United Nations Archive 1

Can the UN Save the US and Iraq?


By Bill Miller

Lately, the only trickle of good news out of Iraq is that the number of suicide bombings has decreased, fewer American troops have been killed and the troop “surge” may have temporarily driven the insurgents underground.

Conversely, the Niagara Falls of negative news is overwhelming: part of Iraq’s electrical and water systems are on the verge of collapse; experts estimate that 600,000 to 1 million Iraqis ( of a total 27 million) have died since the unnecessary and ill-advised US led invasion; more than 3,600 American troops and over 1,000 private contractors have been killed; according the US Government Accountability Office, the military lost track of at least 110,000 AK-47s and pistols given to Iraqi security forces; the cost of the war has mushroomed to about $12 billion per month, with a projected total price tag between $1 to 2 trillion dollars; the Middle East is more destabilized; the US National Intelligence Estimate Report indicated that Al Qaida and other terrorist groups are strengthening; Iran’s influence is growing; the resignation of key Sunni ministers brings the government closer to collapse; billions of dollars have been fraudulently wasted, and the list goes on.

The Bush Administration, which has consistently sidelined the UN from being too involved in Iraq, is apparently desperate to try both innovative approaches and new partners to stem the downward spiral. The US leadership at the UN — under the highly-qualified, coalition builder US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (as opposed to his heavy-handed, arrogant predecessor John Bolton) — helped cobble together a united front at the UN.

One — and maybe the last — glimmer of hope for Iraq emanates from the UN Security Council, which unanimously adopted a resolution to increase the UN’s involvement in Iraq. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “the (UN) was deeply committed to helping the Iraqi people… in crucial areas such as national reconciliation, regional dialogue, humanitarian assistance and human rights” through the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).”

The UN can provide invaluable assistance in these areas, as well as working with the Iraqi government in political, economic, electoral and constitutional projects. The UN would probably not be helpful in providing peacekeeping troops since this war is so unpopular in most countries that might provide troops to a peacekeeping mission. Also, the UN has neither the administrative capacity nor funding for such a large operation.

Specifically, the UN could:

— Serve as a neutral broker, undertake some very tricky international, regional and domestic mediation among warring parties and hostile countries that could possibly assist Iraq or refrain from de-stabilizing the area. Khalilzad enhanced the UN role when he indicated that the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a key Shiite religious leader, would talk to the UN representative, but not to the US’s. The UN has credibility, the US does not.

— Encourage the Iraqi Parliament to adopt a hydrocarbon law, reform the de-Bathification law and review the constitution. This is a potential minefield for the UN, especially if it is viewed as a US puppet that pushes unpopular policies to privatize Iraq’s natural resources. 63% of the Iraqis oppose foreign control of the oil fields.

A greater UN presence is contingent upon the US and its rapidly dwindling coalition to provide security, which is the number one challenge. Another potential impediment to this buildup is with the UN Staff Council that has called on the secretary general to pull all UN personnel out of the country until security improves. The UN staff union has little confidence that the US can provide sufficient security for the UN personnel. Ironically, the US State Department is confronting the same challenge recruiting career Foreign Service Officers who do not want to serve in Iraq.

After the UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in August of 2003 (killing 22 of its best international public administrators), the UN took a low profile. Although it has not gotten much media publicity, there are currently 16 UN agencies operating quietly below the radar screen that are involved in helping to stabilize the chaos and improve the quality of life in Iraq.

Just a few examples of the UN activities include launching an “International Compact with Iraq”, which is a partnership with the international community over the next five years; setting-up three democratic elections and developing an equitable national constitution; immunizing 4 million children against measles, mumps and Rubella; providing basic services in health and nutrition, water and environmental sanitation, and child protection; assisting refugees, as well as working on educational, scientific and cultural projects.

The vast majority of the 192 UN member countries correctly believed that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs); did not participate in the horrendous 9-11 attacks; was not an imminent threat to the US or Israel; and, did not have an operational link to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Regardless, it appears most of the UN members are willing to focus on the future and aid Iraq, rather than blaming the US for illegally invading a sovereign country.

Recent polls show that, both at home and abroad, the Iraqi invasion is being depicted as a disastrous US foreign policy blunder. Most respondents believe the war will not end by ushering in democracy and peace for the Iraqi people. Regardless, the new UN-US partnership offers an excellent opportunity to accomplish:

— A more positive working relationship between the US and the UN, which could ultimately lead to a greater reliance on the UN to deal with future problems

— A new public administration arrangement that involves several UN countries and UN agencies that would not only share the burden, but also participate in the decision-making

The caveat is that the UN will have to be on guard as not to be co-opted by the US. Many UN watchers believe the US will be eager to blame the UN when anything goes wrong and dump as much of the Iraqi mess on the UN as possible.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a recent interview on the “Charlie Rose Show,” indicated his greatest disappointment was that “…we (UN) could not stop the war in Iraq.” Irrefutably, when Ban Ki-moon retires, he would probably like to cite his greatest accomplishment as helping end the tragedy in Iraq. Hopefully, it is not too late.


Bill Miller, former Chair of the UN Association of the USA's Council of Chapter and Division Presidents, is the accredited Washington International journalist covering the UN and is the Producer/Moderator of “Global Connections Television.”