By Dan Smith
Global Beat Syndicate
WASHINGTON--Among the many contradictory currents set in motion by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, one trend has been constant: the list of those among our allies who are leaving Iraq is getting longer faster than the list joining.
In one sense, this is hardly surprising. Even in countries whose governments were most eager to join Washington's "coalition of the willing" to topple Saddam--Britain, Italy, Spain and Australia -or those coerced (some say "bribed") to contribute to the post-combat security force, large pluralities or majorities of their citizens opposed their governments' stance.
As the ground force operation to seize Fallujah began in earnest on November 9, Hungary became the eighth country to leave or announce its intent to pull its (currently 300) forces out. Others among the 37 countries originally identified as contributing troops that have left are Spain, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Kazakhstan, and Philippines. Guatemala did not send promised troops because it had no funds for this purpose. Three more countries, Thailand, New Zealand and the Netherlands, delayed withdrawals planned for 2004 until next year, and now Poland has said it will cut its contingent to 1,000 in January and withdraw completely by mid-2005. Norway slashed its contingent to 15; Singapore dropped to 33; and Moldova to 12.
Four countries have increased their commitments: South Korea (600 to 3,700), Georgia (159 to 850), Albania (71 to 200) and Britain (800)
Except for Spain, the Pentagon seems relatively unperturbed by these changes in boots on the ground. After all, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld observed that troops, like money, are "fungible." But the Pentagon should be concerned by another exodus: that of international organizations.
A year ago, the UN, devastated by the loss of 22 people from a massive car bomb explosion, withdrew virtually all it foreign staff. A few have since returned in an effort to keep open the possibility that national assembly elections can be held in late January 2005 as planned.
When Margaret Hassan, Iraq's director of the humanitarian relief group Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), was kidnapped in October, CARE pulled its staff from Iraq. Hassan was no stranger to Iraq; she has lived and worked there for years and is married to an Iraqi. Her fate is unknown.
As November began, Nobel peace prize winner Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) announced it was withdrawing its 80 international personnel from Iraq. This followed a similar pullback from Afghanistan in July, after 24 consecutive years, when five of its staff were ambushed and killed.
One week later, the International Rescue Committee, which has been working on reconstructing water and sewage systems throughout Iraq, announced it was pulling its staff out.
In all cases, the reason cited for leaving is the continuing widespread lack of security. The Pentagon and the White House claim that conditions are improving, that the rout of the "former regime dead-enders, Baathists, and foreign jihadists" in Fallujah will cripple the insurgency. But at this writing, two day into the campaign, U.S. commanders in the Fallujah operation--code named Phantom Fury--noted that resistance had been unexpectedly light.
This lack of resistance was predictable. Not being dumb, most insurgents did their own leave-taking, dispersing elsewhere and undoubtedly re-arming from arms caches spread all over the country. At least one attack--on newly liberated Samarra--stands as a warning that the insurgency may become peripatetic, a "Phantom Fury" in its own right.
To do their work, international agencies must go out into the hinterlands. Because coalition and Iraqi security forces are too few to provide security throughout Iraq, these same areas will be used by insurgents, leaving the international agencies open to attack and slowing--even stopping--vital reconstruction.
All of this leads to the question: When and under what conditions will the United States finally leave Iraq--and in what shape will that devastated and fractured country be?