Iraq blast sparks call for UN to take charge
by Susan Webb A deadly bomb explosion at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad August 19 sparked calls for a stronger UN role in Iraq and a rapid end to the US occupation. The attack killed 20 people including the chief UN representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian who had been the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. The UN office was destroyed by the blast and 100 people were wounded. A UN spokesperson said the UN had depended on the US for the building's security. Russia's foreign ministry said the attack proved that the international community must become more heavily involved in restoring order in Iraq. "The UN is paying a price for the US occupation", Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies told the People's Weekly World. UN members overwhelmingly opposed the US war, she noted. The Bush administration had to fight to get the UN to agree to "a kind of partial legitimation" of the US occupation, and then refused to give the UN any real authority in Iraq. The solution, she said, is for the US to get out of Iraq, to be replaced a truly international UN-led peacekeeping force and an infusion of money to enable Iraqis to rebuild their country. Steven Zunes, a Middle East expert at the University of San Francisco, told the People's Weekly World the attack makes the case even stronger for turning authority for Iraq over to the UN "as a genuine UN trusteeship". He called the attack on UN humanitarian workers "particularly tragic and ironic" because they have been among the most outspoken opponents of the US war and occupation. Just days earlier, The New York Times reported that the Bush administration had dropped the idea of allowing the UN a bigger role, insisting on retaining sole control over Iraq. According to the Times, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "vehemently opposes any dilution of US military authority". But the administration is facing heavy domestic pressure, including from US troops themselves, to bring American soldiers home quickly. And US occupation head L Paul Bremer said last week that the money needed for Iraq over the next four years would be "staggering". Some estimate the amount at tens of billions of dollars. A meeting of possible "donor" countries is planned for October 24 in Madrid. But France, Germany, Russia and other key countries, who have their own interests in the region, have said they will not contribute funds unless the UN has more say in Iraq's reconstruction. France, India and others have refused to send troops without greater UN authority over peacekeeping efforts. Currently 139,000 US soldiers and 20,000 British troops are in Iraq. Other countries that have sent handfuls of troops are Albania, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine all serve under US/British command. Last week, blasts destroyed Iraq's main oil pipeline to Turkey and a Baghdad water main. Also, a Reuters journalist filming outside a US-run prison in Baghdad was shot and killed by US soldiers, sparking international protests. With US troops and Iraqis being killed and injured daily, President Bush backtracked on his May 1 photo-op statement that combat in Iraq had ended. In an August 14 interview with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, Bush interrupted the interviewer to insist that his much- publicised aircraft carrier speech referred to "major military operations" but not to "combat operations". "Because we still have combat operations going on", Bush blathered. "It's a different kind of combat mission, but, nevertheless, it's combat, just ask the kids that are over there killing and being shot at." In an apparent damage control effort, a White House spokesman said Bush was not making a distinction between combat and military operations, according to the Washington Post. In the same interview Bush claimed the US military presence in Afghanistan is being "gradually replaced" by other troops. "We've got about 10,000 troops there, which is down from, obviously, major combat operations", he said. In fact, the 10,000 US troops are the largest number of US soldiers in Afghanistan since the war there began. Bush also said Poland would send a "major contingent" of troops to Iraq. In reality, Poland has agreed to send 2400 troops, and the Pentagon will pay much of the cost. As the administration continues to play fast and loose with the truth, 112 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) bill to establish an independent commission to investigate the evidence Bush used to make the case for war. MoveOn, Win Without War, and United for Peace and Justice have launched a grassroots lobbying campaign on this issue.
* * *People's Weekly People's Weekly World, http://www.pww.org/article/view/3936