Published on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 by the Inter Press Service
U.N. Might Not Be Washington's Savior in Iraq
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - When U.S. President George W Bush and his opponent, Democratic aspirant John Kerry, were asked about U.S. plans to stabilize an increasingly violent Iraq, both singled out U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi as the potential Savior who could rescue the country from possible disaster.
Bush said it was Brahimi who is trying to figure out ''the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over to'' Jun. 30. ''We will find out soon,'' he added.
Kerry went one better: ''Brahimi is one of the most skilled and capable people with respect to Iraq and the Middle East. He can talk to all the parties.''
But is he really a likely Savior?
Not so fast, says Dilip Hiro, a respected London-based Middle East expert who closely monitors day-to-day developments in Iraq.
''The fact is that Iraq is so insecure today that despite the posse of bodyguards that (U.S. Ambassador) Paul Bremer provided for Brahimi, he would not let Brahimi leave the heavily-guarded 'green zone' -- the secure U.S. fortress in Baghdad -- except for a dash to Mosul by helicopter,'' Hiro told IPS.
Also, many Iraqi leaders with grassroots backing refused to meet Brahimi inside the fortress as a matter of principle, because that would have implied their acceptance of the U.S.-led military occupation of Iraq, he added.
''The anti-Bush feeling is running so high among Iraqi Arabs, (who comprise about 85 percent of the population), that Bush's praise of Brahimi at the press conference last week was a kiss of death for him'', said Hiro, author of the meticulously-researched 'Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and After.'
A former foreign minister of Algeria, Brahimi is not only Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special adviser on Iraq but, until recently, the U.N. special representative on Afghanistan.
The envoy is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council next week on his consultations with Iraqi leaders.
Although elections are tentatively scheduled for January 2005, U.N. officials have said this will depend on the security situation. A U.N. electoral team, which returned to New York last week, is expected to submit its own report on prospects for meeting that timeline shortly.
Aside from Brahimi's abilities and access to key Iraqi figures, and the U.S. turnaround on a U.N. presence in Iraq, questions are being raised here about whether the world body should undertake an Iraq mission.
Senior U.N. official Edward Mortimer was recently quoted on the new U.S. enthusiasm for U.N. involvement in the nation.
Despite the fact that ”people were coming on bended knees'', he said, ''it's quite unnerving to feel you're being projected into a very violent and volatile situation where you might be regarded as an agent or faithful servant of a power that has incurred great hostility''.
Asked when he would send a U.N. team to Iraq, Annan told reporters last week: ''For the foreseeable future, insecurity is going to be a major constraint for us, and so I cannot say right now that I'm going to be sending in a large U.N. team.''
Longtime Middle East analysts are skeptical that Brahimi can even be the U.N.'s knight in shining armour. They argue his mission is being constrained by U.S. limitations on his mandate.
Brahimi's proposals to bring stability to Iraq include the dissolution of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the appointment of an interim government in Baghdad with a president, a prime minister and a cabinet of ministers. All would be done only in consultation with the United States.
But despite Bush's decision to transfer political power to an interim Iraqi government, the U.S. president says Washington will still keep its 120,000 troops in Iraq and retain control of the country's oil revenues.
''The Bush administration has no intention of granting the United Nations the power it needs to broker a transition to genuine sovereignty in Iraq,'' Matthew Rothschild, editor of 'Progressive' magazine, told IPS. ''In fact, the United States doesn't want genuine sovereignty. It wants suzerainty.''
Rothschild predicted Bush is going to the United Nations only to get a ''bigger fig leaf for what will be an ongoing -- and increasingly bloody -- U.S. occupation.''
''The United Nations should not be a party to this farce,'' Rothschild warned, adding, ''only if the United States comes to the United Nations and says it no longer intends to be the one calling the shots, and it genuinely seeks a multilateral solution in which Washington plays only a small part and contributes only a small fraction of the troops, will there be any chance for this transition to work.''
''For so long as the occupation remains, at bottom, a U.S. occupation, it is doomed,'' Rothschild added.
Bush, who went to war with Iraq last March without the blessings of the United Nations, has turned to the much-maligned world body only because he had no other alternatives, say several diplomats here.
''Judging by what's going on in Iraq, I don't think it is safe for the United Nations to be used as a political pawn by the United States,'' an Asian representative told IPS. ''The Bush administration needs the United Nations primarily to get out of this quagmire,'' he added.
The bitter reality, according to Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor (emeritus) of the University of Massachusetts, is that the United States is in serious trouble, ''waiting eagerly for Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan to rescue an endeavor that went sour.''
''America's political program, focused on the Iraqi Governing Council, as well as its security plan, which is an Iraqi brand of 'Vietnamization', have both failed miserably,'' said Aruri, author of 'Dishonest Broker, the U.S. Role in Israel and Palestine'.
Sadly, for the president, any U.N. intervention in the prevailing circumstances, and in the context of such a confused and contradictory U.S. policy, would not only compromise the integrity of the world organization, but also expose its staff to mortal danger, Aruri told IPS.
''Had the United States decided to transfer real sovereignty to Iraq, and had it planned to affect a genuine military withdrawal instead of keeping Iraq as a base for its military forces and corporations, the United Nations would certainly be the logical body to dispatch a peace force to oversee the withdrawal and to help shape a new future for the war-ravished Iraq,'' he added.
''Instead,'' Aruri said, ''the United States would, in effect, be dumping an explosive Iraq on the United Nations, which might not be able to deliver, even if it accepted the undesirable assignment.''
Hiro said there is also a misconception that since Brahimi had achieved a lot in setting Afghanistan on a path to democracy, he could also work miracles in Iraq.
''But Iraq is not Afghanistan. Iraqis are imbued with Iraqi nationalism, Afghans with ethnic loyalties,'' he added.
''Every Iraqi male has had three years of military training, and the country is awash with small arms and ammunition. There is also a religious fervor. Iraq is the site of the shrines of six of the 12 Shi'a imams, and of two leading Sunni religious figures,'' he pointed out.
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