The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Neighbours’ nod to troops in Iraq

New Delhi, June 28: Union minister of state for foreign affairs Digvijay Singh and senior diplomats have been despatched to West Asia to gauge what countries in the region feel about India deploying troops in Iraq.

First reports indicate that most of Iraq neighbours are not opposed to India participating in US efforts to stabilise the war-ravaged country.

Barring Syria, most of others countries like Kuwait, Turkey and Jordan have responded positively. Saudi Arabia, another important regional player, is not against India’s presence either.

But Iran, which fears that after Iraq it may be the next country to attract US attention, is not too happy that India might work closely with America in its neighbourhood.

Syria, which has been vocal and active in opposing the US-led war in Iraq, has made it clear that it does not see a role for India right now.

Syrian officials have told their Indian counterparts they feel that last month’s UN Security Council resolution does not give Delhi the right to deploy troops in Iraq.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee chaired an informal meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security today but discussed the troop deployment briefly as his China visit was the focus of the meeting. Indications are the Prime Minister may convene another committee meeting soon.

The US request to India to participate in the stabilisation effort in Iraq has been lying with Delhi for some time now. Earlier this month, a team from the Pentagon held detailed discussions with Indian officials to clarify some of Delhi’s queries.

Sources say the US is yet to reply to some of the questions, including a query if the Security Council can pass another resolution paving the way for India to deploy troops.

If the Vajpayee government accedes to the US request, it will mark a major shift in Indian foreign policy. So far Indian troops have participated in peacekeeping duties in many troublespots, but always under the UN umbrella.

India is being asked for the first time to deploy troops under a different control. Given that some Indians are still anti-US, the Vajpayee regime will have to tread cautiously in making a final decision.

The government has to assess the mood both at home and outside, especially in the Islamic world and West Asia.

Indian officials say that getting UN sanction to send troops will only solve the problem partially. There are other issues that worry Delhi. For instance, it is not known if they will have independent charge of a region or will be directly under US command. Nor is it clear how Indian troops will take to American control.

Even if the Indians are given a relatively free hand in controlling a particular sector - there are indications that the US might divide Iraq into five sectors for efficient administration – Delhi also has to worry about how Iraqis themselves will react.

Officials are not sure how post-war Iraq will shape up and what the interim government will be like.

India is also worried about whether participating in a US-led exercise will alienate Iraqis and Islamic nations.

The feedback from West Asia will thus have an important bearing on Vajpayee’s final decision.

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