Austin Bay

Four years after an explosives-packed suicide cement truck blew up and destroyed the U.N. headquarters building in Baghdad, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to expand its operation in Iraq.

The Aug. 19, 2003, terror bombing wounded over a hundred people and murdered 22. The dead included the distinguished Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was serving as the United Nations' "special representative" in post-Saddam Iraq. Then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had prevailed on de Mello to take the job. De Mello viewed himself as a diplomat with a lot of experience in "the field" -- which he once described in an essay as a place where he had "seen the best and worst of what we have to offer each other."

Everyone who has worked in the world's various hells understands that confronting them requires charity, mercy, discipline, courage and sacrifice. That was de Mello's point and why he went to Iraq.

In the wake of the 2003 massacre, the United Nations effectively withdrew from Iraq, maintaining an office in Jordan and a flickering presence in Baghdad. In July 2004, I visited the United Nations' plywood-walled cubbyhole in the Green Zone. An Australian Army colonel and a British Army lieutenant colonel manned the office. The office had a U.N. sign on the door. We drank tea from mugs with U.N. logos.

Arguably, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 (passed on June 8, 2004) ratified the general thrust of U.S. political development policy in Iraq. It mapped a route to full Iraqi sovereignty and stated that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) would play a leading role in elections, "consensus building," national reconciliation, and judicial and legal reform.

The U.N. Elections Assistance Division (UNEAD) did provide technical support to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. Its election work received scant attention, which was probably intentional. The lack of fanfare curbed political criticism both outside and inside Iraq.

The United Nations has many Iraqi critics. Iraqi Shias assert it actually supported Saddam and helped him rob Iraq of its resources. The United Nations' corrupt Oil for Food program certainly financed Saddam's palaces. Claims of U.N. "moral authority" elicit a snicker. Kurds also argue the United Nations collaborated with Saddam's regime.

Iraqi Sunni Arab organizations, however, regard the United Nations as a potential ally. Sunni Arab states have clout within the organization. Iran, which bills itself as Shia Islam's champion, has far less influence.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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