[Viewpoint]It’s our duty to keep troops in IraqThe intense controversy about the withdrawal of the Zaytun Unit from Iraq has gotten even more heated during this presidential election season. The basis for the controversy should begin with a calm evaluation of how many of their goals have been achieved so far.
Because South Korea is a country that owes its existence to the United Nations, we have the moral duty to support a peace settlement and the reconstruction of post-war Iraq as a member of that international body. We also must join the international coalition to contribute to world peace. South Korea dispatched the Zaytun Unit to Iraq after taking many things into consideration, including the request for support from the Iraqi government, the alliance between Korea and the United States, the creation of conditions to make inroads for businesses and the stable supply of strategic resources, including oil. Have we accomplished the purposes of their dispatch?
First, we need to decide whether the Zaytun Unit’s duty to reconstruct peace has been completed, among other things. Despite the coalition forces’ mopping-up operations against hostile forces, attacks from the resisting forces are still going on.
Concerned about how much impact the settlement of democracy in Iraq would have, surrounding Middle Eastern countries have formed an anti-American battle line.
In Iraq, order is being restored to a certain degree. The country is governing itself, and Iraqi security forces have expanded their areas of responsibility. As a result, the United States plans to reduce some of the 140,000 soldiers gradually. And yet, the United States will continue to exercise influence on Iraq as an outpost of the expansion of democracy as well as control its oil resources by deploying a considerable number of troops there in the future.
The peace efforts in Iraq are still not complete.
If the Zaytun Unit is withdrawn from the northeast area of Iraq, where the situation is relatively stable, Turkey ― which has been prudent enough not to take any military action so far ― may attack the area, thereby jeopardizing the security of the entire country. If that happens, our troops’ dedicated efforts might amount to nothing. For this reason, the Kurdish autonomous government and the Iraqi government have strongly requested the presence of the Zaytun Unit.
The second factor is our alliance with the United States, which has stationed its forces in South Korea for its defense.
Although the Korea-United States alliance has been shaken during the past three or four years, Korea helped overcome the troubles by sending Korean troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some say we don’t have the justification to extend the stay of our troops any longer because a considerable number of countries have withdrawn from Iraq.
But Korea is in a different situation.
It is our duty to maintain our troops in Iraq. At this time, cooperation with the United States is required now more than at any other time to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
The third factor is our businesses, which are making inroads toward securing strategic resources in Iraq. Thanks to the reconstruction efforts of the Zaytun Unit, security and order are being restored in the nearby areas. In addition, infrastructure is being built so our companies can enter Iraq. China and Turkey are more likely to secure the right to develop oil in the area and their companies have already made inroads into the local market and initiated business activity. If the Zaytun Unit is withdrawn, Korea’s footing in Iraq will become even weaker.
Another factor is that high-ranking Korean military officers’ experience will give precious opportunities for the Korean army to carry out independent operations. The transfer of wartime command is nearing. Keeping the promise to the people to withdraw the unit by the end of this year is, of course, important. What is no less important, however, is the fact that we may lose practical gains if we cling to that justification too excessively, considering the cost and effects.
Thanks to help from the United Nations, Korea can now protect democracy, grow to become an economic power and produce the new secretary general of the UN. Now we should actively take the lead in giving hope and vision to countries suffering from conflict and famine. This is the way for us to pay back our debt, even partially, to the international community.
*The writer is a professor of national security studies at the Catholic University of Korea. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chung Kyung-young