UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 (IPS) - Faced with a rising death toll among its soldiers in Iraq, the United States is trying to buy foreign troops for a proposed 30,000-strong multinational force in Baghdad. "When they were seeking U.N. support for a war on Iraq, they were twisting arms," one Asian diplomat told IPS. "Now they are offering carrots in exchange for our troops."
The inducements -- including weapons and increased military aid -- have apparently been offered to at least three countries whose troops Washington desperately needs to bolster the fledgling multinational force in Iraq and relieve the pressure on U.S. forces in the war-ravaged country. The administration of President George W. Bush has intensified efforts to seek troops from India, Pakistan and Turkey in order to bolster a multinational force that now includes troops mostly from former Soviet republics and Latin American nations.
The Indian government, which withdrew its offer of 17,000 troops under heavy domestic political pressure in New Delhi, is being lobbied once again with an offer of sophisticated military equipment. The quid pro quo, according to diplomatic sources, is approval of the proposed sale of the state-of-the-art Arrow-2 missile defence system by Israel. Since the 100-million-dollar system includes U.S. components and funding, Israel needs U.S. approval to close the deal.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now in New Delhi to try and convince the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to change its stance on troops for Iraq. The London 'Financial Times' said Tuesday that the Bush administration has also pledged to further relax the sale of dual-use technology to India in return for that country sending troops to Iraq.
France, Germany, India, Pakistan and several other nations have declined to provide troops unless there is a new U.N. resolution authorising the proposed multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq. But India could change its position, according to Professor Stephen Cohen, director of the South Asia programme at the Brookings Institution.
"For all we know, they are still talking about terms under which India might come," he said in an interview. "That's part of the bargaining game that's going on." Since the war on Iraq began Mar.19, 244 U.S. soldiers have died -- 163 from hostile actions and 81 from accidents. The rising death toll looms as a political liability for Bush who faces re-election next year.
The 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are backed by 12,000 from Britain. Among the key countries that have pledged troops for the new multinational force are Spain, Poland, Japan and Ukraine. Washington is also expecting smaller units from Hungary, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, the Philippines and Nicaragua. It has logistical support from Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and South Korea.
The Washington Post' reported Tuesday that some of the countries were providing troops only at a cost to U.S. taxpayers. The Bush administration has agreed to pay 240 million dollars in support costs to the Polish contingent of about 9,000 troops. The costs will cover airlift transportation, meals, medical care and other expenses.
The proposed Indian contingent of 17,000 troops would have been the largest single foreign force, exceeding the 12,000 troops from Britain, Washington's coalition partner in the war against Iraq. But the move to provide Indian troops generated strong political and public opposition in New Delhi, threatening a government that faces elections next year.
India's neighbour and foe Pakistan has been offered three billion dollars in U.S. aid over the next five years, of which 1.5 billion dollars will be in military aid. And according to the Ankara-based Hurriyet newspaper, the United States has been lobbying the Turkish government for about 10,000 troops for Iraq.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday the administration was discussing troop deployments both by Pakistan and Turkey. "The Bush administration is doing the right thing in looking for additional help in Iraq," says Natalie J. Goldring, executive director of the Programme on Global Security and Disarmament at the University of Maryland.
"But the U.S. government should be seeking that help through the United Nations. Instead, U.S. political and military leaders are once again trying to buy countries' cooperation with weapons transfers and military aid," she told IPS. Goldring added that there is no evidence that providing India with a missile defence system will decrease the level of conflict in the unstable South Asian region.
"Quite the contrary. Past attempts by India or Pakistan to gain military advantage have inevitably been matched or countered by the other country, continuing and often accelerating the already dangerous arms race in that part of the world," she added. At a press conference Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that he believes the international community is seeking to "internationalise" the Iraqi operations under a U.N. umbrella.
"It is important for them -- not just for Europe or India, but also for the region. The Arab states will feel more comfortable" to provide troops under U.N. auspices, he added. The United States has refused to seek approval for a U.N. peacekeeping force because it may have to concede some of its military authority to the United Nations.
Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Washington would agree to a U.N. resolution only if it did not curtail U.S. military authority.