THE UN AND IRAQ
jacdon at earthlink.net
jacdon at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 3 12:20:54 MDT 2003
The following article will appear in the Sept. 5 issue of the email
issue of Mid-Hudson Activist Newsletter, published in New Paltz, NY, via
jacdon at earthlink.net
THE UN AND IRAQ
The bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad last month, presumably by
forces resisting Washington's invasion and occupation of Iraq, has
caused some sharp differences of opinion within the antiwar and
progressive movements in the United States.
The issue itself has assumed greater importance since the Bush
administration, now reeling from unexpected setbacks, wants the UN to
become directly engaged in Iraq as a military handmaiden under the U.S.
occupation authority. Several countries, now reluctant to participate
in the occupation, have stated they might do so under UN auspices.
Much of the U.S. left, while not necessarily supporting the use of
terrorism against civilian targets, has sought to offer explanations for
why the UN office was considered a legitimate target Aug. 19 by Iraqis
resisting occupation by a foreign power.
Many in the liberal antiwar camp have criticized at the attack,
believing that the United Nations offers the best hope for easing the
plight of the Iraqi people after two devastating wars, 13 years of
economic sanctions and periodic bombings by the U.S. and UK. They fear
the UN may now be reluctant to participate in the reconstruction of this
battered country and society.
First and foremost in discussing this matter it must be recognized that
the bombing which took the life of the UN coordinator for Iraq, Sergio
Vieira de Mello, along with some 20 others was a direct consequence of
President George Bush's decision to launch an unjust, immoral and
illegal invasion in March and to impose a brutal colonial-type
occupation upon the distressed people of Iraq.
Second, the deaths resulting from a truck-bombing where the UN was
stationed cannot be compared to the Bush administration's bombing and
shooting assault that claimed at least 10,000 civilian deaths, not to
mention a minimum of 10,000 vastly outgunned Iraqi soldiers, mostly
teenage conscripts who were no conceivable match for history's most
powerful military state.
Third, the blast at the UN building, while aimed at the world
organization building, was directed politically at the United States
army of occupation. Former UN chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who
debunked the Bush administration's pre-war fabrications about Iraq's
alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, wrote Aug. 31 that
the bombing "was not an attack against the United Nations as an
organization. Rather, it was designed, along with recent attacks
against foreign civilian targets, to paralyze the nonmilitary
organizations. The longer civil operations are stopped, the more
anti-American discontent will grow because America, as occupying
authority, is responsible for this, and all, operations in Iraq."
Ritter, a self-described conservative, shares with many liberals the
view that "Political control of the occupation of Iraq must be
transferred to the United Nations as soon as possible, and rapidly
thereafter to the people of Iraq." His rationale seems to be that this
is the only way in which the U.S. can avoid sinking into a quagmire and
causing greater grief to Iraq in the process. In effect, he is hoping
the UN will be able to extricate Washington from a possible political
and military catastrophe of its own creation.
Many on the U.S. left and in the peace movement, however, oppose UN
intervention and particularly the notion of a multinational force
under the Pentagons leadership for precisely this reason. It
basically allows the White House to launch a vicious war of aggression
against a crippled country at peace and then, when the going gets rough,
to seek cover behind the prestige of the United Nations, which in effect
is putting its stamp of approval on Bush's barbaric adventure.
The UN has not even criticized the invasion. It recognizes as legitimate
the puppet government the Bush administration is constructing, and bows
to Washington's overall colonial control of occupied Iraq. Under such
conditions, critics think that any transfer of government authority to
"the people of Iraq," even by the UN, will contain the permanent
stigmata of U.S. domination.
Further, according to this view, there are many political elements
involved in the resistance movement, including those who opposed the
previous government, and it seems possible that a mass uprising may
eventuate in time. The struggle against foreign invasion and occupation
is completely legitimate in terms of defending national independence and
Any effort to keep the U.S. in control of Iraq, either directly or
behind the scenes, is counter to the interests of the people of Iraq.
After Washington's violent seizure of Iraq in quest of exercising
hegemony over the entire Middle East, the only role for the United
Nations is to demand and preside over the immediate withdrawal of U.S.
troops and occupation authorities. At that point, in collaboration with
the people of Iraq, there is much the UN can do to help Iraq get back on
Speaking just after the Aug. 19 bombing, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
said the world organization's only purpose in Iraq is "to help the Iraqi
people recover their independence and sovereignty." In these
circumstances, it is necessary to look more deeply into the role of the
United Nations, beginning with the summer of 1990 when Iraq invaded
The United Nations, at the strong urging of the U.S., applied stern
sanctions against Iraq immediately after its Aug. 2 invasion. Quickly
recognizing that the invasion was a foolhardy adventure predicated upon
the notion that Washington would remain indifferent to its takeover of
Kuwait, the Baghdad government within days sought to open negotiations
for a face-saving withdrawal. As the U.S. slowly built up its forces
for a massive attack on Iraq, President Saddam Hussein repeatedly
offered one withdrawal plan after another, all spurned by the regime of
President George Bush the First, with the backing of the United Nations.
(See our series of articles, "Modern Iraq Background to War,"
particularly part 4 in our last issue of the Mid-Hudson Activist
Newsletter and part 5 in this issue, for information about the 1990-91
war and its aftermath. The series is available free by requesting it at
jacdon at earthlink.net)
The war itself, which the UN energetically supported, began on Jan. 17,
1991, and lasted only a few weeks. Predictably, it was a one-sided
slaughter. The entire country was bombed for 42 days. Up to 200,000
Iraqis died, while the U.S. lost fewer than 150 troops. The bombings
destroyed the civil and military infrastructure of the country.
As Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general, wrote in his
extraordinary history ("The Fire This Time U.S. War Crimes in the
Gulf"): "Instead of taking firm, united action toward Iraq based on
negotiation with pacific intent and by peaceful means, the UN was
quickly and easily converted into an instrumentality of war. When the
assault began, the UN abided and even abetted the crimes against peace,
war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by the United States.
In the wake of the awful assault it authorized, there is a crippled,
bleeding people with no effort by the UN to alleviate their suffering or
to address the long-standing problems of the region. Instead, UN
members continue to support sanctions against Iraq."
The UN administered the killer sanctions for almost 13 years until
President Bush the Second ordered them ended after the March 2003
invasion so that the U. S. could sell sufficient quantities of Iraqi oil
to pay for the occupation. (The disruption of oil production and the
bombing of pipelines by resistance forces is a major financial blow to
the White House, which has already used up the billions of dollars it
stole from Iraqi bank accounts to finance a portion of its war
The sanctions were perhaps the most draconian ever applied in the modern
era. So many goods were embargoed that Iraq was never able to recover
from the massive damage caused by the U.S.-led war. The UN, following
U.S. instructions, never lifted a finger to genuinely reduce the
boundless sufferings it imposed upon the Iraqi people. The sanctions
resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqi people, half of them
Several leading UN officials, including Assistant UN Secretary-General
Dennis Halliday, who functioned as the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator in
Iraq until 1998, resigned in protest, but the world body continued its
sanctions until Washington decided it was time to stop. In an interview
just after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad last month,
Halliday stated: "We all think of the UN as this benign entity, but in
Iraq it's held responsible for a great deal of suffering of the Iraqi
people.... We love to talk about our good humanitarian work there's
certainly truth to that, and good people trying to help Iraqis were
killed but the Secretary General has implemented programs which are
inherently incompatible with the UN Charter." Halliday believes "The UN
Security Council has been taken over and corrupted by the U.S. and UK,
particularly with regard to Iraq, Palestine and Israel."
In addition to regulating the sanctions, the United Nations Special
Committee (UNSCOM) implemented programs to search for Iraq's supply of
weapons of mass destruction, eliminating over 90% of them by the late
1990s, according to Scott Ritter. It further oversaw the frequent U.S.
bombings over alleged infractions (such as when Iraqi anti-aircraft
installations switched on radar to track the incoming fighter planes).
At first such bombings took place only a few times a month, but in the
nine months leading to this year's invasion, American and British planes
pummeled Iraqi territory on a daily basis in preparation for the war
and the UN said nothing.
In 1998, the UN stood by with arms folded when President Clinton
unilaterally ordered UNSCOM inspectors to flee from Iraq immediately
just before a massive three-day bombing campaign that, Ritter testified,
was totally unnecessary. A few weeks later it was revealed that
Washington had placed spies in the UN inspection teams and that they
were reporting back to the Defense Intelligence Agency on a regular
Last year, President Hussein insisted that Iraq had destroyed its small
remaining stores of WMD, but consented to the return of UN inspectors
when it became apparent the Bush administration was fabricating "facts"
about the alleged weapons to justify destroying his country. Washington
assured the world the weapons were hidden there. The inspectors searched
for months but found nothing, even after the U.S. reluctantly handed
over its list of specific weapons sites. As the Bush administration
became impatient to launch an invasion, the UN weapons inspectors asked
for more time to continue their work. But when President Bush said it's
time to leave, the UN pulled out the teams without a public rebuke. The
U.S., desiring to search for the phony WMD on its own, will not allow
the inspectors to return and the UN says nothing. Six months later no
WMD has been located.
The UN Security Council did not authorize the U.S. to invade Iraq, but
it passed Resolution 1441 (threatening "serious consequences" if Iraq
deceived UN weapons inspectors) that came close enough for Bush to
convince the American people that it gave de facto approval, if not de
jure. And despite the fact that Washington's "preemptive war" was
specifically in violation of the UN Charter and unjust by all
international standards for war, the United Nations did nothing to even
criticize U.S. aggression, much less to aid the Iraqi people. Soon
after President Bush declared victory over Iraq, the UN Security Council
passed Resolution 1483 (14-0, with Syria abstaining) recognizing the
U.S. and its satellite, Great Britain, as the "occupying authorities"
and giving Washington control of Iraq's enormous oil reserves.
President Bush and his neo-conservative cronies despise the United
Nations, but use the organization whenever it can further their imperial
interests, as the UN has done with increasing frequently in recent
years, especially following the implosion of the USSR and the socialist
group of nations. Thus, the UN was ignored when it came to invading
Iraq but the White House assigned a small role to the world organization
in terms of the occupation, partly to help out and partly to camouflage
a reprehensible unilateral deed with the patina of respectable
With President Bush's enthusiastic backing, Secretary General Annan sent
De Mello to Baghdad on the basis of Resolution 1483 to become involved
in Iraq's reconstruction, with special emphasis on bringing political
peace to the country. His principal task was to assist Paul Bremer, who
controls non-military activities in Iraq through Washington's Coalition
Provisional Authority (CPA).
De Mello's first responsibility was to help Bremer form a puppet
government a job he tackled with considerable skill. He received much
of the credit for forming the 25-person Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), a
collection of representatives from various religious and secular
organizations that claim, at least for now, to support the U.S. invasion
and occupation of their own country. De Mello also toured the Mideast
to gain support for the legitimacy of the IGC from a number of Arab
governments that usually kowtow to Washington but which may have had
doubts about being associated with so flagrant a political fiction. He
was quite successful, even though all the council members were
hand-picked by Bremer and the Pentagon and the council itself cannot
make a decision without U.S. approval.
Accompanying members of the IGC to UN headquarters in New York in early
August, De Mello informed the Security Council that "We now have an
institution that, while not democratically elected, can be viewed as
broadly representative of the various constituencies in Iraq. It means
we now have a formal body of senior and distinguished Iraqi
counterparts, with credibility and authority, with whom we can chart the
way forward." The Security Council "welcomed" the Governing Council
with Resolution 1500. A week later, De Mello on leave as the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights in order to act as the world
organization's special representative to Iraq died in the Baghdad
The U.S. invasion, the Baghdad bombing and the movement debate over UN
involvement in Iraq have brought forward a number of criticisms of the
After the bombing, former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali,
who was essentially dumped by the U.S. because he did not bend the knee
with sufficient grace, told the BBC that U.S. influence has created
"the perception in a great part of the Third World that the United
Nations... is a system of discrimination" against their interests. In
March, as President Bush was launching his war, he told the Guardian
(UK), that "The United Nations is just an instrument at the service of
American policy. They will use it when they need to, through a
multilateral approach and if they don't need it, they will act outside
the framework of the United Nations. Of course with a military budget
that is equivalent to that of all the permanent members of the security
council together, they can afford to."
James Petras, the long-time SUNY Binghamton professor and expert in
Latin American developments, wrote Aug. 24 in an article on the bombing
that: "The UN has moved very far from its original founding principles.
At one time the UN stood for peace, social justice and
self-determination and opposed colonial wars, pillage of national wealth
and colonial rule. Given the active partisan role of the UN in Iraq, in
creating a political framework compatible with prolonged U.S. colonial
rulership it is not at all a mystery why the Iraqi resistance targeted
the UN building just as it targets the imperial army and the oil
On Aug. 29, Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for The Nation, wrote in
CounterPunch, "These days, UN functionaries such as Annan and the late
[Sergio Vieira de Mello] know full well that their careers depend on
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal
think-tank, and a progressive commentator on world events, said Aug.
21: "The UN should never have agreed to participate under the authority
of [the U.S.] occupation force. To do so provides a political fig leaf
for an illegal occupation.... Under the Geneva Conventions it remains
the responsibility of the U.S. and UK as the occupying powers, not the
United Nations, to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi
people.... The UN should pull out of Iraq, and refuse to return until
the U.S. ends its occupation."
At this point, the liberal demand for a major UN role under the U.S.
occupation is gaining strength within the establishment political
system. The Bush administration, in a panic as its political-military
position in Iraq deteriorates, is now willing to entertain a role for
the international organization including lending the UN's name to a
multinational military force (under U.S. control) in order to secure
its rule in Baghdad. The "opposition" Democrats also appear to be
jumping on the UN bandwagon, with many top politicians finally speaking
out critically by opportunistically blaming the Bush administration, not
for starting the war but for bungling it.
Much of the activist antiwar movement appears to remain committed to a
"U.S. Out Now" perspective, postponing any UN role until after
occupation troops are withdrawn. This will be the stance of the Oct.
25 mass demonstrations in Washington and other cities. Sectors of the
movement, however, are pushing for UN intervention on "humanitarian"
grounds, even under the Bush administration's continuing occupation. It
remains possible the peace forces could split over this question, thus
weakening the movement and playing into Bush's hands by covering the
crimes of his ever so red, white and blue invasion with the light blue
flag of the United Nations.
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