The curious coalition: US allies list sparks global concern, confusion

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The curious coalition: US allies list sparks global concern, confusion
Sat Mar 29 2003, 2:00 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Eager to present the war on Iraq as a worldwide effort, the United States has taken to releasing on an almost daily basis an ever-growing list of the members of the so-called "coalition of the willing."

But the list, available on the White House website (, has created nearly as much confusion as it has cleared up, as some countries have disavowed membership, demanded inclusion or reacted angrily to snide commentary about their value as partners in the conflict.

"It's become a logistical nightmare," said one senior US official. "We've created a monster that demands constant attention for consistency's sake."

The most recent list of what the State Department terms the "Coalition for the Immediate Disarmament of Iraq" names 49 countries, including the United States, which have publicly committed to support the war in some fashion.

This backing can range from overt military involvement (the United States, Britain and Australia) to supposedly covert troop deployments (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine) to overflight rights (Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey) to political and moral support (many small South Pacific island states).

Even from its birth on March 18, the roster has been plagued by problems, including Washington's claim to have the support of some 15 nations that wished to remain anonymous.

The existence of this secret bloc of countries -- dubbed by some "the shadow coalition" or "the coalition of the unwilling to be named" -- is now neither confirmed nor denied by US officials when they boast of global support for the current conflict exceeding that of the 1991 Gulf War.

Bulgaria, which was on the first public list, decided it wanted to be anonymous and was removed, but later changed its mind, and was put back on. Iceland, which had wanted to be included, wasn't, and had to be hastily added.

In a later incarnation, the Solomon Islands was added to the list, prompting a quick rebuttal from the South Pacific nation's prime minister, who said his government was "completely unaware" of its participation in the coalition.

Slovenia, which has never been on the list, asked on Thursday to be removed after coming under the mistaken impression that US funds set aside for it to fight the war on terrorism were intended as a reward for supporting the war on Iraq.

Poland, one of several eastern European countries to provide troops to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear attack by Iraqi forces, asked that its participation not be used for "propaganda purposes" after President George W. Bush mentioned Warsaw's contribution prominently in a Wednesday speech.

In the meantime, angered by media sarcasm about their role in the coalition, Palau and the Marshall Islands fired back at snide commentary deriding their paucity of military capability.

"Coconuts and tapioca and scuba diving to offer? That is insulting, that is outrageous," said Rhinehart Silas, the number two at Palau's embassy, when asked about a Washington Post report that suggested the small country was a better holiday destination than war partner.

Despite these snags, the list still grows, with the White House on Thursday proudly welcoming the latest addition: Tonga, the tiny South Pacific kingdom roughly two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand.

As if to blunt criticism of the inclusion of such small nations, US officials note that the countries in the coalition represent 1.23 billion people of "every major race, religion and ethnic group," from every continent, with a combined gross domestic product of about 22 trillion dollars.

Estimated world population total in 2000 was 6.07 billion, according to the United Nations. The global economy totals around 30 trillion dollars -- but the United States, close ally Britain, and war backer Japan account for about 15.8 trillion.

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