Postwar Expert Says U.S. Will Maintain Security after Iraq War Ends, but Urges U.N. Be Allowed to Play Political Role

Postwar Expert Says U.S. Will Maintain Security after Iraq War Ends, but Urges U.N. Be Allowed to Play Political Role

April 7, 2003 5:56 pm (EST)

To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

Eric Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who headed an independent task force on post-conflict Iraq, says that the United States will maintain security and set up a postwar administration immediately after hostilities end in Iraq. But he says that it is critical for Iraq’s future “legitimacy” that a way be found for the United Nations to do more than dole out humanitarian aid.

He suggests following the Afghan model, in which the United Nations helped organize the future government, leading to Security Council endorsement. This in turn would lead Iraq’s neighbors and other nations to join in helping rebuild the country.

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Schwartz was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for, on April 7, 2003.

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What are the key political questions about postwar Iraq that need to be answered, even before the war ends?

Here are some: Who is going to be in charge of civil administration immediately after the conflict? What role is there for Iraqis in the immediate post-conflict administration? When do you create an interim Iraqi authority? How do you create that authority? And what responsibilities do you give to it? And who decides the process for determining not only the Iraqi interim authority, but also the process by which Iraqis then go about creating a permanent government? Connected to those issues are the role of international organizations and other governments in Iraq’s reconstruction. All of these issues, at least diplomatically, are beginning to come to the fore.

Do you want to lay out the options on some of these issues?

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Sure. On the question of who will administer post-conflict Iraq, right now, the odds strongly favor a U.S. military administration. In the immediate postwar period, Iraq will essentially be ruled by the coalition commander, General Tommy Franks. Retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who heads up the Pentagon Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, will manage humanitarian, reconstruction, and political-transition issues for the U.S. government and will report to Franks.

Garner is now in Kuwait, ready to be deployed to Iraq. He has, by all accounts, 200 or more U.S. officials working with him on areas such as civil administration, humanitarian assistance, and reconstruction. There is a plan to put a small number of Americans in key Iraqi ministries, along with Iraqis.

On this question of post-conflict administration, there seems to be little alternative to U.S. control in the immediate aftermath. Moreover, even over time, before Iraqis assume authority for their own affairs, there may be little alternative to a U.S. civilian administration.

But some have argued for a U.N. civil administration to run Iraq in the post-conflict period. For instance, President Jacques Chirac of France has indicated that he would not support a Security Council resolution that essentially ratified U.S. and British control in post-conflict Iraq.

Does the United Nations want to administer Iraq after the war?

It is not all that clear that the United Nations would want the job. In the case of Afghanistan, for instance, U.N. officials indicated clearly that running Afghanistan was really a bridge too far for them. And the tasks in Iraq could be even more daunting.

What kind of role could the United Nations play there?

This is the $64,000 question. The options could include having blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeeping troops maintain security. That is wildly unrealistic, however. Nobody has suggested U.N. troops should ensure public security in the post-conflict period. There is widespread acceptance that this will be the major responsibility of the United States, perhaps with some coalition allies. Some, in fact, have suggested NATO might want to step in.

Others have suggested the United Nations be responsible for civilian administration. This, as I said, may be a bridge too far for the United Nations. At the same time, many of our European friends and allies argue that if the president’s statements indicating that we would work with the United Nations mean nothing more than permitting U.N. agencies to dole out humanitarian assistance, then that will not be enough of a role for the institution.

Those [Europeans] fear that postwar Iraq will be completely controlled by the United States. One way out of this dilemma is the model that we saw in Afghanistan. There, the United Nations was not responsible for civil administration but at the same time it did play a meaningful political role.

Can you explain that?

The United Nations convened a meeting in Bonn at which an Afghan interim authority was established and a process leading to a permanent Afghan government was defined. That process was endorsed by the Security Council. As a result, the Afghan government enjoys a great deal of international legitimacy. Despite the fact that the United Nations was largely in charge of this effort, the United States had enormous influence in the process, demonstrating that we did not have to sacrifice our interests in agreeing to this U.N. role.

What are the benefits of such a U.N. role?

First, by authorizing this degree of involvement, we will make it easier for other governments to participate in and contribute to the challenges of reconstruction, thereby lightening our own load. Secondly, the process is apt to be seen as more legitimate by governments in the region, whose support for the transition will be critical.

Middle East governments in particular?

Yes. What we have learned in recent years is that, no matter how determined the people of a country are to rebuild their institutions after a conflict, if the country’s neighbors are determined to pull a country apart, then progress becomes extremely difficult. So if you think of the Afghan model, where many countries in the region that were often U.S. adversaries were able to reach an agreement that has largely stuck, then the possibility for such an arrangement would seem to make a lot of sense. So the second major benefit is a regional “buy” into the process.

And finally, a process that would involve the United Nations would also provide a degree of broader international legitimacy. If an agreement can be reached on a U.N. role, then U.N. agencies would have a much easier time operating in Iraq, and opportunities for increased cooperation between the United Nations and the United States would be enhanced.

Are there Iraqis living in Iraq now who could step into any kind of civil administration role?

In the years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iraqi society was largely politically decapitated. One of the great challenges of the United States will be to ensure a process by which indigenous leaders can emerge. But that challenge is one of the reasons it is unrealistic to assume that Iraqis will be able to establish an interim authority that has the full powers of sovereignty any time soon. What the administration is thinking about doing, and frankly, I think it makes a lot of sense, is trying to put consultative mechanisms in place and putting Iraqis in positions of authority in which their decision-making powers can be augmented over time, so that the process becomes more of an evolutionary one. At some point, an Iraqi interim authority will have to be created.

I imagine there will be a postwar temptation to have a de-Saddamization of the country, which would maybe call for trials. Should the United States do this itself?

I think it is inconceivable given the gravity of the human rights abuses for which the regime is responsible that there won’t be some sort of process of accountability.

It’s still unclear what that process would be. Would it be the United States? Would it be some sort of process involving Iraqis with the involvement of international jurists? The details on that have not been spelled out.

What the administration does seem to support is a limited process of accountability in which those who are responsible for the gravest violations are subject to prosecutions. In part, the administration’s perspectives on this are based on its desire to ensure that Iraqis who have some degree of culpability, but whose skills would serve a future Iraqi state, won’t be swept up in the accountability process. No one believes that any and all Iraqis involved in human rights violations will be subject to judicial proceedings. The key question is going to be: How far down [the government’s ranks] do you go? I think there is a strong desire by the administration that Iraq continues to function, staffed largely by Iraqis.

What about Iraq’s international recognition?

Here there are distinctions between the requirements of international law and international politics. The international law of occupation provides the United States with a fair degree of leeway on what it can do in a post-conflict period. And frankly, it may also provide some latitude on what the United States can do in defining the future political process in Iraq.

At the same time, as a matter of international politics, if the United States isn’t prepared to involve the United Nations, it’s going to face some serious challenges with respect to the perceived legitimacy of the entire exercise, as seen by governments in the region and around the world. That is why the Bush administration, even if it ultimately decides on a U.S.-controlled process, will still want to get the endorsement of the Security Council. But that endorsement will be much more difficult to obtain, if it’s not prepared to have the United Nations play some sort of role in the political transition process.


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