TOPICS : UN must broker US withdrawal from Iraq

Can Washington disentangle itself from the lethal imbroglio of Iraq without radically revising the prickly, dismissive attitude it has maintained toward the UN for the past five years? I doubt it. For if America’s very vulnerable troop presence in Iraq is to be drawn down, either partially or — as I believe is necessary — wholly, and in an orderly way, then that withdrawal must be negotiated. Nobody but the UN can successfully convene these negotiations.

The strong support that the US military’s engagement in Iraq once enjoyed from the US public has now crumbled. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans said they would support legislation related to the Iraq war only if it includes a timetable for removing US troops from the country. Even former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has shifted. In August 2005, he wrote in The Washington Post that “victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.” By January of this year, he was calling for a negotiated US troop exit without any mention of “victory.” In an essay published May 31 in the Los Angeles Times, Kissinger noted that a “rapid unilateral US withdrawal would be disastrous.” But he stressed, again, that in Iraq, “a political solution remains imperative.” I have been calling for a negotiated troop withdrawal from Iraq since 2003. However, my lengthy studies (and personal experience) of several conflicts during the past 30 years lead me to understand the complexity of the diplomacy required to convene and structure this negotiation.

The broad distribution of US troops throughout Iraq and the vulnerability of their supply lines make the task of extracting them and their equipment safely through the single, close-to-Iran choke point of Basra/Kuwait unthinkable unless a multi-layered agreement on the modalities of this large-scale troop movement is reached in advance.

Who needs to be involved in negotiating this agreement? Iran, evidently, along with all of Iraq’s other neighbours. Beyond that, the relevant Iraqi parties need to be involved, for it is only the Iraqi political and military organisations that can assure the US forces’ safe exit from, and transit through, their own home turfs.

The ideal solution? Call in the UN. There is no other organisation that has the global legitimacy, political credibility, and institutional capacity that this job requires.

Any orderly US withdrawal from Iraq requires a leading role from the UN. It also requires a more capable and empowered UN than the one we see, and this requires that the whole US political system undertake a serious recommitment both to the world body and to the egalitarian global values it embodies.

These tasks form the main challenge for America in the months ahead. The longer the American public and US leaders postpone dealing with them, the higher will mount the casualty toll in Iraq — among both Iraqis and US troops — along with the risks the Iraqi cauldron poses to regional and world stability. — The Christian Science Monitor