IRAQ: Occupation coalition begins to shrink


Doug Lorimer

Following Spain's announcement on April 19 that it would be pulling its contingent of 1300 troops out of Iraq over the following two weeks, the UN-authorised multinational force which the Spanish troops were part of has started to shrink.

The 9500-strong Polish-led multinational force, which has contingents from 23 countries and occupies predominantly Shiite-inhabited areas in south-central Iraq, was set up under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511, approved unanimously last October.

A few hours after newly sworn-in Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero announced the Spanish pull-out, Honduras announced that its 460 troops in Iraq would be withdrawn "as soon as possible". The Honduran troops were part of a brigade of troops from other Spanish-speaking countries that worked with Spain's occupation troops.

Three days later, the Dominican Republic's defence secretary announced that his country's 300 troops in Iraq "will leave in a few days, in the next week". El Salvadoran defence minister General Juan Antonio Martinez said his country will keep its 374 troops in Iraq only until the end of June. Nicaragua's contingent of 115 troops left Iraq in February and were not replaced because of a lack of funds.

Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra declared on April 20 that he would pull his country's 451 medical and engineering troops from Iraq if they were attacked. That same day's Irish Times reported that Poland, which contributes around 2400 troops to the multinational force, will withdraw its forces at the end of the year. According to the report, a Polish government adviser said Warsaw's decision had been influenced by the Spanish move.

According to an April 20 Associated Press report, a top US military official in Baghdad complained bitterly that troops in the multinational force refused to shoot at Iraqi resistance fighters during this month's uprising.

While Washington is considering seeking a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, senior US officials have already given up hope that it will persuade more countries to contribute troops to the US-led occupation.

"They may say it's the lack of this, or the lack of that, or this UN resolution or that", US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the US Senate armed services committee on April 20. "The fact is this is not peacekeeping; it's still combat. And until it becomes peacekeeping, a lot of countries are probably going to stay still on the sidelines."

Unable to get more troops from other countries to participate in its war in Iraq, Washington is increasingly supplementing its 120,000 US troops in Iraq with "private security contractors". There are now at least 20,000 such "contractors" in Iraq.

"Far more than in any other conflict in United States history, the Pentagon is relying on private security companies to perform crucial jobs once entrusted to the military", the April 19 New York Times reported. "In addition to guarding innumerable reconstruction projects, private companies are being asked to provide security for the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer III, and other senior officials; to escort supply convoys through hostile territory; and to defend key locations, including 15 regional authority headquarters and even the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad, the center of American power in Iraq.

"With every week of insurgency in a war zone with no front, these companies are becoming more deeply enmeshed in combat, in some cases all but obliterating distinctions between professional troops and private commandos."

The NYT reported that these "private, for-profit militias" are

costing at least 25% of the US$18 billion allocated by the US Congress for "reconstruction" work in Iraq.

An editorial in the April 21 NYT noted that the "benign term 'security guard' does not convey the true role of these armed men, many of them former military commandos lured into retirement by bigger paychecks... Contractors from Blackwater USA, the employer of the four Americans savagely killed in Falluja, recently fought a full-fledged battle with militants in Najaf, and they were even able to call in a company-owned helicopter for air cover."

From Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004.
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