Saturday, August 21, 2004

It wasn't Last Year's Bomb but American Policy which Destroyed the UN's Hopes in Iraq: "Even before that awful bomb ripped through our Baghdad headquarters on August 19 2003, taking the lives of 22 of my colleagues, the UN mission in Iraq had already become marginal to the epic crisis being played out there."

"The low point came at the end of July last year, when, astonishingly, the US blocked the creation of a fully fledged UN mission in Iraq. Sergio believed that this mission was vital and had thought the CPA also supported it. Clearly, the Bush administration had eagerly sought a UN presence in occupied Iraq as a legitimizing factor rather than as a partner that could mediate the occupation's early end, which we knew was essential to averting a major conflagration.

"Sergio had nevertheless continued to squeeze whatever mileage he could from what he called the "constructive ambiguity" of a terrible postwar security council resolution; one that sent UN staff into the Iraqi cauldron without giving them even a minimal level of independence or authority. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was this resolution that rang the death knell for the UN in Iraq. Having heroically resisted American pressure to authorize the war, security council members decided to show goodwill to the "victors". "A step too far" was how an Iraqi put it to me on my second day in Baghdad." He said that even those who had grown accustomed to the double standards the security council employed in punishing Iraqis for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, while acquiescing to a quarter-century of Israeli occupation of Arab lands, were horrified that it could legitimize an unprovoked war that the entire world had clamorously opposed. Many Iraqis were also furious that the UN did not raise its voice against brutal occupation tactics, unaware that custom and diplomacy dictated that UN officials say little in public that would offend the world's most powerful state."

"August 19 2003 is a pivotal moment UN history, not merely because of the unprecedented viciousness of the attack, but because of the lack of an Iraqi, Arab and Muslim outcry over the atrocity. This near silence exposed the depths to which the organization's standing had sunk in the Middle East a result of its inability to contain or even condemn the militaristic excesses of US and Israeli policies in the post-9/11 period. The UN is generally considered to be too willing to do the US's bidding, and its rare challenge on the Iraq war authorization was quickly forgotten once subsequent resolutions pushed the American project in Iraq. Spectacularly egregious was the security council approval of a Spanish resolution condemning Eta for the Madrid bombings when most suspected al-Qaida. This cavalier use of supposedly hallowed security council resolutions was only possible because of support from the US, which wished to protect the Aznar government from electoral defeat."

"The UN is precious - not because of its name, but because it struggles, however imperfectly, to reach global consensus on the world's critical issues. The fanatics who blew up the UN mission dealt a severe blow to its fortunes in the Middle East. But more lasting damage is being done to the legitimacy of this irreplaceable institution by demands to obey US dictates. If it continues to bow to pressure, its capital will be squandered and its resolutions rendered weightless for large chunks of humanity."

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