U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that efforts to assemble an international peacekeeping force to protect a future U.N. mission in Iraq have stalled, requiring U.S.-led forces to provide security for the foreseeable future.
The Bush administration has promoted the idea of a U.N. protection force as a way of broadening international support for the struggling Iraqi political transition, particularly among countries that are reluctant to serve alongside American troops in Iraq. But senior U.N. officials say the initiative is on the verge of collapse as Iraqi insurgents and militants have stepped up attacks against citizens from countries considering participation, according to senior U.N. officials.
Annan said months of negotiations with more than a half-dozen potential contributors to the U.N. force -- which would be distinct from the U.S.-led multinational army but serve under the overall command of a U.S. general -- have not produced any "firm offers." Pakistan, Ukraine, Nepal, Georgia and other countries that were asked to commit more than 3,000 troops needed to protect the United Nations have engaged Annan in protracted, inconclusive discussions, officials said.
"We haven't had much success attracting governments to sign up for the dedicated force to protect the U.N. personnel in Iraq and our property," Annan told reporters Wednesday. "For practical measures, we have no other choice but to rely on the multinational force, and this is the way we are going."
Pakistani officials maintain that although they have not rejected Annan's request for troops, they have no immediate plans to go to Iraq. "Other countries are withdrawing troops so how can we send them?" Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a Pakistani spokesman, said to reporters in Lahore on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Murari Raj Sharma, Nepal's ambassador to the United Nations, said: "Our citizens in Iraq would be potential targets for abductions or hostage-taking. That is one of the considerations."
The setback for the United Nations comes as a Saudi Arabian proposal to send a separate Islamic peacekeeping force to Iraq received a cool response from Muslim governments that were approached to participate in it. The Saudis envision the deployment of thousands of Islamic troops, serving under a U.N. mandate, to help stabilize Iraq and potentially replace the U.S.-led force there. Annan said today that the initiative also calls for providing security for U.N. personnel.
But several countries that have been asked to serve in the force -- including Pakistan, Egypt and Malaysia -- said this week it is too dangerous to send troops. "It is better for us to wait for a while and to see how the situation is," Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the Saudi government "may wish to continue exploring this. We'll see how that develops. The United States has certainly been interested, and we'll keep talking to other countries about it."
Despite his concerns over security, Annan assured the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, and Britain's U.N. envoy, Emyr Jones Parry, in a closed-door meeting that he would send his special envoy, Asharf Qazi of Pakistan, and a small team to Baghdad before Iraq convenes a national conference Aug. 15 to decide on its political future. But he said he would have to "monitor" the security situation before deciding "whether we send in large numbers of staff or not."