| Grade One students attend an Arabic language class at the Biarik Elementary School for Girls in Baghdad on Saturday. (AFP)
Baghdad, May 3 (Reuters): A multinational force will deploy in Iraq this month to try to stabilise a country rocked by lawlessness since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
The US, Britain and Poland are to lead the 10-nation force, which Polish foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said today would be on the ground by the end of May.
“The idea is to have all the countries, ready to engage, there by the end of this month,” Cimoszewicz said on the sidelines of a EU foreign ministers in Greece.
A senior US official has said Iraq will be divided into three as yet undefined sectors, one patrolled by about 20,000 US troops and the other two by contingents led by British and Polish forces. Ten nations have so far offered troops.
The official said the stabilisation force would be separate from the 135,000 US-led combat troops still in Iraq.
US President George W. Bush has declared the war more or less over, but violence, looting and lawlessness persist.
Continuing shortages of vital services such as water and electricity have also soured the initial euphoria felt by many Iraqis at the April 9 collapse of Saddam’s iron-fisted rule.
Baghdad’s new police chief resigned today in a setback to US efforts to restore order in the chaotic capital.
US forces spokesman Lt-Col Alan King quoted police chief Zuhir al-Naimi as saying he wanted to make way for a younger man. But King offered no clear explanation for the resignation of a man who was only appointed on April 24.
He said Naimi had handed over more than $380,000 in cash and 100 kg of gold recovered from looters.
King said about 3,000 Iraqi police were patrolling the capital of five million people, using more than 100 police cars.
US forces this week again urged the many thousands of police who worked in Baghdad in Saddam’s era to return to duty.
Many Iraqi children returned to school today for the first time since the US and Britain invaded Iraq on March 20, but some clung fearfully to their parents.
“I am very scared that they might try to shoot me again,” eight-year-old Samar said, reliving a time during the war when a gunman shot at the car she was riding in with her father.
At one school, children kissed their teachers and sat down in classrooms still littered with glass from broken windows. “We are here to rebuild our country after the devastation and that is the most important thing,” said Ghazwan al-Mukhtar, a parent of a student at a Jesuit school in central Baghdad. “Starting up the education system whether the new government is formed or not is the most important thing.”
Security is an even more basic need, and overcoming postwar disorder will be a huge challenge for the multinational force.
Apart from the three lead nations, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Albania have volunteered troops, said the US official, who asked not to be named.
Conspicuously absent are France, Germany and Russia, which the official said were not invited to a planning meeting of 16 nations in London that approved the plan on Wednesday.
Those three countries opposed the Iraq war, infuriating Washington with their obstruction of its efforts to obtain United Nations backing for the campaign. But in a possible move to placate Russia and France, the US has suggested honouring contracts made by Saddam’s government under the UN oil-for-food programme if the Security Council lifts sanctions against Iraq, diplomats said.
France and Russia were among Iraq’s favoured trading partners under the multibillion programme that allowed the UN to supervise the spending of Iraqi oil revenue.
The Security Council, which refused to authorise the invasion, is also divided over how to end sanctions.
Washington wants the council to adopt a resolution lifting all sanctions, except for an arms embargo, saying these are irrelevant now that Saddam’s government has been removed. Russia wants UN inspectors to verify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction before sanctions are lifted.