Where’s That ‘Coalition of the Willing’ for Iraq Now?
American’s friends are wary of returning to the Middle East
Before attacking Iraq in 2003, Washington spent a great deal of time talking up the “coalition of the willing,” America’s military alliance for the invasion.
Now that Islamic militants are threatening Iraq and the U.S. is rushing to help, many of those friends and allies are wary of lending assistance again—or worse, have their own problems closer to home.
Between 2003 and 2009, the 37 coalition countries contributed more than 200,000 troops to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, according to an official U.S. Army history. So far, only Australia and the United Kingdom have sent any troops back to the region.
The U.K. reportedly has sent elite Special Air Service commandos to help train Iraqi forces. The staunch American ally—which sent the soldiers seen above in Iraq more than a decade ago—has ruled out any larger military intervention.
The British government is also sending humanitarian aid. In addition, the Pentagon could conceivably use U.K. bases for any potential air strikes in Southwest Asia.
The Australian soldiers are protecting diplomatic posts and would help evacuate civilians if needed. The Pacific nation has declined to say how big its new Iraq contingent is.
Still, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he wants to be “helpful” if Iraq asks for additional support. Reports suggest that Royal Australian Air Fore AP-3C surveillance planes could gather intelligence on the Islamists.
If not troops, then what?
Some ex-coalition partners have been working to send military assistance, too. The Czech Republic could sell Iraq dozens of Hind attack helicopters, while the Italians are modernizing two of the Iraqi navy’s small warships.
Other previous troop contributors are simply focusing on evacuating their citizens. Georgia, The Philippines and South Korea all have people working in Iraq, including in the lucrative oil industry. The Philippines has ordered its citizens out—and South Korea is reportedly considering doing the same.
Georgian authorities denied reports that their nationals had been captured by militants in Mosul last week. The civilians were only having visa trouble fleeing the fighting, they said.
Sorry Iraq, we have our own problems
Washington might also have trouble calling on certain coalition members in light of recent events outside of Iraq. A number of America’s partners have crises or concerns of their own far away from the Levant.
Poland joined the U.S., U.K. and Australia for the first offensive into Iraq in 2003. Now, the eastern European nation is probably more concerned with the fighting in neighboring Ukraine.
Other NATO members such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania no doubt share Poland’s worries. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has already said there is no role for the alliance in Iraq.
Between 2003 and 2005, Ukraine itself contributed forces—seen in the picture above—to the American-led effort, but has its hands full battling pro-Russia insurgents. Similarly, Moldova has to contend with Kremlin-supported fighters in Transnistria.
In Asia, South Korea is focused on responding to an increasingly belligerent adversary to the north. Japan has concerns about the Korean peninsula as well—and did not have a great experience in Iraq the first time around, either.
Thailand’s military recently overthrew the democratically-elected government. Washington probably isn’t eager to phone up the Thais for help.
Lastly, many of the remaining members of the old coalition of the willing were probably too small to help out the first time around. From the very beginning, Washington received scorn for how it treated international support for its Iraq policy.
Few coalition countries contributed any significant numbers of troops. For instance, tiny Tonga contributed just 200 soldiers in two short stints, one in 2004 and another in 2008.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group reportedly seized hundreds of millions of dollars when it sacked Mosul. This made the extremist group richer than Pacific island nations like Tonga.
In short, Iraq may find that few of these former friends are ready or able to do much to help out as the Islamists gain ground.