Moon rises over White House as Iraq becomes a global problem
Friends and family watch as the casket of a US Army Captain approaches on a caisson during a funeral service at Arlington Cemetery August 9, 2007 in Arlington Viginia. AFP
NEW YORK - When the US-led coalition charged into Iraq more than five years ago, the United Nations was left out in the cold.
Assuming that the Security Council would not authorize a military attack on Iraq -- an assumption that may have proved right -- the US circumvented and defied the world body by going to war without a UN mandate.
After paying a heavy price for its monumental blunder, the US is now turning to the UN for help to extricate itself out of the mess of its own creation.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is playing political footsie with the Bush administration, has wrongly asserted that Iraq is "a global problem" -- which it is not. He is virtually echoing his master's voice emanating from the bowels of the Oval Office in the White House.
The former South Korean foreign minister is indebted to the Bush administration, one of the co-sponsors for his job, and is on the verge of dragging the UN into a military quagmire.
The Iraqi problem was created by the US and Britain -- and the world has nothing to do with the war. If the 192-member General Assembly had taken a vote by secret ballot, the overwhelming majority would have voted against the war.
The secretary-general's pronouncement that the Iraqi problem "is a problem for the whole world" came just after a meeting with President Bush last month. The script may well have been written by the White House which is seeking to "internationalise" the problem to its own advantage.
A week later the US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times — titled 'Why the United Nations belongs in Iraq' — re-affirming the Secretary-General's statement and giving the unmistakable impression of a well-orchestrated and politically synchronized game plan.
The UN, which has remained in the political dog house during the Iraq war, is now being touted as a possible mediator and saviour.
Khalilzad said the UN "has unmatched convening power that can help Iraq's principal communities reach a national compact on the distribution of political and economic power."
In the role of mediator, he said, the UN has inherent legitimacy and the flexibility to talk to all parties, including elements outside the political process (read: insurgents).
Why is the Bush administration suddenly heaping praise on the UN -- an organization once described as an "irrelevant body"?
Jeffrey Laurenti, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, rightly points out it is unrealistic to expect a powerless UN to achieve in Iraq what raw American power could not -- including an oil law, demobilisation of militias and constitutional revisions -- "unless the UN has a major new card to play." But it does not.
Laurenti says that unless the US guarantees that it will withdraw all its troops after an internal settlement -- and with no lingering military bases -- the UN will be unable to broker an agreement with Iraqi insurgents.
If the UN walks into Iraq without any such assurances or guarantees, the staff will be cannon fodder in the ongoing bloody insurgency.
The UN has already finalized plans to increase its presence in Iraq by at least 50 percent, to about 95 by October. Since August 2004, the UN has had a small contingent of staffers, after former Secretary-General Kofi Annan withdrew the bulk of the staff in October 2003 following two bomb attacks in Baghdad which resulted in the deaths of 22 staff members.
Currently, most of these UN workers are based in neighbouring countries, including Cyprus and Jordan. Only a fistful of UN staffers operate out of Baghdad -- all of them based in the heavily fortified Green Zone.
There is a joke circulating in the corridors of the UN that every single UN staffer -- now based in the Green Zone -- is flanked by at least two or three security guards.
But according to existing plans, the UN wants to build a $130 million complex inside the Green Zone to accommodate the increased UN staffers. But the UN Staff Union is vehemently opposed to any increase in staffers in Baghdad.
Last week the Staff Union unanimously passed a resolution against the deployment of any additional staff members to Iraq and to remove those currently serving at the duty station in Baghdad.
The Union says there is an "unacceptably high level of risk to the safety and security of UN personnel currently serving in Iraq," and warns that, "the breakdown of law and order in Iraq has created a place where aid workers have become targets and pawns."
Nothing is further from the truth.