Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2004, pages 24-25
United Nations Report
Lakhdar Brahimi,Washington’s Friend-in-Need, Gains Credibility in Iraq
By Ian Williams
AT THE END of April Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan’s special representative in Iraq, arrived in New York to report to the U.N. Security Council—almost at the same time as Washington’s ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, who is about to go Iraq and replace Paul Bremer as U.S. ambassador/viceroy, was defending Brahimi before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Not only was the U.N. basking in the unusual and unexpected approbation of the Bush administration, but at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Negroponte defended the former Algerian foreign minister in the teeth of indignant attacks by Israel’s U.N. ambassador, who was, of course, leading the usual choir in Washington.
Ironically, that probably gave a big boost to Brahimi’s credibility in Iraq. He had been quoted in a French radio interview from Baghdad as saying that Israeli policies toward Palestinians, and Washington’s support for those policies, hindered his search for a transition government. “The problems are linked, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “The big poison in the region is the Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians.”
Brahimi complained of the difficulty of dealing with Iraqis in the face of “Israel’s completely violent and repressive security policy and determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory.”
In the face of Israeli complaints, Annan’s spokesman Fred Eckhard said that “the official position of the United Nations on such matters is that set out by the secretary-general in the many statements he has issued over the last seven years,” and that “The secretary-general’s views, as expressed over the last seven years, do not contain the word ”˜poison,’”
In diplomatic speak, this meant that, at most, the secretary-general may have disagreed with Brahimi’s choice of words, but it was certainly no repudiation of the diagnosis. Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman, who does not do subtlety, may have missed that point. Nevertheless, he dashed off a letter demandingof Annan “that you alert Mr. Brahimi of his misconduct, and ensure that in the future U.N. officials meet the requirements of professionalism and impartiality expected of them by the U.N. Charter and the international community.”
Somehow, repeating what most members regard as a truism left Brahimi’s reputation unscathed in New York—and considerably enhanced in Iraq. Indeed, on his arrival in New York, he was told that Gillerman had been telling delegates that Brahimi had boasted in Baghdad that he had never shaken an Israeli’s hand. Brahimi is reported to have quipped that he did not say it, and it was not true, he had shaken hands with Israelis—but was unlikely to repeat the experience with the Israeli ambassador.
Brahimi’s plan for Iraq—still very much a work in progress—so far seems very much like an Iraqi version of the Loya Jirga he resurrected in Afghanistan: a National Council of a thousand Iraqis, with a president and two vice presidents to steer the country to elections. Its members would be “technical,” and excluded from running for office in the elections, the organization of which is the interim government’s main purpose. Washington seems to be backing Brahimi in disbanding the Iraqi Governing Council, which would mean the sidelining of Ahmed Chalabi—which is why the latter is one of the major noisemakers about the Oil-For-Food problems, which Chalabi supporters in Washington have been using to attack the U.N. and its possible role in Iraq.
However, the Oil-For-Food accusations are not the only rearguard action being fought in the U.S. administration. Although work has not yet begun on drafting a new resolution, the American versions mentioned so far fall into all the traps of previous resolutions. For example, although the administration withdrew the phrase “limited sovereignty” after it had leaked on the Hill, that is precisely what they are envisaging.
It is unlikely that the Security Council will accept a “sovereign” Iraqi regime that does not have control over its own troops—let alone the foreign forces stationed there—and does not even control its own finances. Ambassador Negroponte may be a more accomplished diplomat than Bremer, but his record of supervising Contra operations in Central America suggests that he will still act more like a viceroy than an envoy. And, like Bremer, he has no previous experience in the Middle East.
One proposal being floated in Washington is almost certain to stoke up the fires among members of the Security Council still feeling bruised by last year’s American bullying. It is that UNMOVIC, the U.N. weapons inspection group, be officially disbanded, and its work completed by the American Iraqi Inspection Group. This, of course, would entail the Americans assuming the international authority to retroactively justify their invasion, and as a result is unlikely to go down well with the majority of members.
The Americans also are blithely assuming (with British connivance, naturally) that previous resolutions give them the authority to assume control of a future multinational force in Iraq. Not many others share this expansive view, nor will they acquiesce too easily to the extra-territorial privileges that the U.S. forces want to assume.
One anomaly that will be difficult to reconcile is the 20,000 or so private security guards hired by Halliburton and the like. While it is just conceivable that U.S. forces may get a Status of Forces Agreement, Halliburton’s heavily armed guards will almost certainly come under Iraqi jurisdiction—and may want to consider alternative career paths.
The U.S. is rushing through a resolution, and—a bad sign—seems to be doing it on its own, without too much consultation with the UK, which generally has a much better sense of the diplomatically possible. They hope to bring a text in by mid-May. By then, however, with the pressure of elections on the Bush administration and the looming June 30 deadline for the “transfer of power” in Iraq, opponents on the Security Council will be in a position to extract significant concessions from the White House. They will almost certainly be helped by Brahimi, who is, of course, the administration’s last hope. He and the U.N. are well aware that Washington does not want to shed power on June 30, but rather to shuck off responsibility.
The U.N.’s main role is, in fact, symbolic. It is to give the new Iraqi administration a “virgin birth,” free of all taint of occupational sin. Brahimi’s picking the new National Council and disbanding the occupation-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, on behalf of the U.N., are an essential part of breaking the chain of Quislinghood that otherwise would forever haunt ensuing Iraqi governments.
This, of course, does not supersede the U.N.’s other function for the White House—its accustomed role as scapegoat, essential in an election year, 12 months after the president somewhat hastily declared an end to hostilities on the decks of the USS Abraham Lincoln. On July 1, Bush probably will announce the names of the first American soldiers who died in Iraq for the U.N.!
Oil on Troubled Waters
The attacks on the U.N. over the Oil-For-Food program have redoubled in fervor as the June 30 date for the handover of sovereignty in Iraq approaches. Kofi Annan, increasingly weary with the much ado about nothing that has much to do with the U.N. or him, directly at least, appointed a three-person panel: former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia Judge Richard Goldstone, andMark Pieth of Switzerland, a professor of criminal law and criminology at the University of Basel with expertise in money-laundering.
The troika has the authority to investigate whether the procedures established by the U.N. for the administration and management of the program were violated; to determine whether any United Nations officials, personnel, agents or contractors engaged in any illicit or corrupt activities in carrying out their respective roles in relation to the Program; and to determine whether the accounts of the program were in order and were maintained in accordance with U.N. regulations and rules.
In fact, most of the people who are complaining about it know full well that the program’s rules were set up by the Security Council itself. In the end, the one point to be investigated is whether any U.N. staff had their hands in the till, and on that only one thing is sure. If they were, there was a long line of others in front of them!
To ensure a thorough and meticulous inquiry, Annan even managed to persuade the Russians, after a meeting with the new Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to agree to a Security Council resolution supporting the Inquiry and calling upon all the governments and the Coalition Provisional Authroity to cooperate.
The Russians had previously argued that a presidential statement was enough—which, of course, opened them to suspicions of trying to cover up relations with Saddam Hussain.
Benon Sevan, the former head of the Oil-For-Food program, who was named in one document allegedly found in Baghdad as recipient of coupons for some three million barrels of oil, returned from his pre-retirement leave to deny the allegations—and will now be staying on to help the inquiry with its work.
Annan pledged that any U.N. official found guilty of taking bribes or kickbacks would be punished “very severely.” He reasonably pointed out, however, that if the Iraqi government had indeed smuggled oil and been paid kickbacks, “I don’t think it is fair to lump it all together and blame the U.N. and the Secretariat, because there are things that were definitely beyond our control—not only the Secretariat but even the member states.”
Annan—well aware that the real target of the accusations is not the dead Oil-For-Food program, which ended up handing over $7.6 billion to the Coalition’s Development Fund for Iraq, but the burgeoning Brahimi transition plan—explicitly asked people to separate the two. Brahimi had no contact whatsoever with the OFF program.
Indeed, the fuss about the Oil-For-Food program almost certainly represents a rearguard action by those in the Pentagon whose theological hatred of the U.N. has so often been expressed. It was only 12 months ago that Richard Perle was cheering the U.N.’s death, so it is extremely galling for the neocons in the Pentagon to see it now at the center of the White House’s plans. They dare not break Karl Rove’s discipline openly in an election year, so instead, their surrogates—like William Safire, Chalabi and the Wall Street Journal—are acting the insurgents on their behalf. The White House is not likely to budge, since it is deeply committed to winning the next election—which will be difficult with a bloody unfinished war denting the polls.
Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations.