Tue, 26 Aug 2003

UN must rise from rubble in Baghdad

Vladimir Simonov, Political Observer, RIA Novosti, Moscow

Seventeen people were left dead, including UN special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, and over 100 wounded. The three-storey UN headquarters in Baghdad was reduced to rubble. This dreadful terrorist attack in the Iraqi capital inevitably leads to the questions: Who is exacting their bloody revenge on the UN and why?

Bewilderment is the first natural response. It would seem evident that if anyone tried to prevent the Anglo-American military operation against Iraq, it was the UN in the first place. Or, to be more precise, it was the majority of the Security Council permanent members.

As a result, the entire organization as a spokesman for the prevailing views of the world community refused to bless the war.

Indeed, the UN Oil for Food program was a vital lifeline for millions of Iraqis. However, the UN currently plays a secondary role in Iraq and largely remains in the background of the U.S.- British coalition. Nonetheless, it is gaining strength and is becoming increasingly useful.

Iraqis receive food and other humanitarian aid from the UN. The late Sergio de Mello was the chief co-ordinator of this aid. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

Although this reasoning may seem to be obvious, it accounts for the mentality of an Islamic radical, shocked by the foreign occupation of his land and compelled to look for a job, subject to a curfew and in general existing from dawn to dusk as prescribed by those very foreigners.

Humiliated and outraged, he looks upon the UN as a crowd of foreigners with interests hostile to Iraq. In such a mood it is hard to forgive the UN for the years of sanctions and the unscrupulous, and largely futile, search for weapons of mass destruction.

It is hardly a coincidence that the terrorist attack on the UN HQ immediately followed the Security Council's adoption of a resolution recognizing the powers of Iraq's Governing Council, formed by the U.S.-British administration, and the establishment of a 300-strong UN Mission for Assistance to Iraq /UNAMI/. The result was that the anti-American resistance flourishing in a seemingly defeated country was given additional ground to regard the UN as an occupation tool used by the U.S. and Great Britain.

The scale of the Baghdad terrorist act may shake American advocates of Middle East democratization like Condoleezza Rice and force them to reconsider what victory in Iraq really means. It is becoming clear that Saddam Hussein, the monster that he was, nevertheless acted as a barrier against Islamic extremism. The U.S.-British "victory" destroyed that barrier, creating a nutrient medium for Islamic terrorist units.

The coalition authorities might yet regret replacing a weak and militarily harmless regime with an awesome fanatical enemy.

And then, who said the Middle East was dreaming of being democratized by the U.S.? President Bush's idea of the region's welfare collides head-on with the notions harbored by local ruling elites.

At least three influential forces -- Iranian Shiite mullahs in the east, Syrian nationalists in the north-west, and Saudi monarchs in the south-west, are not ready to welcome the Iraqi changes they think will be their death.

Accordingly, the thunder of the Baghdad explosion makes two things clear.

Firstly, the war in Iraq is not over and the coalition could be in for something worse.

Secondly, it is impossible to ensure security and restore peaceful life to a broken country inundated by foreign gunmen unless the international community assumes a more effective model of collective responsibility in the form of the UN.

The right way to respond to the terrorist attack against the UN is to ensure that the organization genuinely plays the leading role in Iraq.