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October 2003 • Vol 3, No. 9 •

The Politics of the UN

By James Petras

The bombing of the United Nations compound in Iraq has provoked anger, sorrow, bombastic bluster from the Bush Administration and unreflective promises to “carry on the humanitarian mission” from the Secretary General Kofi Annam. Debate and discussion, to the degree that it has appeared in the mass media focuses on who was responsible for the “security lapses”—the UN and its supporters pointing to the incompetence of the U.S. occupation army, the U.S. officials blaming the UN officials for negligence. These discussions are secondary technical matters and fail to deal with the deeper political reasons behind the attack on the UN.

The pro-Israeli neo-conservatives in Washington predictably attribute the UN bombing to Arab-Islamic-terrorism and lump together the bombing of an Israeli bus and the UN as justification for greater U.S. and Israeli violence. The center-left praise the diplomatic and humanistic virtues of the UN’s special representative in Iraq, Sergio Viera de Mello and with unblinking incomprehension claim that the bombing harmed the cause of the Iraqi people and set back the process of national reconstruction.

Both UN and U.S. officials, neo-conservatives and center-left intellectuals fail to analyze the actual political role of the United Nations in Iraq and particularly the partisan political role of Sergio Viera de Mello, which might have provoke the attack.

The United Nations led by Kofi Annam has not played an impartial role in the U.S.-Iraq conflict. For over a decade the UN supported economic sanctions against Iraq, causing over 1 million Iraqi deaths—mostly children—and the resignation of two top UN officials in protest. UN inspectors oversaw the disarming of Iraqi defenses and ignored or approved the U.S.-British bombing of Iraq for over 12 years. Up to the final hour of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the entire attention of the UN was directed toward pressuring the Iraqi government to accept U.S. demands, not condemning U.S. war preparations, even as the Security Council did ultimately refuse to give approval to the unilateral U.S. invasion. The historical record of the decade preceding the invasion clearly puts the UN on the side of the U.S., to the point that several of the UN inspectors were identified as working with the CIA and conducting searches and providing strategic information to U.S. military intelligence.

To this some writers may object and argue that UN-U.S. collaboration was a thing of the past, and that after the U.S. military conquest the UN has not supported the colonial occupation and promoted a transition to democratic self-rule. Published documents, official interviews and UN resolutions present a far different picture. One in which the UN accepted and worked with U.S. colonial ruler, Paul Bremer in an attempt to consolidate U.S. control of the occupied country.

After the disastrous month in office of the first U.S. colonial governor Garner, and his replacement by Paul Bremer, it became clear even to the most tenacious and bloody militarist in the Pentagon that imperial rule was resulting in a powerful resistance movement of all sectors of Iraqi society and the total isolation of the U.S. colonial regime from every Arab, Muslim or European regime (except England and of course Israel).

The Bush Administration was adamant in its demand for total power in Iraq, but was willing to allow the UN to operate under U.S. rule. Annam dispatched Viera de Mello to work with the U.S. colonial governor, Bremer, and de Mello was a brilliant political success in terms that were advantageous to U.S. colonial power. Viera de Mello’s UN mission was to collaborate with Bremer and directed toward creating an advisory junta (Interim Iraqi National Council) that would provide a fig leaf for U.S. colonial control.

Operating under Resolution 1483 passed by the Security Council on May 22, 2003, de Mello was assigned eight areas of activity, all of which had to do with the “reconstruction” of the country especially in the political sphere. De Mello was active in enticing tribal leaders, conservative clerics as well as exile prodigies of the Pentagon, to form the junta, with the proviso that the U.S. colonial governor approved all of its members, and that all approved the U.S. invasion and occupation. In effect de Mello organized a powerless collection of self-appointed elites who had no credibility in Iraq or legitimacy among the Iraqi populace, to serve as window dressing for U.S. colonial rule.

Once the U.S. approved junta was in place, de Mello traveled throughout the Middle East trying to convince neighboring countries that the U.S. “creation,” opposed by the majority of Iraqis, was a legitimate and representative “transitional regime.” De Mello’s main argument was that the U.S. appointed junta was a “governing” and not merely an “advisory” body; an argument that convinced nobody, least of all the U.S. officials handing out contracts to Halliburton Corporation and organizing the privatization of Iraqi oil. And certainly not the U.S. military terrorizing and shooting innocent Iraqi civilians.

Both UN resolution 1483 in pursuit of “reconstruction” under U.S. colonial rule and de Mello’s active role in promoting and defending the U.S. puppet interim regime were not disinterested humanitarian activities. These were political positions—commitments that involved acceptance of U.S. colonial rule, and a clear and deliberate decision to use the United Nations as a vehicle for legitimating imperial rulership via an impotent and corrupt junta rejected by the Iraqi people.

De Mello was certainly aware of the concentration of power in the hands of Bremer, he was certainly aware that the Iraqi people—who were never given a voice or vote in its selection, rejected the junta; he actively participated in excluding any anti-colonial critics from the council. His close working relationship with Paul Bremer, the U.S. ruler of Iraq, certainly undermined any pretense that the United Nations was an independent force in Iraq. In the eyes of the Iraqis and two former top UN officials (Boutros Gali and Denis Halliday) the UN and in particular Kofi Annam and de Mello were appendages of U.S. colonial power.

Denis Halliday, the former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq recently stated that the bombing of the UN in Iraq was payback for collusion with the U.S. On August 24, 2003 in an interview with The Sunday Herald (Scotland) he noted that “further collaboration” between the UN and the U.S. and Britain “would be a disaster for the United Nations as it would be sucked into supporting the illegal occupation of Iraq…. The UN has been drawn into being an arm of the U.S.—a division of the State Department. Kofi Annam was appointed and supported by the U.S. and that has [further] corrupted the independence of the UN.”

In an interview with the BBC, Boutros Boutros Ghali, former Secretary General of the UN, speaking in the aftermath of the bombing, stated. “the perception in a great part of the Third World is that the United Nations, because of the American (sic) influence…is a system which discriminated (against) many countries of the Third World.” George Monbiot of the British newspaper The Guardian (August 25, 2003) observes, “The U.S. government has made it perfectly clear that the UN may operate in Iraq only as a subcontractor. Foreign troops will take their orders from Washington.” None of these remarks appeared in any form in any of the U.S. mass media.

The UN has moved very far from its original founding principles. As one time the UN stood for peace, social justice and self-determination and opposed colonial wars, pillage of national wealth and colonial rule.1 Given the active partisan role of the UN in Iraq, in creating a political framework compatible with prolonged U.S. colonial rule, it is not at all a mystery why the Iraqi resistance targeted the UN building just as it targets the imperial army and the oil pipelines up for sale to U.S. and European multinational corporations. Having taken sides with the U.S., it is the height of hypocrisy for top UN officials to claim to be innocent victims. Just as it is deceptive for U.S. and UN officials to claim that the anti-colonial resistance is made up of “foreigners,” Saddam Hussein “remnants,” Al Qaeda terrorists, Sunni extremists or Iranian Shiites.

The resistance is not confined to areas where Saddam Hussein was popular, nor is it limited to areas of Sunni believers; it is in the north and south, east and west, covering all ethnic and religious regions and enclaves. The resistance is national, indigenous and based on opposition to U.S. colonial occupation, destruction of infrastructure and the physical and psychological degradation of 23 million Iraqis. While the Iraqis suffer from 80 percent unemployment and go without clean water, food and electricity, high UN officials draw salaries between $80,000 to $150,000 a year, are chauffeured in luxury cars and SUV’s, work in air conditioned offices and dine on fresh imported food in comfortable apartments or villas—enjoying the best of colonial life. One does not need to introduce the Al Qaeda hypothesis to understand how political and personal resentment against these self-important imperial collaborators could boil over into a violent attack.

It is clear to many in the Middle East that the UN has become a bogus body of vassal agencies run by hand picked functionaries like de Mello, whose charm and cleverness does not compensate for their collaboration in U.S. empire building. For a growing number of professionals, journalists and particularly ordinary people it is becoming clear that the United Nations has lost its independence and utility as a force for peace. Increasingly social movements and Third World nations are looking to new international organizations and forums to pursue the principles, which the UN has betrayed. The new body will have to renounce the elitist character of the current UN with its two tiered system of voting and power; it will have to reject membership to countries which embrace “preventive” wars of conquest and colonial rule and pillage of national resources. In a word the new international organization and its secretary-general must not be an appendage of Washington—if it wishes to avoid the tragedy of the UN—a body which started with great ideals and ended as a cynical manipulator of ideals in the services of imperial power.

1 The UN has indeed shifted significantly from its original pretence of being independent of U.S. domination. But to say that the “UN [once] stood for peace, social justice, pillage of national wealth and colonial rule,” is belied by its role as a surrogate military and political force in the service of U.S.-led world imperialism from the time of its inception to the present day. However, it cannot be denied that the U.S.-led United Nations always did its dirty work under the banner of “peace, social justice and humanitarianism.”





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