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Commentary (June 30, 2004)

The Multinational Force in Iraq and Future Perceptions of the Conflict

Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG (UK Special Representative for Iraq, 2003-March 2004; former UK Permanent Representative to the UN, 1998-2003)
Lord Douglas Hurd (former UK Foreign Minister 1989-1995)
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)

Lord Douglas Hurd, former UK Foreign MinisterLord Douglas Hurd: Can you say anything about the likely requirement of foreign troops for the multinational force? Obviously, they are going to have to be overwhelmingly American with the British as number two. Will the Iraqi government as it settles in look at them as a fundamental assurance of continuity and security ties or will it find them increasingly an irritant? How do you think that will work out?

Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG, UK Special Representative for Iraq & former UK Permanent Representative to the UNSir Jeremy Greenstock: With regard to foreign troops, if the Iraqis want to expel foreign troops, they have the sovereign right to do so. Emotionally, Iraqis want to see foreigners leave their soil. But all through this, we talked about this again and again on the ground. They recognize what might happen, the consequences of being left to themselves before they have firm state institutions and inter-sectarian coalition structures and agreements without a foreign referee there to hold the ring.

I think that [interim Iraqi Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi for one has a quite clear correlation in his mind between the growing Iraqi security sector capacity and the numbers of foreign troops. If the one goes up, the other will go down. There will obviously be a subjective judgment at some point over the crossover point.

I see the numbers of foreign troops being held through the national elections in early 2005 gradually going down, maybe going quite sharply down through 2005. Reducing to a solid remnant in 2006. This combines training, equipping, exercising and to some extent perhaps an over-the-horizon rescue capacity. All of it at the approval and invitation of the Iraqi state.

So, I think that numbers will look significantly down in the second half of 2005, if Iraqi capacity has gone up. We all hope on both sides of the equation that that is the case. Remembering that quality in the Iraqi security sector is as important as quantity. [The former Chief US administrator in Iraq Paul] 'Jerry' Bremer has been absolutely clear about that from the beginning.

I do think that some of this will have to be explained in public terms. They will want those troops to behave and act with restraint and dignity and with the agreement of the Iraqi government. So, I think that they will want to keep the multinational forces.

There is a danger that demagoguery in the [January 2005] election campaign will set off a quality run at getting all foreigners out. You could imagine [the radical young Shia cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr trying that line. But I am not sure if the majority of Iraqis will really want there to be a reduction to zero before the transitional period is over. The irritant is always possible, if those troops do not conform to Iraqi expectations of behaviour.

Sean Curtin: As the years go by monumental events are usually reduced to simple cause and effect sentences. For example, the first Iraq war was fought because Iraq invaded Kuwait. How do you think in a decade's time the current Iraq conflict will be viewed? Do you think it will be seen as a just war or an unjust war because no weapons of mass destruction were found?

Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I don't think I am going to spend a lot of time on speculating on what views could be in ten years time because this is not yet all over. It can go in a number of ways. If Iraq is stable and significantly different in a positive sense from the Saddam era. Maybe if it has been a positive and not a negative effect on the region in terms of politics because there is room for the whole Arab region to develop in terms of politics, potential and freedom. Then perhaps historians will be kinder than they might be if they have to come to a conclusion next week. So, there is still a lot to play for.

I myself think that Iraq is going to change and that this will affect the region. In the long term, it will have broken something up out of which some good comes. But, there will be a cost.

The above discussion took place at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 24 June 2004

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