Global Policy Forum

UN Demands to Know What 'Vital Role' Will Be

April 25, 2004

The Security Council will meet in New York on Tuesday to hear a report from the United Nations' special envoy in Baghdad, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is expected to try to clarify the future nature of the UN's role in Iraq.

Both Washington and London are increasingly emphasising that the UN will take much of the responsibility for Iraq after a withdrawal of direct American control at the end of June. Brahimi has been putting together a new Iraqi Governing Council, which he believes will be more acceptable and more independent of political pressures than the existing one. The current IGC has been heavily influenced by Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi financier who has until recently been Washington's favourite and has become increasingly unpopular in Iraq.

It is clear that both President George Bush and Tony Blair are keen to shift the burden to the UN, and both their governments have repeatedly invoked the name of Brahimi in the last two weeks, talking about the UN's 'vital role'. The intense anti-American feeling of Iraqis, particularly in Falluja, has made Bush and Paul Bremer, his proconsul in Baghdad, more anxious to invoke the UN as a power which will be more acceptable to the Iraqis - particularly with the prospect of continuing American casualties during an election campaign.

But both Brahimi and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan are concerned that the Western powers are not giving the UN the necessary backing, or defining the role of the UN, at a time when the American military appear to be taking most of the decisions. And they will insist that they cannot take full responsibility for Iraq, and that the Security Council must make clear the nature of the 'vital role'. Brahimi has already expressed his concern in Baghdad about the 'collective punishment' by the US military in Falluja and elsewhere that has alienated and exasperated Iraqi moderates. He has also openly criticised the American policy of 'de-Baathification' which has excluded most of the ablest Iraqi civilians from reconstruction and administration - a policy which this week was only partly modified by Bremer.

But the American generals, who reported directly to the Pentagon, have shown themselves unwilling to listen to the UN, while in Washington the Pentagon continues to be at loggerheads with the State Department under Colin Powell, who is much closer to the UN's thinking.

Annan's position has been weakened by the continuing revelations of corruption within the UN's past 'oil-for-food' programme before the Iraq war, which allowed large sums to be siphoned off by Saddam Hussein. US opponents of the UN have sought to play up this scandal to weaken the UN's position. But these failures were already well known at the time to Washington, while the pre-war sanctions against Iraq inevitably strengthened rather than weakened Saddam's hold.

UN officials are concerned that Washington will now regard the UN as a useful receptacle to take the blame after 30 June for future disasters inside Iraq, while the US military will be free to suppress resistance in their own way, making it much harder for the new ruling council to exercise their authority.

These cross-purposes will give a special urgency to Tuesday's meeting which will lead on to private discussions between the member states, followed by the preparation of a new resolution which will hopefully be approved by the end of May.

But whatever the content and progress of this resolution, the UN will require a much more effective definition of its scope and duties before it can be expected to take further responsibility for the future of Iraq.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on the UN Role in Post-War Iraq


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