Reassessing the U.N.'s Role in Occupied Iraq
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 5, 2003
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Interview with Nathaniel Hurd, independent consultant to the United Nations, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/hurd090503.ram
The powerful bomb which destroyed United Nations' headquarters in Baghdad Aug. 19, killing 20, including the U.N.'s top diplomat in Iraq, Sergio de Mello, has caused many to reflect on the world body's role in the war-torn nation now under American-British occupation. The deteriorating security situation inside Iraq has prompted many U.N. and aid workers with nongovernmental organizations to head home.
With more than a dozen attacks carried out against coalition troops daily by a shadowy guerrilla force, an increasing number of military analysts and politicians are calling for additional American soldiers to be sent to Iraq. But the Bush administration has thus far resisted pressure to deploy more than the 139,000 U.S. troops already stationed inside Iraq.
In the days after the U.N. bombing, the White House seized on the tragic loss of life to solicit support to send additional troops and aid to Iraq, from a skeptical Security Council. However, nations such as France, Germany, India and Pakistan are resisting pressure to place their troops under U.S. command, preferring instead to be part of a mission sanctioned by the U.N.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Nathaniel Hurd, an independent consultant to the United Nations, who assesses the fallout from the U.N. bombing and the obstacles ahead for the U.S. in stabilizing Iraq and gaining international cooperation.
Nathaniel Hurd: Clearly there were a lot of warnings prior to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation that any parties -- the U.N. or other who were associated with the invasion and/or occupation -- would potentially be targets. I think that as far as the U.N. was concerned, because the U.N. at least in areas of humanitarian assistance, political transition, etc. aims toward impartiality and is there really to serve and to assist, generally the U.N. has not been subject to this kind of attack in the past because of its activities and because of its reputation. But clearly that was not the case, I think you were dealing with a very different situation, really almost an unprecedented situation in which the U.N. was following in on the heels of an unprovoked invasion that most of the world opposed.
Between The Lines: The identity of the individuals or organizations behind this bombing is not yet known. But what's your guess as to the motivation in targeting the United Nations? Was it to disrupt the U.S. occupation by way of targeting the U.N. and by extension, all the international aid that was being funneled through the U.N. or was it more particularly directed at the U.N. and its role in Iraq over the past 12 years?
Nathaniel Hurd: You mention the 12-year engagement with Iraq. The U.N. again was put in a rather awkward position. You obviously had the Gulf War and all the damage that ensued from that resulting in a public health catastrophe. You had the continuation of Security Council economic sanctions which gave rise to and then maintained a humanitarian disaster, a well-documented one. So, certainly Iraqis on the one hand viewed the U.N. as there to serve and so forth, and on the other hand, not really taking a firm stand in the face of sanctions' consequences.
But at the same time, with the exception of one shooting incident, the U.N. was not attacked during its 12 years in Iraq up until now, and again, this really in part has to do with coming on the heels of the invasion and occupation and being perceived as somehow complicit in that. But I think in this case, as you pointed out, we don't know who did this, it's all a matter of speculation. But the perception of the U.N. as helping an occupier may have been part of it. Another part of it may have been to send a message to countries who were considering sending troops to Iraq to assist in providing security that perhaps they ought to think twice, that there are parties in Iraq who are willing to target anyone, including U.N. personnel. So I think there are any number of plausible explanations but again, it's all speculation at this point.
Between The Lines: What can you tell us about what's happening at the U.N. now in terms of the United States trying to pass resolutions within the Security Council that might entice some countries like Germany, Russia and France back into a post-war role in Iraq?
Nathaniel Hurd: Well, they're certainly trying to entice, but at the moment, no one's biting. The U.S. basically wants a very odd kind of burden sharing in which other countries contribute troops, but those troops will be under U.S. control. A burden-sharing arrangement whereby other countries provide money, but the U.S. controls the money and this is totally unpalatable to almost all of the countries to whom the U.S. has put these kinds of requests. And the big ones in particular, Pakistan, India, France, Germany etc., it's a non-starter to say that troops would be under U.S. control and it's also a non-starter it seems that the U.S would be controlling donated funds.
Another issue, though, has to do with the process on the ground, and a lot of countries are insisting that there be a shift away from "occupation" effectively to an international stabilization force in the interim before Iraqi security institutions are built and that a political transition process be clarified as well.
Between The Lines: Do you believe the Bush administration is going to budge in the near future under international pressure as well as the pressure of continuing guerrilla attacks and the deaths of increasing numbers of U.S. soldiers?
Nathaniel Hurd: I'm not very optimistic because there are some indications that the administration actually has potentially a very high tolerance level for military fatalities. Last year, there was an interesting article in the New Yorker magazine in which their man in Washington, Nicholas Lemann was lunching with a senior administration official who spoke approvingly of a study that was done by an academic consortium on this question of military fatalities. The conclusion of the study was that the civilian population here in the U.S. would be willing to tolerate up to 30,000 military fatalities -- not just casualties, but fatalities -- in a campaign to disarm Iraq.
The second major conclusion was that the primary issue was packaging the message. If the mission was properly explained, the population would have a very high tolerance for military fatalities. So there's that and then of course, you remember the experience of the Johnson administration during Vietnam, where bodies of American soldiers were coming home quite regularly and yet, the administration just dug its heels in and it was quite some time before it decided to change course.
For more information and analysis on the U.S. occupation of Iraq, contact the group Occupation Watch at (415) 255-7296 or visit their website at http://www.occupationwatch.org
Related links on our website at:
- "Killing of Ayatollah Is Start of Iraqi Civil War,"by William O. Beeman, Pacific News Service, Aug. 29, 2003
- "Halliburton's Deals Greater Than Thought," by Michael Dobbs Washington Post, Aug. 28, 2003
- "U.S. Weighs U.N. Command in Iraq, but With a Condition," by Douglas Jehl, The New York Times, Aug. 27, 2003
- "Accord Still Beyond Reach for UN Resolution on Iraq," by Bryan Bender, The Boston Globe, Aug. 26, 2003
- "Is a Perfect Storm Brewing for Bush?" Reuters, Aug. 24, 2003
- U.N. Members Push Back on Call to Share More of Iraq Burden," The Associated Press, Aug. 22, 2003
- "Massive Explosion at U.N. Headquarters in Iraq," www.truthout.org, Aug. 18, 2003, CBS video in RealVideo (needs RealOne Player), and "At Least 14 Are Killed in Bombing of U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad, " by Dexter Filkins and Richard A. Oppel Jr., The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2003
- Bring Them Home Now campaign at http://www.bringthemhomenow.org
- Military Families Speak Out at http://www.mfso.org
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Sept. 5, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.
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