How Can the US Escape its Iraq Paradox?
Malcolm Rifkind (Former British Foreign Minister) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Sean Curtin: At present, United States forces in Iraq are caught in a kind of paradox. If its troops were to withdraw immediately, the country would probably rapidly sink into anarchy. However, if US forces stay, they are labeled as occupiers and act as a recruiting sergeant for the insurgency, further increasing the very instability they are trying to prevent. It's currently a no-win scenario. You have suggested that a way to escape this paradox is for the US to significantly broaden its international coalition while simultaneously reducing its own presence in the country.
I believe another important paradox also presently exists, one involving aid workers and NGOs. Many people from such groups and organizations wish to help with Iraqi reconstruct, but are presently too scared to do so because of numerous incidents of brutal hostage-taking, daily terrorist atrocities and a general feeling of insecurity.
For example, Margaret Hassan, the dedicated and much admired Irish/British aid-worker, was kidnapped, then brutally murdered. Then there was a young Japanese man, Shosei Koda, who was taken hostage by an al-Qaeda-linked group before being horrifically beheaded in front of video cameras.
Numerous incidents likes these have scared people away and led to a situation in which there are currently not enough aid workers in the country, putting those who remain under ever increasing strain. As circumstances continue to deteriorate, then this small band of people come under even greater pressure. This situation is forcing an increasing number of those who have remained to quit Iraq, which further exacerbates the problems the aid organizations were trying to remedy.
Is there anything that can be done to overcome this aid worker paradox? Obviously, Iraq needs more aid workers, but murderous hostage taking is keeping them and donors away from the country.
Malcolm Rifkind: You have two kinds of threat in Iraq. There is the insurgency and there are the terrorist organizations. Although there may be links between the two and some common ground, they are essentially two different problems. The insurgency is essentially trying to get rid of the occupation for whatever reason. Whatever their motives may be, they are overwhelmingly Iraqis who have a political objective of getting the United States and western countries out of Iraq. The terrorists tend to be a mixture of Iraqis and non-Iraqis, who have much more anarchic and fundamentalist objectives associated with the ghastly way they treat people they take hostage.
The way you deal with terrorism has to be uncompromising and has to be eliminated root and branch by whatever means the Iraqi government, the United States and other forces have available. When you are dealing with the insurgency, it seems to me that there is a need for a political dimension as well as military means. They are two separate issues and have to be addressed accordingly.
Profile: Rt. Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC
Rt. Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind has served as Secretary of State for Scotland (1986-90), Transport Minister (1990-92), Defence Minister (1992-95) and Foreign Minister (1995-97).
Following the 1997 General Election, when he lost his seat, he was awarded a knighthood in John Major's resignation honours. He subsequently began a business career, accepting the post of director of international strategy at the oil and gas division of BHP
He is likely to return to Parliament to represent Conservative-held constituency of Kensington and Chelsea after the next U.K. general election.
The above comments were made at Chatham House in London on 27 October 2004