US Could Have Had 10,000 French Troops in Iraq

Kate Brumback – a very un-French name, but there you go – writes today in the on-line Nouvel Observateur about an interesting book, published just yesterday (and only in French so far), entitled Chirac contre Bush, L’autre guerre (“Chirac Against Bush: The Other War), by Henri Vernet and Thomas Cantaloube. Both are reporters for the newspaper Le Parisien, and the research they conducted on American-French relations in the run-up to the spring, 2003 invasion of Iraq, by Coalition forces which of course did not include the French, turned up a couple of interesting revelations.

The main one is that the French were perfectly ready to contribute militarily to an invasion of Iraq. Back in November, 2002, the US Defense Department conducted a survey of friendly capitals to determine what military resources (if any) each US ally would be willing to commit to any necessary invasion of Iraq. The French determined that they could contribute a “Daguet-type” task force – I don’t know precisely what that means, and Brumback offers no further illumination on this point in the article, other than the vital fact that that would mean 10,000 to 15,000 personnel. They also offered around 100 warplanes.

Naturally, there were conditions to all of this, as Brumback cites in the account of Vernet and Cantaloube. The French required that they would be in command of their own sector (much as the Poles are today, although the troops under their command there are largely non-Pole), and that they could use their own military intelligence assets. But the biggest condition of all was of course that French President Jacques Chirac made all such French military participation dependent upon United Nations Security Council approval for such action against Iraq, which itself turned out to be dependent on what the weapons inspectors found out.


Things fell apart for good, recount Vernet and Cantaloube, on 10 March 2003, when Chirac announced that France would veto the draft Security Council resolution that the US and the UK were trying to get passed to approve military action against Iraq. How is that consistent with the earlier French indications of being willing to offer considerable military assistance? Simple: in France’s view the weapons inspectors were not being allowed to finish their job in Iraq to arrive at any sort of definitive decision about Saddam Hussein’s compliance with UN resolutions ordering him to disarm his WMD, which decision was vital for any UN approval. The Coalition would not wait any longer for niceties like that; Coalition forces went ahead and invaded in late March, and so lost out on the French help.

The other revelation from the book that Brumback mentions is probably only shocking to those unschooled in current norms of international behavior: American intelligence agencies are said to have tapped Jacques Chirac’s telephones during this crucial period before the war, including those connected to his Elysée presidential palace.

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