It is significant that even Mongolia seems to be considering winding down its involvement in Iraq in favor or lucrative UN peace-keeping missions. Interesting that the laws favoring foreign investment were begun long before the communist era ended. Imagine it is forbidden to nationalise any company with any private investment in it.
July 16, 2007
War earns Mongolia rich peace dividend
Sam Knight in Ulaanbaatar
When he was 19 Garbold Azzaya left his grandparents and their cattle and sheep in the foothills of Bulgan in northern Mongolia and joined the army. Two years later, when he was a sergeant in the 150th Peacekeeping Battalion, he flew from a sub-zero Ulaanbaatar to the 40C (105F) heat of al-Hillah, near the ruins of Babylon, to man the guard towers of Camp Charlie, the headquarters of the multinational division in Iraq.
Sixteen days after he arrived Sergeant Azzaya, armed with an AK47 six years older than he was, saw a blue car too close to the wall at the southeast corner of the base. “I shouted, ‘Go back’,” he said. “I said it in Iraqi, ‘Erja!’.” And the car drove off.
Less than a minute later a bomb destroyed part of the wall and a suicide attacker, driving an explosives-filled lorry, was rumbling towards him. “I didn’t have time to communicate,” Sergeant Azzaya said. “I thought, ‘I need to shoot that truck to stop it.’ I first shot directly the driver – three bullets – and after my last shoot the truck blew up. No stopping, nothing, it just blew up.”
That was the only occasion he fired his weapon in anger during a six-month tour. The rest of the time he learnt English from the Americans, played table tennis and read novels. His bravery won him Mongolia’s third-highest military award and a Silver Star from the Polish Army, which was in charge of the base, and made him a minor celebrity at home.
Sergeant Azzaya, now a student in the staff training college in Ulaanbaatar, his blue uniform a salad of decorations, is not the only Mongolian beneficiary of the war in Iraq. The country as a whole, which has just sent its 995th soldier to the Middle East and is yet to suffer a casualty, is emerging as one of the few winners of the four-year-conflict and is now looking for an exit before something goes wrong.
In cash terms Mongolia has come out on top. According to Lieutenant-General Tsevegsuren Togoo, Chief of Mongolia’s General Staff, the war in Iraq has cost Mongolia 2.84 billion Tugriks (£1.2 million) since it agreed to join the invasion in 2003.
In return its soldiers are fed, given new uniforms, battle armour and night-vision equipment when they arrive in Iraq and President Bush has promised Mongolia $14.5 million (£7 million) to renovate its Armed Forces. The country’s readiness to fight in Iraq was also key to winning it a highly sought-after first-round place in Washington’s $5 billion Millenium Challenge Account. Mongolia will receive between $170 million and $300 million to help to fund its railways, health and education services when President Enkhbayar visits the White House this autumn.
The combat experience of Iraq has also enabled Mongolia to qualify for lucrative UN peacekeeping operations. The army receives $1,028 per soldier per month from the UN when it offers its troops – a figure that dwarves their monthly pay of $160. And since the first wave of Iraq veterans returned, the country has volunteered them with alacrity, sending 750 soldiers to Sierra Leone as well as contingents to Kosovo and the Western Sahara. As a result, the G8 will rebuild an old Soviet base near Ulaanbaatar to become a north Asian training facility for UN operations.
“One of the main focuses for the military, when we were making the decision to send our first rotation, was to acquire some real-world experience that would be usable for UN peacekeeping missions,” said General Togoo. “So, overall, the military has achieved its goal [in Iraq]. We have opened the door to the UN peacekeeping world.”
General Togoo would not say whether Mongolia’s eighth deployment to Iraq – a reduced force of 100 soldiers guarding the new multinational base in Diwaniyah – would be its last. “The military cannot think of themselves alone,” he said. “We have to consider the national interest as a whole.” But analysts in Ulaanbaatar speak openly of Mongolia’s withdrawal once the Millenium Challenge compact is signed this year.
“Our military and diplomats are all discussing the withdrawal,” said Otgonbayar Sarlagtay Mashbat of the Mongolian Institute for Strategic Studies. “This was the doorstep into UN peacekeeping operations, and now we have no more need of the Iraqi operation, which is also now a little expensive for us.”
He also pointed out that Mongolia, a country of less than 3 million people, had yet to be tested by a death in Iraq. “We still don’t know how casualty sensitive our population is,” he said. “This is not exactly a case of troops defending our country.”
Land of opportunity
–– Mongolia escaped Chinese rule with Soviet help in 1921, only to have a communist regime installed in 1924. It was isolated from all other foreign influence until the communists were ousted in 1996
–– Its extensive mineral wealth went largely untouched. Now its exploitation fuels the country’s extraordinary economic growth
–– The Mongolian Government has strongly encouraged tourism, receiving 385,000 visitors last year, 20 per cent up on the year before
–– Mongolia passed its first laws encouraging overseas investment in 1990
–– Nationalisation of companies in which private investment has been made is banned. More then 1,400 companies, representing 70 countries, operate in Mongolia
*Sources: Mongolian Ministry of Road, Transport and Tourism; Permanent Mission of Mongolia to the UN; CIA World Factbook