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Swiss side with UN on Iraq reconstruction

Rebuilding Iraq's ruined infrastructures after the war will be a huge task

(Keystone)

Concerns over the United States' role in post-war Iraq were heightened this week after Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said the US would take charge of the reconstruction.

The Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo that it was firmly behind a leading role for the United Nations.

On Friday, the foreign ministry's chief spokesman, Simon Hubacher, reiterated the government's stance, saying "the UN must play a key role in Iraq".

He added that the cabinet was expected to take up the post-war issue in the coming weeks but that government leaders were at the moment chiefly concerned with the immediate humanitarian situation in the country.

On Thursday, Colin Powell told Nato and European Union members that the US must take the lead role in Iraq's post-war reconstruction.

His comments were not well received by many European governments - including Switzerland - which want the UN to be put in charge.

"I think the coalition has to play the leading role," Powell said. "But that does not mean we have to shut others out... There will definitely be a United Nations role, but what the exact nature of that role will be remains to be seen."

Credibility

Swiss political analyst, Albert Stahel, says it's important that the UN is in the driver's seat, if for no other reason than to restore its credibility as an effective tool for international diplomacy.

"If the United States decides to go it alone in the post-war situation, then we will have problems, because the Americans relate to their own interests," he told swissinfo. "It would also mean that the UN and all of its instruments would again be put aside."

The director of the Geneva-based World Federation of UN Associations, Bruna Faidutti, agrees.

"This conflict is taking place outside the structure of the UN... and that hurts the organisation," she said. "That's why I hope the UN will play a role in humanitarian aid and the building of institutions to create a democratic base for future elections and governments."

However, she is sceptical that Washington will stand aside for the world body. "It's very hard to bring back a power that is determined to go on its own and to say 'these are the rules of the international community'," she told swissinfo.

"But I hope there is some wisdom and maturity in the thinking of the United States and that they will go through the Security Council and use the available coordination procedures for the post-conflict era."

American role

Some experts argue, however, that Powell has a point and that the US should be given the opportunity to take control, at least initially.

The director of the non-governmental Business Humanitarian Forum, John King, argues that a case could be made for allowing the coalition forces to stake their claim in Iraq.

"The coalition forces which have done the bulk of the work will start to engage in the reconstruction effort themselves," he told swissinfo.

"Since they will have made the effort to get things to the point where conditions can be made far better than they are now for the population, I think there's a certain moral rule that says that should be the case."

He predicts a civilian with a military background will be put in charge of the American humanitarian and reconstruction programme, which has already been placed in the hands of the Pentagon.

"It will be a former general to be certain," he said. "The Pentagon will serve as the overall managing department to determine, at least initially, how reconstruction is undertaken and who gets the contracts to undertake the work."

When it comes to handing out such contracts, King believes the US is likely to favour companies in those countries which supported the war effort.

"People in Washington aren't so stupid as to do things on a totally irrational basis," he said. "However, I think initially, there may be some reticence to allow the French to have a share... unless of course it's to make a donation."

Hands-off

The former vice president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Claudio Caratsch, disagrees that the US will want to stick around once the war is over.

At a recent humanitarian conference, organised by Webster University in Geneva, Caratsch warned that the rebuilding of Iraq was likely to fall to non-warring parties.

"I have the impression that there is a certain division of labour," he told swissinfo. "The US wants to do the fighting and they leave the reconstruction to others."

"Big powers generally have a propensity to be selective in what they think suits them best," he added.

On the other hand, UN representative, Bruna Faidutti, worries that the US has a vested interest in Iraq and that it's unlikely they'll leave other countries holding the bag.

"It's my personal belief that because of the strategic place of Iraq, that the Americans cannot afford not to stay," she told swissinfo.

According to King, Iraq's oilfields will serve as an incentive, especially for private companies, to invest in rebuilding Iraq. But ultimately, he believes funds derived from Iraqi oil should and will be placed in the hands of a UN-managed trust fund.

"Oil will make things easier in terms of reconstruction because it will pay the bills," he said. "But even President Bush has said that Iraq's oil sources will be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people... and not for repayment of the US government."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

Comments this week by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, sparked off renewed debate over who should be in charge of the reconstruction in Iraq.

Powell told Nato and EU leaders that the US should be in the driver's seat but that the United Nations should also be involved.

Most European nations, including Switzerland, believe that the UN should take the leading role.

Some experts fear the UN will lose even more legitimacy if the US decides to take control of the country.

Others say the US has a legitimate right to claim a stake in Iraq, at least initially.

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