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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 June, 2003, 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK
Analysis: Perils of peacekeeping

By Kate Clark
BBC correspondent

"The British have officially declared they are an occupying force," said one man whose nephew was killed along with six British soldiers in the town of Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq on Tuesday.
British soldiers on patrol in Basra
British troops in Basra: Killings this week fuelled guerrilla war fears

"As the official occupying force, don't they have duties and we have rights?" he said.

"Aren't they supposed to provide us with security, services, water, electricity?

"What have the British given us?"

Britain's presence in southern Iraq is suddenly looking a lot more shaky.

The commanding officer in the area, Major-General Peter Wall, said the violence appeared to have stemmed from a misunderstanding, but also promised that those who killed his troops would be brought to justice.

The confrontation has raised questions about the number of British troops on the ground and the rules of engagement.

But whether military intervention fails or succeeds depends on more fundamental factors.

Sierra Leone success

"The intervention in Sierra Leone has worked," says Josephine Hazely of the BBC World Service's Africa section.

"The Sierra Leoneans, for some reason, warmed to the British and think the British saved them from the rebels.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Sierra Leone
British intervention in Sierra Leone was seen as a success

"I don't know if it was euphoria, but some people were even saying 'we should be re-colonised'." The rebels who moved into parts of Freetown in 1999 killed many civilians.

They raped women and girls and cut off the hands and feet of children.

Britain decided to send in a military force in May 2000 and, along with UN peacekeepers have managed to bring security to the country and put rebel leaders in jail.

"It worked because they went there in numbers," Ms Hazely says.

"There was a peace agreement, there was already a legitimately elected government which didn't have to be cobbled together, there was acceptance from the people and the political elite and there was also a clear mandate."

Afghanistan woes

President George Bush's proud boast that America had liberated the Afghan people from tyranny and saved them from starvation is starting to look rather hollow 18 months on.
American soldiers at an Afghan roadblock
US troops face determined opposition in Afghanistan

The food supply is better this year - but only because the worst drought in living memory is over.

Very few Afghans would like to see the return of the Taleban. But many are concerned about worsening security and the failure of the US and UN to restore justice or democracy in Afghanistan.

Insecurity may mean the postponement of next year's elections, the UN warns.

Aid agencies are also worried.

Eighty have warned about their ability to work in many parts of the country, after a sharp rise in attacks over the last two months.

Catherine Hunt from Care International agencies says there have already been temporary pull-outs of staff and travel bans to some areas.

"That's why we're trying to heighten the call to the international community," she said, "so that we don't get to the point where it would be impossible for some of the aid agencies to function at all."

The agencies would like international peacekeepers to venture beyond Kabul, where they have been confined since they arrived in Afghanistan in January 2002.
The rule of law is not there
Lakhdar Brahimi
Head of UN, Afghanistan

Such calls have been made repeatedly by the UN, aid agencies, the Afghan president and Afghan civilians, but have always fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, it looks like being another bumper opium harvest this year and attacks by the Taleban are also on the rise.

Security failure

The current government is also falling down on the issue of free speech, the UN says.

The head of the UN in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, who was one of the main architects of the post-Taleban settlement, has said the international community failed Afghans.

"The rule of law is not there. The Afghan is not secure in his house, he is not secure in his farm.

"I think both the Afghan government and the international community have failed the ordinary Afghan."

Many observers would say Mr Brahimi and the United States should take a large measure of responsibility for the current situation.

Complex process

The US first armed warlords from the Northern Alliance to fight the Taleban, and then allowed them to keep any territory which they seized in the 2001 campaign.
Northern Alliance troops
Northern Alliance forces took advantage of US support

The UN and US both welcomed factional leaders into the Afghan government and have failed to disarm or demobilise fighters even in Kabul.

"The current problems in Afghanistan were very predictable," says Jolyon Leslie, who worked for many years for the UN in Afghanistan and then Iraq. He recently finished a comparative study on peacekeeping for King's College, London.

"You don't carve up a country into a dozen plus factions and then assume it's going to be a seamless process to do disarmament and reintegration of fighters..

"It's a complex process."

Mr Leslie thinks the failures in Afghanistan are part of a wider pattern.

"It seems consistently that over the last four or five large peacekeeping operations of the UN, there has been a failure to acknowledge that you need to fill the justice gap, the rule of law gap, you need to look at the judiciary very quickly, but even before then, you need to look at security reform."

And Afghanistan, says Mr Leslie, is a lot more complicated than Iraq.

Colonial lessons

After the violence of Tuesday, people are starting to wonder how and when British troops might leave Iraq.

UK Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith has asked Prime Minister Tony Blair what his exit strategy is.

Dan Plesch of the Royal United Services Institute believes the whole British and American approach to military intervention is blunt and far too crisis-driven.

We carry on trading arms, buying oil or diamonds from troubled countries, he says. Then, when violence erupts, we act with the only tool in our box - military force.

"If the riot squad was the only form of policing we had in London or Manchester, they would be out every day.

"In Victorian England, we invented the police because the army couldn't cope; we need to grow up and find other ways of dealing with troubles in the world."

Mr Plesch believes Britain could set up special teams for monitoring and conflict resolution, think about funding public access TV to broadcast to trouble spots and think about forming military police or paramilitary forces, "which were used to some degree in the empire and have a policing outlook on the world."

Activist and historian Mark Curtis - author of the book Web of Deceit - believes there are other lessons to be learned from Britain's colonial history.

Past interventions, he says, were also publicly justified in lofty terms, such as freeing people from communism and tyranny.

Looking at now-released cabinet records concerning the invasion of Suez (1956), the US and British-supported overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq (1953) and the overthrow of the elected government of British Guiana (1953), Mr Curtis finds talk in private only of oil and other strategic interests.

"Britain's role," he alleges, "remains an essentially imperial one - to act as junior partner to US global power".

Whether historians look back on the military intervention in Iraq as benevolent or tyrannical may well depend on American and British actions over the coming months.

Guerrilla war feared in Iraq
27 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Is there an Iraq exit strategy?
25 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Country profile: Sierra Leone
27 May 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
02 May 03  |  Country profiles

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