[TODAY]Troops in Iraq: the right reasonsOur discussion on sending troops to Iraq is drifting in the wrong direction. It has gotten too vague. There are those who support the dispatch for the sake of the national interest and those who oppose it for lack of a legitimate reason. All act as if their views are irreconcilable. President Roh Moo-hyun is worried that young voters will resent his decision and the Grand National Party, which in general supports sending troops to Iraq, is unable to say clearly what’s in its mind for fear of losing the votes of those who oppose the dispatch.
Any decision on sending troops to Iraq should be based on a substantive understanding of the situation in Iraq. Sending troops to Iraq is not for the advancement of our national interests, and the legitimacy for the decision is not weak at all.
Consider the situation in Iraq. The majority of people are tired in their daily lives after the war. It has been almost half a year since Saddam Hussein was ousted and the war was declared over, yet there is no electricity and drinking water in many parts of the country, public order is poor and many Iraqis have no jobs to support themselves and their families.
The same Iraqis who took down the statues of Saddam Hussein on the day Baghdad was taken are complaining that the Americans did not come as liberators but as an occupying force.
The scattered remaining supporters of Saddam Hussein and other anti-American groups in Iraq are expectedly quick to take advantage of this situation. If the discontent of the people is a river, then the guerrillas and terrorists are the fish. There are terrorists trained in al Qaeda camps and pro-Hussein military officials who lost their jobs when the 400,000-strong Iraqi military was dismantled. In every city and every town there are ethnic factions whose interests differ, and the power fights and interest struggles of the various Islamic sects in the country make the problem even more complicated. But the groups conducting the sporadic terror do not have any umbrella organization controlling and linking them together.
This tells us one thing. If electricity and water come back and the people do not feel that their lives are threatened, if the everyday lives of average Iraqis are stabilized, the guerrillas and terrorists will have no place to stand. This is precisely the role of the Korean troops to be stationed in Iraq. They are to reconnect broken bridges, rebuild ruined school buildings, pave roads, set up electric poles and lay out sewage pipes. We are not going to Iraq to clean up after “America’s dirty war” but to help the Iraqi people overcome their present difficulties.
It is the duty of the multinational force in Iraq to expand the area of stable and safe zones within the country. That is why the Korean troops will need thorough advance surveillance and study of the cultural, religious, ethnic and tribal features of the region they will be stationed in.
We must also learn from the experience of the Polish division that has assumed peacekeeping duties in Iraq, but has already fallen ino chaotic conditions. The Polish division is actually a hodge-podge of troops from 21 countries, the smallest national group consisting of a mere 30 soldiers, and it has shown that it is hard to command and control a group that uses different languages and armaments. If the effectiveness of the operation is compromised in order to respect the diversity of the group as a multinational division, it would only lessen the effect of sending troops to Iraq.
It is foolish to say that we shouldn’t send troops to Iraq because Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan have either refused to send troops or have said they would reconsider their decisions to send troops. From the Iraqis’ point of view, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the two countries that they must be most careful about for their security. This could be compared to how Korea, no matter how critical a security crisis we find ourselves in, would not welcome troops dispatched from China or Japan. Saudi Arabia has more than a casual interest in the southwest region of Iraq, and Turkey also has an interest in the northern region of Iraqi. It is difficult for Pakistan to decide freely on sending troops to Iraq because it is a fellow Islamic country. Korea has as disinterested a reason to send troops to Iraq as almost any other country. That is why we must go to Iraq.
It was short-sightedness and ignorance on part of the National Security Council and some of the Blue House staff that made them first try to connect the issue of sending Korean troops to Iraq with the softening of the Bush administration’s policies on North Korea. That was an act sullying our cause to send troops to Iraq ourselves. The cause of sending Korean troops to Iraq is to help the rebuilding of the Iraqi nation. If the Korean troops do a good job there, then our say in North Korea’s nuclear problem will naturally grow bigger. The U.S. government’s toning down of its attitude towards North Korea is not a precondition to our deciding to send troops to Iraq. It will be the consequence.
The same goes for the economic benefits of participating in the reconstruction of Iraq. We might consider the possibilities ourselves, but let’s not give the impression that we are sending our troops in hopes of getting the crumbs that will fall from rebuilding Iraq.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie