UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is at loggerheads with the
U.S.-installed interim government in Iraq over national elections scheduled
to take place in that strife-torn country in January 2005.
The Iraqi government, backed by the United States, wants Annan to dispatch
a huge contingent of UN monitors to Iraq's capital Baghdad – primarily
to provide legitimacy to what some observers suggest might evolve into a truncated
election that shuts out voters from insurgency-hit provinces.
But the secretary-general, who has called the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion
of Iraq "illegal" and condemned the killings of civilians, is dragging his
feet, refusing to make any commitment.
Responding to Iraqi criticism, Annan told reporters Thursday he does not plan
to send his staff into an increasingly violent Iraq unless there is "genuine
improvement in the security environment or solid arrangements for the protection
of the staff."
Annan also made clear the United Nations is not "planning" or "organizing"
the elections. "We are offering support and advice. And we will continue
to do that."
On Wednesday, Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was quoted as saying: "We
feel very disappointed that the participation of UN employees is not up to the
required level and there is a limited number of officials, and we are at the
end of October."
The world body now has only 35 international staffers in Iraq, of which six
are election experts. In contrast, the United Nations had more than 600 international
employees monitoring elections in Afghanistan last week.
Asked if Iraq should postpone the vote because of the deteriorating security
environment, Annan said: "It will be their call, not ours." The "ownership"
of the elections belongs to the Iraqis, he added.
So far only one country – Fiji – has pledged to send troops to protect
UN staff members in Iraq, despite a Security Council resolution urging all 191
member states to help provide a military force.
Fiji is sending about 130 troops, while Australia has volunteered to provide
logistics and military equipment.
"It will probably take weeks before the Fijians are trained on how to
handle Australian weapons," one diplomat told IPS. Judging by the widespread
insurgency, he added, the more important question is, "Who is going to
protect the Fijian force?"
During the last few weeks Iraqi insurgents have raised the level of violence,
including a daily toll of roadside bombings, suicide attacks and killings of
Iraqi civilians, police and national guard who "collaborate with the enemy."
There has also been an increase in kidnappings, mostly of foreigners and humanitarian
workers from relief agencies.
U.S.-led forces continue to respond militarily with helicopter attacks and
aerial bombings of houses believed to harbor insurgents. But in most of these
bombings, the casualties have been civilians.
In September, Annan called the U.S. invasion of Iraq "illegal," provoking
negative reactions both from the White House and from U.S. politicians.
White House Spokeswoman Claire Buchan said U.S. officials disagree with Annan.
"We previously made clear that coalition forces had authority [to invade
Iraq] under several UN resolutions."
"If Kofi had his way, [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein would still be
in power," said Senator John Cornyn, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed
Pressure on Annan will grow and criticism of his decisions escalate, say Middle
East experts, human rights activists and U.S. academics.
Yet, it would be "incredibly damaging" for the credibility of the
United Nations for Kofi Annan to agree to conduct the Iraq elections in January,
says Michael Ratner, president of the Center
for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
"The country is obviously being torn to pieces and elections in such circumstances
are meaningless. Any participation by the United Nations in the elections gives
them a legitimacy they do not and should not have and condones the incredible
brutal occupation and war," Ratner told IPS.
"How Kofi Annan could be even considering this after the killing of so
many UN officials makes no sense," Ratner added.
After the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad in August 2003, which claimed
the lives of 22 UN employees, the United Nations withdrew the last of its 375
international workers from Iraq.
Ratner said Annan should stand firm and refuse to cave in to "U.S. pressure
and U.S. power."
"Kofi Annan has courageously called the war illegal and contrary to the
UN Charter; he should continue to stand up to the United States. If he does
not speak out and show some backbone, who will?" asked Ratner.
Earlier this month the Federation of International Civil Servants' Association
(FICSA) and the Coordinating Committee of Independent Staff Unions and Associations
of the UN System (CCISUA) warned
Annan against deploying UN employees in Iraq.
In a joint letter, they said that not only should no UN workers be sent to
Iraq, but "those already deployed [should] be instructed to leave as soon
"I think Kofi Annan will be under enormous pressure," says Margaret
Karns, who teaches courses on international organizations, foreign policy and
diplomacy at the University of Dayton in Ohio State.
Whether or not people agree elections should be held as scheduled in January
(or can be held), no one argues with the importance of the United Nations playing
a central role in organizing and running the election process, and that this
process should be well underway by now, she said.
But the kidnapping Wednesday of the head of the relief agency CARE and the
organization's withdrawal from Iraq makes it very clear that Baghdad and other
areas are not safe, Karns added.
"Kofi Annan and UN personnel will need to be much more receptive to the
importance of security protection. The other alternative is for Annan to discuss
candidly with the Iraqis and the Security Council the question of whether to
defer elections and how to judge when a better time would be," Karns told
"If there is any clear lesson from the Bosnia experience, it is that elections
should not be rushed. Early elections do not contribute to peace-building but
may make it more difficult by hardening fracture lines within a society. Iraq
is more similar to Bosnia right now than many people want to admit, I think,"
On Monday the UN University published a book that also warns early
elections in Iraq might increase violence and extremism in the crippled country.
Based on studies of previous elections in post-conflict states, the volume,
The UN Role in Promoting Democracy, recommends that two years should
elapse in such societies before polls are held.
"It is obvious that the United States is yet again putting pressure on
the secretary-general to allow the international organization to be an integral
part of U.S. foreign policy," says As'ad AbuKhalil, associate professor
of political science at California State University.
But Annan has to be concerned about the safety of UN staff: he still bears
responsibility for what befell UN offices in Baghdad as he rushed to facilitate
the U.S. occupation plan, he added.
"Annan has to be cautious this time as he worries about the further erosion
in UN standing in the Middle East," AbuKhalil told IPS.
The UN chief has recently been issuing reports about Syrian intervention in
Lebanon, while U.S. fighter jets bomb civilian neighborhoods in Baghdad, he
"The irony may be missed in the U.S. press, but not in the Middle East
press, where the United Nations is seen as a mere tool of U.S. foreign policy,"
said AbuKhalil, author of The
Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power.
Annan should insist on U.S. withdrawal of troops, and the deployment of a real
international force representing countries that did not participate in the U.S.-led
war and occupation of Iraq, he added.
Otherwise, he "will go down in history as the secretary-general who has
helped in the erosion of UN credibility and effectiveness," AbuKhalil said.
(Inter Press Service)