- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

It’s strange the Bush administration didn’t trumpet one of its clear foreign-policy successes — the peace agreement in Sudan in 2005. This ended Africa’s longest war, between the Arab Islamic government in Khartoum and the Christian/animist south.

Nearly 10,000 U.N. troops are now operating in the south, a mission which needs renewing on Sept. 24. Islamist politicians in Khartoum are already under internal pressure for risking potential secession in the oil-rich south. They are in no mood to allow a similar breakaway in the fervently Islamic west, Darfur.

This week is the tipping point for Darfur, which is the size of Texas. Many of the key players are meeting in New York to decide whether a robust U.N. force should be sent, despite opposition in Khartoum.

In February, President Bush suggested an interim NATO stewardship leading to a 20,000-strong U.N. force. This was to replace the African Union (AU) force in Darfur. NATO is already providing discreet logistic support for the AU’s 7,800 peacekeepers.

The AU mandate expires at the end of September. Its demoralized troops have proved militarily ineffective but their very presence has undoubtedly reduced the death toll, already an estimated 200,000

Sudanese President Omar Bashir dubbed the U.N. proposal as “recolonization.” He sees U.N. troops as a tool of Western imperialism and a means of regime change. Other Sudanese politicians and certainly most Darfurians plead for any effective intervention.

The United Nations may lack the will, and the AU the means, but pressure for international intervention is overwhelming in the West. Any robust U.N. force would require a core of Western military expertise, even if it absorbs some of the current AU personnel.

The mere perception of putting white, Western, Christian troops on the ground in Darfur could unite all the warring tribes — but in a holy war against outsiders. This could be a replay of the debacle in Mogadishu in 1993.

The 2003 rebellion in Darfur caught the Khartoum government by surprise, and it acted aggressively to crush the insurgents who claimed that their region had been marginalized. Atrocities have been committed by all warring sides; banditry and warlordism are now widespread.

Darfur has been consumed by a brutal conflict, but it is not genocide — Washington’s stated motive in acting. The war’s complex origins are tribal and political, but not racial. Darfur’s Arabs are black, indigenous African Muslims — just like Darfur’s non-Arabs.

While the conflict is foremost a struggle for grazing lands and water, it is also about national politics: Islamic extremists in Khartoum, disciples of the sidelined firebrand Hassan al-Turabi, have stirred the pot in Darfur. Western intervention would play into the hands of his jihadists.

While accepting thousands of U.N.-directed humanitarian workers in Darfur, Mr. Bashir violently opposes U.N. military intervention. The new government of national unity — including former warring parties from north and south — is already under considerable internal strain. The coalition government could implode. Sudan has all the potential to become a failed state.

While U.N. troops have been accepted in the largely non-Muslim south, they would be treated very differently in the fervently Islamic north and west. They would also inevitably attract al Qaeda supporters across the Sahel. Nor is it clear such a peace operation could be mustered. Western troops are overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. And China, an eager consumer of Khartoum’s oil, may not play ball.

This is not a call for inaction. More people are being killed in African wars than in all the rest of the world.

The credibility of the African Union is at stake. It should not be seen to fail in its first real attempt at international peacekeeping. The exhausted AU force could double its size; the Arab League promised to help with funding and (acceptably Islamic) troops.

Legally, the U.N. could intervene without Khartoum’s approval, but it would be tantamount to an invasion which could topple the Sudan government. Khartoum has worked closely with Washington to curb terrorism (despite U.S. sanctions and disinvestment).

Mr. Bashir had backed himself into a corner on U.N. troops. But he changed his mind on AU intervention, and he may — if not threatened with an immediate ultimatum — allow an “enhanced AU package” which would include more U.N./NATO technical support, especially with command and control, intelligence and logistics.

Meanwhile, Sudan has deployed thousands of extra troops in Darfur. The May Darfur peace agreement — which only one part of one rebel faction signed — has turned into a military alliance, not a peace process. Khartoum is working with elements of the Sudan Liberation Army to try to destroy the National Redemption Front, the Darfurian insurgents who rejected the agreement.

There is no military solution. Neither side can win in Darfur, nor can any peacekeepers impose peace where there is none. What is required is the same sort of international political effort invested in Sudan’s north-south peace agreement. The United States did not fulfill all its financial pledges to the AU; the ‘AU-plus’ interim solution must be properly funded and supported.

The West should persuade diehard insurgents to accept the international agreement and thus allow the millions of refugees to go home and end the humanitarian disaster.

Meanwhile, Western military involvement must be kept to an absolute minimum. Otherwise, Baghdad and Mogadishu could be replicated.

Paul Moorcraft is director of the Center for Foreign Policy Analysis in London.

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