UNITED NATIONS (IPS/GIN)–The massive bomb attack on the UN compound in Baghdad on Aug. 19 was an assault on an institution that is increasingly perceived as a political mouthpiece of the United States, say some Middle East experts and U.S. academics.
The suicide bombing killed Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN chief Kofi Annan’s special representative in Iraq and one of the highest ranking officials in the UN hierarchy, along with at least 17 other people–14 of them UN staff.
“This is yet another indication of the very low esteem by which most Iraqis–and indeed many Arabs and Muslims–hold the United Nations,” says As’ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University.
He pointed out that many Iraqis associate the United Nations with “the devastating sanctions and food rations imposed on their country by the U.S. government.” The UN also endorsed the U.S.-led war in 1991 in which an estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians died.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan “has succeeded in turning this great organization into a tool for U.S. foreign policy, and the poor UN workers have paid a dear price,” Mr. AbuKhalil said.
He said that Mr. Annan has offered sermons in New York about the ills of Palestinian violence, “and yet the Arab world was astonished to see him silent over U.S. bombing and occupation of one country after another: Afghanistan, and then Iraq.” The UN was similarly silent during the U.S. invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s.
Despite the attack, the United Nations is “determined to continue its work in Iraq,” UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters recently. More than 100 people were reported injured in the attack on a hotel that houses UN offices.
“The many who were injured were gravely injured,” Mr. Eckhard said, raising the possibility that the final death toll might be much higher.
“The loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello is a bitter blow for the United Nations, and for me personally,” Mr. Annan said in a statement released in Europe, where he was vacationing.
The United Nations has become a willing tool of the United States, said Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois. “For these reasons, the United Nations has come to be seen as part of the U.S.-UK belligerent occupation regime in Iraq and thus an appropriate target for indigenous resistance.”
Mr. Annan, added Mr. Boyle, “has basically served as an errand boy for the United States,” despite the UN Charter, which establishes the UN Secretariat as one of the six independent organs of the United Nations.
Mr. Boyle, author of the forthcoming “Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11”, said the last two Security Council resolutions on Iraq have demonstrated “how subservient the United Nations itself has become to the imperialist designs of the United States.”
Recently, the 15-member Security Council adopted a resolution, by a vote of 14-0, virtually recognizing the Iraqi Governing Council, a 25-member political body created by the United States and imposed on the Iraqi people.
The Council also decided to create a new UN Mission for Iraq, putting all UN activities under a single umbrella.
“The attack on the UN compound seems calculated to undermine the credibility of U.S. rule in Iraq by trying to demonstrate that the occupation authorities are not only unable to deliver services to the public but also unable to preserve law and order,” says Naseer Aruri, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts.
UN headquarters was not only a “soft target,” but it is also seen as a symbol of an unwelcome external intervention in Iraq, in complicity with the U.S. military occupation.
The bomb attack might have also been intended “to discourage any future dispatch of multilateral forces to Iraq–peacekeeping or so-called nation-building–and let the Americans assume all the burden, get bogged down in the quagmire and eventually abandon ship,” Mr. Aruri told IPS.
Rahul Mahajan, author of “The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism”, said the attack on the UN compound “is an unfortunate but predictable–and predicted–consequence of U.S. military strategy in Iraq.”
In July, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, warned his troops to prepare for the possibility of car bombings in Iraq. “They are going after softer targets, because they know they’re ineffective against military targets,” Maj. Gen. Odierno was quoted as saying.
Mr. Mahajan said the Aug. 19 attack is the latest development in the predictable logic of the “war on terrorism.”
Since the 1990s, U.S. military planners have known that “America’s unrivaled military superiority means that potential enemies that choose to attack us will be more likely to resort to terror instead of conventional military assault,” he added.
“Without knowing more about the planners of these attacks, it is impossible to speculate on what this means for Iraqi attitudes regarding foreigners and the United Nations.”
But historically, Mr. Mahajan said, the Iraqis have been a cosmopolitan people who are very welcoming to foreigners.
Mr. Eckhard said that security in Iraq was the primary responsibility of the occupying powers.
“We have to ask the question: ‘How safe is Iraq for the hundreds of UN staffers?’ That assessment has yet to be made,” he added.
But Guy R. Candusso, a member of the UN Staff Council’s standing committee on security and independence, said his committee has demanded “a full investigation to determine why adequate security was not in place to prevent a horrifying act.”
“We have called on the secretary-general to suspend all operations in Iraq and withdraw his staff until such time as measures are taken to improve security,” he added.
According to Mr. Eckhard, about 300 international civil servants work for the world body and its agencies in Iraq, including the World Food Program, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Responding to questions, Mr. Eckhard said that political neutrality was the centerpiece of the UN’s operations everywhere. “But this is seen as a target for some.”
He stressed that UN staff members are apolitical. “UN policy is determined by the Security Council,” he added.
Following a meeting on Aug. 20, the Council issued a statement condemning “in the strongest terms this terrorist attack.”
“Such terrorist incidents cannot break the will of the international community to further intensify its efforts to help the people of Iraq,” the Council said.