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June 8, 2007

Is US Eyeing UN as Dumping Ground for Iraq?

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - Faced with an unwinnable five-year war in Iraq, the United States may be looking towards the United Nations to extricate it from the growing military quagmire, according to diplomats and political analysts.

"With the war turning out to be a huge political liability for the ruling Republican Party at the upcoming elections in November," an Asian diplomat told IPS, "it is a safe guess the White House may eventually dump Iraq on the United Nations."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who appears more pliable to the administration of President George W. Bush than his predecessor Kofi Annan, told news reporters in Baghdad last March he was considering "increasing" the UN's presence in Iraq, as the political and military situation in the country improved.

"The United Nations has been actively participating and helping Iraqi people through various means – humanitarian, economic, and political facilitation," Ban said, just after he instinctively ducked when an explosion shook Baghdad's Green Zone during a televised news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

He also said that UN activities "have been somewhat constrained, largely because of the situation on the ground."

The United Nations downsized its operations in Iraq following a bomb explosion in August 2003 when 22 died, including UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Currently, most UN staffers operate either out of Cyprus or neighboring Jordan.

Last month, a London newspaper quoted an unnamed former official of the Bush administration as saying the White House may opt to gradually hand over many of the current US responsibilities to the international community, including "an expanded UN involvement in overseeing Iraq's full transition to a normal democratic state."

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan famously said that the US war on Iraq was "illegal" because it was not sanctioned by the Security Council.

But the current secretary-general, usually tightlipped on sensitive political issues, has not expressed similar views on the ongoing conflict.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, said it is logical that Bush would now be interested in the United Nations helping out with Iraq.

"While turning Iraq into a land of carnage, the US government has also done enormous damage to the United Nations by violating the UN Charter with the invasion, and then bringing the Security Council to heel as an endorser of the occupation," he told IPS.

"After creating and stoking a bloody disaster of huge proportions – and after strong-arming, undermining and ignoring the United Nations as convenient – the White House is now seeking UN help in shouldering future responsibility and blame for the continuation of illegitimate and catastrophic military intervention in Iraq," said Solomon, author of "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death."

Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor at the Washington-based Middle East Report, said: "I do not know how the situation in Iraq will develop in the months and years to come, but with the increasingly firm predictions of a US exit combined with disintegration/ partition of Iraq, it has at one level clear echoes of the situation in Palestine during the late 1940s."

In both cases, he said, "an imperial power (Britain in Palestine, the United States in Iraq) ended up unable to sustain occupation designed as a grand strategic project on account of opposition from native insurgencies, and increasingly as the years went by, insurgencies by their protégés."

In 1947, Britain ended up referring the Palestine question to the United Nations which recommended its partition and thereby laid the groundwork for what are now six decades of conflict and four of occupation.

"It is unclear whether the United States would do same in 2007, and if it indeed does so, how the United Nations will react," Rabbani said.

"One would nevertheless sincerely hope the United Nations would, if faced with such an eventuality, take stock of its indispensable contribution to creation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and failure to resolve it since the middle of the 20th century and not repeat its mistakes in Iraq," he told IPS.

Such a situation, he argued, "would I believe create an even more extensive catastrophe than has been the case in Palestine/Israel since 1948."

Rabbani said the UN Security Council's refusal to endorse the 2003 US war on Iraq can be said to offer hopeful signs in this regard.

"Widespread opposition among UN staff to becoming instruments of US policy, which will increase in ways never experienced in the 1940s, should such a scenario come to pass, also provide cause for optimism."

"Against this I don't really see a possibility that Washington will permit the United Nations to play a genuinely autonomous role in seeking to resolve the Iraqi crisis," Rabbani added.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy said that as long as the US government continues with its policy of making war on Iraq, the United Nations can do little to mitigate the suffering there.

On the other hand, if Washington were to end all of the Pentagon's activities in Iraq – and if the US and British governments were to recuse themselves from any and all future UN decisions and actions related to Iraq – the United Nations could potentially play a very constructive role, he added.

"The horrible truth is that the US government is committed to war-keeping – not peacekeeping – in Iraq," Solomon said.

As long as that is the case, he pointed out, Washington's efforts to draw the United Nations into a US war can only further discredit the United Nations to the extent that the Security Council agrees to go along with the charade.

"Other than providing whatever humanitarian aid is feasible under these dire circumstances, the only proper UN role would be to strongly oppose the US occupation of Iraq," he declared.

(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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