Poland joins the occupation


The US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, was given a hard time by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 29 July 2003, when he appeared before it to report on “stabilisation” in Iraq (transcript here).


The US Congress is waking up to the fact that the costs in US lives and in US dollars of occupying Iraq is open ended.  The cost in dollars, currently running at around $4 billion a month, is not an insignificant amount even for the mighty US Treasury, particularly since it is running a deficit of nearly $500 billion this year, thanks to increased military spending and Bush’s income tax cuts for the rich.


Wolfowitz refused to give the Committee any estimates of the ongoing requirements for US troop numbers in Iraq or the cost of their future deployment.  This led to heated exchanges between him and the senior Democrat on the Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, who has just come back from a fact finding mission with other senators to Iraq, and offered the opinion that democracy in Iraq, and therefore the end of the US burden in Iraq, was a long way off.


Wolfowitz is personally in a very awkward position on this issue.  On 25 February 2003, before the US invaded Iraq, the then Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, was asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing for an estimate of the troop levels necessary for the post-war occupation of Iraq.  He was reluctant to give a figure, but when pressed tentatively suggested “something of the order of several hundred thousand soldiers”.  And he added: “Assistance from friends and allies would be helpful”.  Wolfowitz immediately rebuked Shinseki in public for these remarks, saying that the figure of several hundred thousand troops was “wildly off the mark.


(Shinseki was not a favourite of the Defense Department, because he did not agree with Rumsfeld’s ideas for a light, mobile army.  As a consequence, Rumsfeld named his successor 18 months before he was due to retire.  He has just retired and been replaced by General Peter Schoomaker, a former head of Special Operations, whom Rumsfeld brought out of retirement to head the Army.)


Iraq & War on Terror

It is indicative of the difficulty that the administration finds itself in over Iraq that the new line coming out of Washington is that the US is fighting the “War on Terror” in Iraq, that is, getting back at the Arabs for 9/11.  President Bush said in a speech on 28 July 2003:


“And our current mission in Iraq is essential to the broader war on terror; it’s essential to the security of the American people.”


Wolfowitz told the Foreign Relations Committee the next day:


“… the military and rehabilitation efforts now under way in Iraq are an essential part of the war on terror.”


This prompted a vigorous response from Senator Biden, who said:


“I no more agree, just for the record, with your assessment that … Iraq is the hotbed of terror now than I did with your assertions about the al-Qaida connections at the front end.”


Poland in the van

The US (and the UK) are seeking to reduce their burden in Iraq by trying to get other states to supply troops.  To date, this has not been notably successful, and in many cases the US has had to promise to foot the bill in order to get the promise of troops.  Australia, the only state other than the US/UK to supply combat troops during the war, has refused to supply any for the occupation.


However, some states have now made promises.  In the van is Poland, which has promised to supply 2,300 troops, and has been rewarded with an occupation zone all of its own in central Iraq, stretching from the border with Saudi Arabia to the border with Iran, and encompassing most of the fertile crescent, including the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.


According to the Guardian of 26 July 2003 (see here), by 1 September 2003 Poland is supposed to be in command of 9,200 troops from 15 countries in that zone: 500 each from Bulgaria and Hungary, several dozen each from Honduras and the Dominican Republic, 50 from El Salvador, 120 from Nicaragua, 700 from Fiji (under negotiation), 500 from Thailand, 77 from Slovakia, 350 from the Philippines, 145 from Latvia, 120 from Mongolia, 1,300 from Spain and 1,640 from the Ukraine, plus the 2,300 from Poland itself.  Whether these will all materialise on the ground in Iraq is very doubtful.


At a ceremony for departing troops, Poland’s Prime Minister, Leszek Miller, said: “The Polish army is beginning its most important operation since World War II”, which is an odd thing to say in view of what happened to the Polish Army in World War II.  The Poles may not have their troubles to seek commanding that disparate lot, particularly if armed opposition is directed against them.  Although their occupation zone is predominantly Shia, and the armed opposition to the occupation has mainly been in Sunni areas against US troops, it would be a sensible tactic for the armed opposition to redirect its fire on the troops under Polish command in the Central zone.  At the time of writing, a Polish base has just come under mortar fire.


Around 5,500 troops and police from a further 9 states are supposed to join the 11,000 British troops under British command in the Southern zone around Basra.  These are to be 1,000 from the Netherlands, 800 soldiers and police from Italy, 120 police from Portugal, 400 from Denmark, 43 from Lithuania plus others from the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Norway and Romania.


The US will remain in sole occupation of the Northern zone, in the Sunni region around Baghdad and in the Kurdish north of the country, with around 150,000 troops.


The states that have promised to supply troops for the occupation of Iraq are, with a few exceptions (for example, New Zealand and Norway) all members of the “coalition of the willing”, who were on the White House list of supporters of the US/UK attack on Iraq (see here).  49 countries in all were on that list, because they said Yes when the US asked them to be on it.  Few provided any actual assistance during the war beyond granting overflying rights to US/UK aircraft.  They have now come under great pressure to assist the US/UK with the occupation, and about 20 of them have made promises, at least.  But the total number of forces is small – about 15,000, and that’s if all the promises materialise – which is not going to allow significant US troop reductions.


UN control?

Most countries outside the “coalition of the willing” are refusing to supply troops, while the US/UK are in total charge of Iraq.  This appears to be the position of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, France, Germany, Russia and the Arab states, who could in theory supply large numbers of troops.  They want a Security Council resolution giving the UN more control in Iraq before considering doing so.


This presents the US with a dilemma: on the one hand they are anxious to lessen their costs of occupation, but on the other they don’t want to relinquish control in Iraq.  Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 29 July 2003 that while the administration “would welcome any resolution that would make it easier for countries to contribute peacekeeping troops”, he would be “very concerned” about one that would “put limitations on what Ambassador Bremer and our people can do in Iraq”.


Spurred on by the slump in popular support in the US for the adventure in Iraq, it appears as if the Democrats are now on the warpath about the costs of occupation.


Senator Biden is quoted in the Washington Post on 2 August 2003 as saying that the administration was trying to create the impression that occupation was being internationalised by boasting of the participation in Iraq by 30 countries that will have contributed 30,000 peacekeepers by the autumn.  (If the Guardian’s figures are correct, the numbers will be less than half that).


But, he said, “30,000 troops are not nearly enough to relieve the strain on US forces, and the administration's refusal to seek a second resolution has cost it as many as 45,000 additional troops from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Germany and France”.


Biden said he found the administration's reluctance to cede some control in Iraq baffling. “What are we giving up?” he asked. “Are we giving up the right to get shot alone?”



Labour & Trade Union Review

August 2003