It wasn't last year's bomb but American policy which destroyed the UN's
hopes in Iraq
"Even before that awful bomb ripped through our Baghdad headquarters on
August 19 2003, taking the lives of 22 of my colleagues, the UN mission
in Iraq had already become marginal to the epic crisis being played out
there. Iraq had become the centre of both the US war on terror and the
war between the extremities of two civilisations. The vicious terrorist
attack a year ago today surprised no one working for Sergio Vieira de
Mello, the UN secretary general's special representative. Indeed, the UN
chiefs of communication in Iraq had met that morning to hammer out a
plan to counter the intensifying perception among Iraqis that our
mission was simply an adjunct of the US occupation.
"Little did the Iraqis know that the reality was quite the opposite: by
August, the UN mission had grown very distant from the Americans. The
intense early relationship that Sergio, the world's most brilliant
negotiator of post-conflict crises, had fashioned with Paul Bremer, the
US proconsul, had already fractured. Contact was intermittent now that
Bremer's coalition provisional authority (CPA) could deal directly with
the Iraqis whom it had appointed, with Sergio's help, to the governing
council. General dismay over occupation tactics aside, Sergio had
already parted company with Bremer over key issues such as the need for
electoral affirmation of a new constitution, and the arrest and
conditions of detention of the thousands imprisoned at Abu Ghraib prison.
"The low point came at the end of July last year, when, astonishingly,
the US blocked the creation of a fully fledged UN mission in Iraq.
Sergio believed that this mission was vital and had thought the CPA also
supported it. Clearly, the Bush administration had eagerly sought a UN
presence in occupied Iraq as a legitimising factor rather than as a
partner that could mediate the occupation's early end, which we knew was
essential to averting a major conflagration ...
"But by mid-August, a restless and discouraged Sergio had begun to breach
the protocol. Two days before the bombing, he told a Brazilian
journalist that Iraqis felt humiliated by the occupation, asking him how
Brazilians would feel if foreign tanks were patrolling Rio de Janeiro's
thoroughfares. And on the day of the bombing, Sergio was going to issue
a statement criticising the killing by US soldiers of the Reuters
cameraman Mazen Dana as he filmed an incident outside Abu Ghraib prison.
That statement saved my life. Sergio asked me to add additional
information about other unlawful killings, which made me miss the 4pm
meeting that was the target of that attack. Six of the seven
participants were killed, and the seventh lost both legs and an arm.
"August 19 2003 is a pivotal moment UN history, not merely because of the
unprecedented viciousness of the attack, but because of the lack of an
Iraqi, Arab and Muslim outcry over the atrocity. This near silence
exposed the depths to which the organisation's standing had sunk in the
Middle East a result of its inability to contain or even condemn the
militaristic excesses of US and Israeli policies in the post-9/11
period. The UN is generally considered to be too willing to do the US's
bidding, and its rare challenge on the Iraq war authorisation was
quickly forgotten once subsequent resolutions pushed the American
project in Iraq. Spectacularly egregious was the security council
approval of a Spanish resolution condemning Eta for the Madrid bombings
when most suspected al-Qaida. This cavalier use of supposedly hallowed
security council resolutions was only possible because of support from
the US, which wished to protect the Aznar government from electoral defeat ..."
· Salim Lone was director of communications for the UN mission in Iraq
headed by the late Sergio Vieira de Mello
Source: The Guardian, Thursday August 19, 2004