Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Media praises Vajpayee for Iraq move

AFP , NEW DELHI

The Indian media and opposition hailed yesterday the government's decision not to send troops to Iraq, as press reports indicated the prime minister himself had pulled the plug on the controversial proposal.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had initially been open to Washington's request that India provide some 17,000 troops to a stabilization force in war-wracked Iraq, a report in the Hindu newspaper said.

But he eventually rejected it after it became clear that the troops were likely to have to stay at least two-and-a-half years and had a high chance of suffering deaths and injuries, it said.

Vajpayee also feared there would be bad publicity for his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of key state and national elections should Indian soldiers be brought home in bodybags, the daily said.

The Indian cabinet announced on Monday it would not send troops to Iraq unless under a UN mandate, although it was ready to help in the reconstruction of the country.

In an editorial, the Hindu described the decision as "right and sensible" as there was no reason to stake the lives of soldiers spending huge national funds for "an illegitimate act of aggression."

It added that India should not feel obliged to send troops even if the UN took the helm of the peacekeeping operations in Iraq.

"Having taken the right and sensible decision, the Indian government must now act in conjunction with other countries to put pressure on the US and UK to disengage from Iraq -- by agreeing, among other things, to give primacy to the United Nations in the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction," the Hindu said.

The Times of India said the US had provided no clear answers to the two main issues for India -- whether Washington had a clear roadmap for transferring power to a democratic Iraqi regime and the level of autonomy Indian troops would enjoy.

What the papers say

* "Having taken the right and sensible decision, the Indian government must now act in conjunction with other countries to put pressure on the US and UK to disengage from Iraq." (`Hindu')

* "For New Delhi to become a party to this political mess would have required not statesmanship, but an impossible faith in the American commitment to do right by Iraq." ('Times of India')

* "Unfortunately, the way we handled Iraq reflects poorly on our ability to act as a major power." ('Indian Express')


It added the growing number of attacks on US troops in Iraq made a strong case for their exit.

"For New Delhi to become a party to this political mess would have required not statesmanship, but an impossible faith in the American commitment to do right by Iraq," it said.

However, the Indian Express newspaper criticized the government decision, saying it had taken refuge behind the "fig leaf of a UN mandate," rather than acting as a responsible power interested in helping war-torn Iraq.

"We must of course support the UN, but the UN is not a mantra for the pursuit of our national interests. Unfortunately, the way we handled Iraq reflects poorly on our ability to act as a major power," it said.

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