Dying for Dubya + Iraq killings bode ill for Indian troops

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Sun Jun 29 2003 - 10:24:09 EDT

The Times of India, June 24, 2003.

Dying for Dubya:
The Illogic of Indian Troops in Iraq

  [ TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2003 12:01:03 AM ]

I wonder if L K Advani and others in the Vajpayee government who are
so anxious to send soldiers to Iraq have ever heard of Lance Naik
Anthony, III F.13, of the Bullock Corps? Or perhaps of Barkat Ali the
Sapper, N Swamy the Bullock Driver, or Kannikar, Birsa, Copalan and
Bhima B of the Indian Labour Corps?

I encountered their unremembered names at the Basra War Cemetery
during a visit in 1998, on fading, chipped tombstones and the dusty,
yellowing pages of Part XIII of The Basra War Memorial, Iraq,
published by the Imperial War Graves Commission, 1931, and lovingly
protected in a large sack by the cemetery's caretaker. They, along
with thousands of Indian soldiers, perished on the battlefields of
Iraq during and after World War I, fighting a war of conquest and
pacification against a fraternal people for the greater profit and
glory of the British Empire.

Since their names were not individually recorded, separate plaques at
the cemetery for the mostly anonymous 'Mohammedan', Hindu and Sikh
soldiers announce that the brave Indians had "sacrificed their lives
in the Great War for their King and their Country". Underfed and
poorly equipped, the Indian troops had been little more than cannon
fodder for the British. The king they died for was George V, and one
wonders what kind of  epitaph will be penned for the Indian soldiers
who will lay down their lives helping the US occupiers in Iraq if Mr
Advani has his way. 'For the brave Indians who sacrificed their lives
for King George Bush II and his viceroy, L Paul Bremer III'?

The call for troops from India is an act of desperation by the Bush
administration which is hoping others will dig it out of a hole that
is deepening by the day. With the body bag count slowly mounting, the
US wants to cut its 150,000 soldier-strong  presence to about 30,000,
replacing the conquering heroes with dupes from around the world
whose leaders aspire to nothing more noble than a chance to wait on
the high table.

UN Security Council resolution 1483 lifted sanctions on Iraq,
recognised the reality of the US occupation and - regrettably -
allowed the invaders to decide how Iraqi oil revenues would be spent.
However, the UN did not mandate a peace-keeping force of any sort,
let alone the peace-making forces of the kind it deployed in Somalia
(Unosom II) or the former Yugoslavia. It merely welcomes the
"willingness of member-states to contribute to stability and security
in Iraq by contributing personnel, equipment and other resources
under the Authority" (emphasis added), i.e. the occupying powers.

So far, the debate in India has revolved around the question of
whether it is acceptable for Indian soldiers to take orders from US
commanders. Indian troops have functioned before under the command of
foreign generals, but always within the context of a formally
mandated UN force. In Somalia, so long as the US led its own
peace-keeping force (Unitaf) - which quickly degenerated into a
deadly manhunt for Gen Aidid, endangering Somali civilians and
peacekeepers alike - India refrained from joining.

As in Somalia, this is the key reason why it would be disastrous for
Indian soldiers to work under US command in Iraq. The US aim is not
to restore stability - it has  not even managed to restore
electricity and water - but to impose political arrangements aimed at
protecting its own interests. If that means aggressively wading into
civilian areas (as in Fallujah, Tikrit and  elsewhere) and making
mass arrests, or closing down a TV station (as in Mosul), it is the
Indian soldiers and other peace-keepers who will have to deal with
the fall-out. What makes the venture all the more foolhardy is the
mounting US pressure on Iraq's neighbour, Iran. Indian troops
deployed in the 'trouble-free' southern and northern areas of Iraq
could willy-nilly get drawn into US machinations aimed at weakening
Iranian and Shi'ite influence.

In India today, those  favouring the sending of troops naively assume
that the US will assist us against Pakistan over Kashmir  (although
what happens once Islamabad sends troops to Iraq is anybody's guess).
There is also a myopic and defeatist opportunism: "Let's face facts,
the US rules the world, we better join it in the hope that we might
be able to influence them", a retired Indian general with experience
in peace-keeping (and US perfidy therein) declared on TV recently.
Well, if Britain, America's closest ally, is not able to influence US
policy on most  issues - especially on giving the UN the decisive
role in Iraq - fat chance of India  doing so.

Above all, the Vajpayee government must respect the Parliament
resolution condemning the aggression against Iraq and calling for the
immediate withdrawal of US forces. That resolution recognised both
the will of the Indian people and the fact that the  violation of
international law and the destabilising of Asia are not in India's
national  interest. To send troops to enforce an occupation
explicitly condemned by Parliament would make a mockery of our

Another fiction being peddled by Mr Advani is that "if the Iraqis
favour it", India would send its troops. The Iraqis today are under
an illegal, colonial occupation,  and it is Viceroy Bremer who takes
all decisions. The day the Iraqis wrest back control of their country
would also be the day the US occupiers would have to leave. Any call
for Indian troops by Iraqis before that time would not be worth a


Iraq killings bode ill for Indian troops


NEW DELHI: The killing of six British soldiers by an angry mob of
civilians in Majar-al-Kabir near Basra in Iraq on Tuesday is a grim
reminder of the dangers that await Indian troops should the Vajpayee
government agree to their deployment in aid of the US-UK occupation
of that country.

The British soldiers -- all military police -- were killed in
circumstances that are still unclear. The Associated Press reports
that the town's population was seething over intrusive searches for
weapons conducted by the British and that the killing of civilians by
the soldiers finally led to revenge attacks. The British defence
ministry says it has no information of civilians killed but is still
investigating the circumstances of the firefight.

Either way, the incident has underlined that 'peacekeeping' -- or
more accurately, the enforcement of foreign occupation -- in Iraq is
no tea party. "The Americans have assured us Indian troops will not
be used for combat-related situations", said a senior Indian official
familiar with the region, "but what happens when the situation
chooses you?".

Given the frustration that the lack of basic civic services
throughout Iraq is causing, Indian soldiers could well find
themselves at the wrong end of an angry demonstration. And without
the means to do anything about their complaints.

Officials here say Indian soldiers are "much better prepared to deal
with crowds" than their US or even British counterparts (i.e. are
less trigger happy) and will also have the advantage of being from a
country which has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Iraq.
"But all it takes is one bad incident for the mood to change", said a

"And once we're batting for the Americans, there'll be people out
there who'll want to take pot shots at us". There are also concerns
about how any untoward incident involving Indian troops would affect
the Indian population elsewhere in the Arab world.

If its troops go, India will also have to overcome an additional
burden, that of history.

The British used Indian troops to put down the large uprising which
convulsed southern Iraq, especially the lower Euphrates region, in
1920. In his book, British air power and colonial control in Iraq,
1920-1925, University of Hull historian David Omissi has chronicled
that 'pacification' campaign: Winston Churchill, who was minister of
war and air at the time, believed that Mespopotamia could be "cheaply
policed by aircraft armed with gas bombs, supported by as few as
4,000 British and 10,000 Indian troops".

Though the Royal Air Force was used with deadly results, Indian
soldiers -- so crucial to Churchill's "cheap policing" -- were also
pressed in to suppress the Iraqi freedom struggle, and many died in
the fighting.


Siddharth Varadarajan
Deputy Chief of National Bureau
The Times of India
7 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg
New Delhi 110 002

Office: (91-11) 2349-2048
Fax: (91-11) 2335-1606
Email: <mailto:siddharth.v@timesgroup.com>siddharth.v@timesgroup.com

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