- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

PARIS — European powers are likely to contribute only modest sums of money and little in the way of troops for Iraq, even if there’s a new Security Council resolution meeting their demands for a larger U.N. role in that country.

Germany has already ruled out sending troops to help stabilize Iraq. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says the very idea makes him “want to puke.” France, which fields a European army second in strength and sophistication to Britain, isn’t regarded as likely to help, either.

Several European countries, such as Poland, Spain, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania are already contributing small numbers of troops to the Iraq effort. It’s a mixed contingent of about 20,000 soldiers.

A new U.N. resolution based on language introduced at the United Nations last week might persuade those countries to increase their commitments, or draw contributions from Turkey, Pakistan and India.

“France would be happy to participate in Iraq’s reconstruction,” said Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), a think tank independent of the government. “But to send soldiers into a war we opposed may create more difficulties. I’m not sure one should be sanguine about France sending troops at this point. I know there are contingency plans for sending 10,000 troops. But these are military plans.

“There is a possibility this could be the case. But I don’t think one should necessarily see that an acceptance by the French is indicative that France would send troops automatically.”

Without contributions from France and Germany, raising a significant European force will be difficult. France is one of the few military powers with a large and well-equipped modern army capable of operating easily alongside American forces, as they do now in Afghanistan. French forces are engaged as well in the Ivory Coast and the Congo.

Publicly, French leaders say they are eager to contribute to the stabilization of Iraq, and have promised to work with the United States to find an acceptable way to bring the United Nations into the equation.

But privately politicians say there is no public support for sending troops to die in a war that the country opposed from the start.

Nevertheless, there is no expectation that Paris — which is anxious to repair relations with Washington — will use its Security Council veto to block a new resolution, as it did before the war.

“On the one hand, there is a willingness to recognize the war itself is behind us, that it entailed a very high confrontation with the U.S. and there’s a need to mend fences,” said Frederic Bozo, a senior associate at IFRI.

“On the other hand … the French believe, generally, in order for any stabilization in Iraq to succeed, you need multilateralism. So it’s not just about principle anymore. Now, it’s reading the reality on the ground.”

Analysts note a natural reluctance to send troops to a place where they are likely to be exposed to danger of the sort besetting U.S. soldiers, humanitarian workers and the United Nations itself.

“The problem for force contributors, if they go on the ground as part of a U.S.-led force, they run the same risks as the current American occupation, and politically, they run the risk of being seen by Iraqis as being of the same ilk as the Americans,” said Francois Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research. “Given the risk, it won’t be easy for any European government to pony up forces.”

Many Frenchmen feel vindicated by President Bush’s decision to seek a larger role for the United Nations in Iraq, but Mr. Parmentier declines to gloat.

“The security of the Middle East is a serious issue,” he said. “It has direct bearing on us. The region is unstable. France wants the situation to stabilize. We want a proper Iraqi regime accepted by the vast majority of the population to take place.”

The extent of Europe’s concern may become more clear at a donors’ conference to be held in Madrid next month. Several European countries have pledged to donate funds to the reconstruction of Iraq, though the amount is unlikely to cut very deeply into the $4 billion that the United States is spending in Iraq every month.

“The EU has been holding these meetings to see how Europe can donate up to 150 to 200 million euros, through the EU plus national contributions,” said Mr. Heisbourg. “That’s fairly small change. And I’m not sure there’s much willingness to go further. The feeling is ‘You broke it, you put it back together again.’”

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