Monday, Jun 16, 2003
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By C. Raja Mohan
A team of U.S. civilian and military officials led by Peter Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security, is arriving here late tonight for discussions that could shape the Government's eventual decision. For a few weeks now the Bush administration has been requesting India to send a substantive military contingent to take charge of a major sector in Iraq now under international occupation. The Government has sought a number of clarifications from the Bush administration before taking what could be a landmark political decision.
Sending a division-sized force to Iraq would significantly raise New Delhi's military profile in the Persian Gulf and lay the foundations for a long-term security cooperation with Washington in the Indian Ocean region.
As the Government considers the historic opportunity awaiting it, it is also aware of the potential pitfalls in embarking on a military venture in Iraq. While seeking to build a national consensus on a major deployment of its troops abroad, the Government wants to thoroughly assess the risks and rewards of joining the operations to stabilise Iraq.
The focus of the Indo-U.S. talks is expected to be on a number of issues, including political and operational, that could help the Government make up its mind, one way or another.
Mr. Rodman is expected to share the current American assessment of the situation in Iraq and plans for bringing stability, organising an early transfer of power to the Iraqi people and initiating economic reconstruction.
New Delhi is also seeking answers on a range of operational questions such as command and control of the forces, the rules of military engagement on the ground, the costs of the operation and the demands of logistics.
Mr. Rodman will hold talks with B.S. Prakash, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs. Senior officials from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces will be part of the Government's delegation. He will also meet the Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, and call on the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra.
The Government is also making its own assessment of the situation. B.B. Tyagi, India's Ambassador to Iraq currently stationed in neighbouring Jordan, is expected to travel to Baghdad shortly. At its meeting last month, the Cabinet Committee on Security had decided to send Mr. Tyagi to Iraq and get an independent sense of the conditions on the ground.
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