UN attack and boiling anger in the streets of Baghdad
NEW YORK-- After the deadly bomb attack on the UN compound in Baghdad,
a lingering question reverberating throughout the United Nations
building last week was: "Why us"?
Is the United
Nations hated and despised in Iraq- as much as the United States
is in the streets of Baghdad, Basra and Falluja? Secretary-General
Kofi Annan, who cut short his vacation in Europe to rush back to
headquarters, was pummelled with a barrage of questions as he entered
the Secretariat building on Wednesday.
A visibly haggard
Annan said the attack on the UN was not anticipated "given
the fact that we have been in Iraq for over 12 years, and nothing
like this had happened." But Denis Halliday, a former Assistant
Secretary-General who was in charge of the UN's oil-for-food programme
and has spent time with Iraqis for years, probably has part of the
answer to the question hanging over the glass house by the East
River. Halliday told me that the UN has had a blemished reputation
in Iraq. Although there is no justification for killing Iraqi and
international UN staff, Halliday said: "We must remember that
many people in the region and in Iraq are rightly very angry with
the UN for collaborating with the illegal US/UK invasion of Iraq."
have not forgotten that the United Nations has killed more Iraqis
under 13 years of UN sanctions than Bush, Clinton and Bush ever
did," he said. Coming from a senior UN official, that's pretty
strong language, but obviously reflecting the realities on the ground.
The first George Bush was US president when the 1991 Gulf War took
place following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. President Bill Clinton,
who succeeded him, was followed by the present President George
for the Bush-Clinton-Bush era during which the Iraqis continued
to suffer the worst consequences of UN sanctions-- as all three
US administrations stood by and watched as thousands of Iraqi children
died for want of food, medicine or health care.
The US, which tried to punish Saddam Hussein, refused to lift the
embargo, and in the process penalised the Iraqi people who were
the unintended victims of what some called "dumb" sanctions.
UN Secretariat or the staff per se are not to be blamed for the
sins of member states who make all the highly-charged political
decisions, the perspective of the UN in the outside world is of
an organisation that cannot be trusted to stand up and be counted--
notwithstanding all its outstanding humanitarian work in the field.
By and large, UN staff members are apolitical, and UN policy is
determined by the 15-member Security Council and the 191-member
General Assembly. But the outside world is not willing to listen
to such political nuances of how the UN works.
political symbol of the UN is the Secretary-General. Having spoken
to several Middle East experts and US academics last week, one can
discern why the bomb attack was directed at an institution increasingly
perceived as a political mouthpiece of the US. The suicide bombing
killed Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, Annan's special
representative in Iraq and one of the finest international civil
servants in the UN hierarchy. The tragedy also claimed the lives
of about 22 others, with over a 100 gravely injured.
is yet another indication of the very low esteem by which most Iraqis
-- and indeed many Arabs and Muslims -- hold the United Nations,"
says As'ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California
Annan has succeeded in turning this great organisation into a tool
for US foreign policy, and the poor UN workers have paid a dear
price" AbuKhalil said. He said that Annan has offered sermons
in New York about the ills of Palestinian violence, "and yet
the Arab world was astonished to see him silent over US bombing
and occupation of one country after another: Afghanistan, and then
professor of international law at the University of Illinois, was
even more harsh calling the UN "a willing tool of the US".
"The UN has come to be seen as part of the US/UK belligerent
occupation regime in Iraq and thus an appropriate target for indigenous
resistance," he said. Boyle dimissed Annan as "basically
an errand boy for the United States".
At a time when
the US is looking for more foreign troops from countries such as
France, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Germany, the bomb attack might
have also been intended as a warning against the dispatch of multilateral
forces into Iraq. When the US launched its attack on Iraq last March,
it did so in clear violation of the UN charter and in open defiance
of a world body that refused to sanction an illegal war.
But five months
later, Washington has returned to the same organisation in search
of an exit strategy for 140,000 US troops bogged down in what appears
to be a guerrilla war in an increasingly hostile Iraq. US Secretary
of State Colin Powell came to the UN on Thursday to explore support
for a new US resolution that would convince reluctant member states
to provide troops for a proposed multinational force for Iraq.
things, the force is expected to permit the United States to gradually
withdraw some of its own besieged troops, whose death toll has increased
to 63 since President George W. Bush declared an end to hostilities
May 1. But the proposed resolution -- still in draft stage -- might
be a non-starter because Washington has said it will not relinquish
any of its military authority to foreign troops. "The issue
of ceding authority is not an issue we have had to discuss today,"
a defiant Powell told reporters.