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June 5, 2004

UN's Integrity Questioned – Again

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - When U.S. President George W. Bush desperately sought UN assistance last month to organise elections in Iraq and help form a new interim government, some senior UN officials bragged the United States was crawling back to the world body on bended knee.

But quickly the shoe has moved to the other foot, say Middle East analysts and former UN officials.

"I am sorry to say that (UN Special Envoy in Iraq) Lakhdar Brahimi has now joined (former UN chief arms inspector) Hans Blix on the list of UN appointees who could not bring themselves to stop bending their knees toward Washington until it was too late," says Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

After being marginalized in the selection process of a new interim president and prime minister for Iraq, Brahimi described the U.S. viceroy in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, as "the dictator of Iraq."

"He has the money. He has the signature. And nothing happens without his agreement in this country," Brahimi told reporters Wednesday, after admitting he had been under "terrible pressure," both from the United States and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) which both were able to select candidates of their liking.

"I don't think one can overestimate the impact of this immense setback to the UN's reputation," says Salim Lone, who served with the United Nations for over 20 years and escaped unhurt during the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad last August.

Lone suggested that Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his senior staff "need to sit down and take a very candid look at how the organization can protect itself from repeated American pressure to sign on the dotted line on all matters Middle East."

Many people had interpreted Bush's turn to the United Nations as an effort to have the organization provide a fig leaf of legitimacy for U.S. plans, but those who knew Brahimi thought his involvement in selecting the new Iraqi leadership would give the lie to this, Lone told IPS.

"Unfortunately, the critics proved right, with even some mainstream western commentators taken aback by how readily the United Nations sided with the United States on this vital issue," he added.

Despite the fact that Bush publicly said that Brahimi would choose the interim government, the UN envoy failed to have his choices endorsed.

The new prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who has had close ties to U.S. and British intelligence, was not Brahimi's choice. Nor is the new interim president Ghazi Yawar. According to the Washington Post, Allawi was backed by Bremer because he was considered more sympathetic towards the United States.

"After permitting himself to be utilized in a charade, Brahimi complains that Bremer is 'a dictator of Iraq'. Well, anyone who was paying attention knew that, and anyone who wasn't afraid to be honest was willing to say so publicly from the outset," Solomon told IPS.

"We have become accustomed to the disheartening spectacle of UN officials who pretend that they are not ultimately deferring to the U.S. government; this pretence is very damaging to the credibility of the United Nations, as well as to prospects for peace," he said.

Solomon added that one can only speculate as to the motives of UN officials who fail to stand up for international law and transparency.

"But we need not speculate as to the consequences, which include an increasingly unipolar world and a United Nations that functions as a sometimes-reluctant tool of the White House," he added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former senior UN official who served in several peacekeeping missions overseas, told IPS it is a tragedy that the United Nations is so slow to realise the Bush administration is continuing to use it as a political front to advance its own agenda.

"I am surprised that the men at the top cannot either comprehend this – or refuse to accept the reality of the situation," he added.

Lone, who was spokesman for Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello who died in the Baghdad bomb blast, said, "it would have been so much better" if Brahimi had at a minimum indicated he was reluctantly going along with Allawi's appointment, since he knew that a close confidante of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as prime minister of occupied Iraq would immediately undercut the legitimacy that was so vital for the new government."

But then, Brahimi chose also to side with Bremer, whom he subsequently called a "dictator," in pushing for another close U.S. ally to be president, against the strong wishes of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. "This has cemented for too many Iraqis the view that the United Nations was fully supporting the American project in Iraq."

Lone admits the United Nations has to have a "close, mutually-supportive relationship with the world's sole superpower."

"But there has to be clear limits to this, and at a certain point the United Nations must publicly disagree with the United States in order to protect its self interest," he added.

Asked whether Washington manipulated the United Nations, Annan told reporters Tuesday, "I think it would be wrong to say that the United Nations has allowed itself to be used."

Brahimi, he added, "did as best as he should."

"And the government that he came up with also includes six women, which is quite a step forward. We should look at the government as a whole, not at its individual members."

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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