Chalabi.

Although Chalabi himself has not been available to comment, his spokesman, Karachi-born Zaab Sethna told rediff.com:  "Our position is that the solution does not lie in bringing in more foreign troops and more varied foreign troops. The answer is to get Iraqis involved, we're pushing hard for an Iraqi security force, a para military national force which would be more heavily armed than local police forces and more quickly put together than an
Iraqi army which they're going to reconstitute over the next year.

"We don't think that bringing more foreign troops -- whether Indians or others -- is the answer. The war's finished now and it's more police type action and police action is not based on fire power or numbers, as much as information, intelligence, community relations. The kinds of things that Iraqis can do and foreigner cannot."

Chalabi, whose family property has been occupied by the Indian embassy in Baghdad for more than 45 years, has meanwhile let it be known that he welcomes Indian assistance to Iraq in other fields.

"India is far advanced in many technical areas and could help in IT, perhaps also with scholarships and fellowships in medicine and technology," Sethna said.

"Dr Chalabi has also often mentioned Indian democracy as a model for Iraq, maybe there are things that could be taught like that in seminars on constitutional issues. There are definitely things that India can teach Iraq, not to mention long
standing cultural links between the two countries," he added.

Both Bayati and Sethna have also drawn attention to the Indian Army's experience of fighting in Iraq during the First World War.

They say Indian politicians need to read their history books of 1916 before agreeing to commit their troops.

More than 10,000 Indian soldiers under the command of Major General Charles Townshend died during the siege of Kut in central Iraq in 1916.

By the time Townshend surrendered to the Turks on April 29, 1916, most of the Indian troops from the 6th Poona Division under his command had been killed.

Their sacrifice is commemorated in cemeteries stretching from Kut to further south in Basra where members of Indian Expeditionary Force 'D' disembarked in 1916 to fight under their British commanders.

"The poor Indians had a bad experience under the British in Iraq," says Sethna. "Maybe they'll have a better one under the Americans."


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