The Bush administration, which thumbed its nose at the United Nations before the Iraq war, has now been forced to beg the UN for help with its foundering occupation. France, Russia, India and other countries have turned down U.S. pleas to send troops and contribute funds, saying they will not do so without an explicit UN mandate. But the UN is turning up the heat on the Bush unilateralists.

The UN special representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, told the Security Council this week there is widespread support in Iraq for the UN to play “an energetic, center-stage role” in putting Iraqis “back at the helm of their country.”

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “There is a pressing need to set out a clear and specific sequence of events leading to the end of military occupation.”

A three-member delegation of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi “Governing Council” attended this week’s UN Security Council session. The U.S. was forced to appoint the Governing Council to try to put an Iraqi face on the occupation. But some participants say they see it as a possible vehicle for ousting the U.S. The Iraqi Communist Party said in a July 20 statement that the Governing Council’s “effectiveness and prospects” will depend on its “vigor” and the extent to which it “responds to the urgent and immediate demands of the people.” The ICP said it is participating in the Council based on “a careful consideration of the present situation” in Iraq, including “the desire of broad sections of the people to see Communists participate directly and actively in the current political process.”

Annan told the Security Council in a strongly worded report July 22, “Our collective goal remains an early end to the military occupation through the formation of an internationally recognized, representative government. Meanwhile, it is vital that the Iraqi people should be able to see a clear timetable … leading to the full restoration of sovereignty as soon as possible.”

Warning that “democracy cannot be imposed from the outside,” Annan said the UN intends to help the Iraqi people “participate in, and take ownership of, the definition of the policies and priorities that will shape the future of their country.”

Bush administration warhawks are in the humiliating position of having to court the UN as concerns mount over the rising human and financial costs of the Iraq occupation.

The cost of the occupation is now estimated at $4 billion a month, on top of a $450 billion budget deficit. American troops are being killed daily by guerilla attacks, and the U.S. death toll has now exceeded the 147 killed in the 1991 Gulf War.

About 146,000 U.S. troops are serving in Iraq, and their stays are being extended, adding to the plummeting morale of soldiers and their families. The Pentagon may call up as many as 10,000 National Guard soldiers by this winter to bolster forces in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal reports.

U.S. troops are also bogged down in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, President Bush and other administration hawks continue to use their increasingly tarnished “links to terrorism” accusations to threaten military action against other countries, in particular Iran and Syria. A senior defense official, asked by the Journal if he had ever seen the Army stretched so thin, said, “Not in my 31 years” of military service.

But a diplomat on the United Nations Security Council told The New York Times virtually no additional nations – with the exception of some in Eastern Europe – are willing to place their troops under U.S. or British control in Iraq.

An Indian diplomat told the Times that, unless a UN resolution ensures that Indian troops are seen as serving the needs of the Iraqi people – not those of the American and British occupiers – it will be difficult to get popular support for sending in troops.

The Bush administration seems to be scrambling to figure a way out of its Iraq crisis. President Bush and other top administration officials have been meeting with UN diplomats lately, but the administration reportedly remains split on the role of the UN, with the State Department supporting a bigger UN role, and Vice President Dick Cheney opposing it. Administration unilateralists are said to worry that by dealing with the UN they could lose control over Iraq. At the same time, they want to internationalize the heavy costs of occupation and also offload some of the blame for the occupation.

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.