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[casi] Trnscript. Aug 20- Hans Von Sponeck

Amy Goodman interview:

Ex Top UN Official in Iraq Hans Von Sponeck: The Attack Should Come As No
Wednesday, August 20th, 2003

Shortly after the attack, we talked with Hans Von Sponeck, former assistant
secretary general of the United Nations in Iraq. He said the attack came as
little surprise. He also reveals that former UN chief weapons inspector
Richard Butler kept chemical weapons on the UN compound in Baghdad.
[Includes transcript]

HANS VON SPONECK: Itís a great tragedy when one loses colleagues that one
has known very well. Mr. DeMello was not only a colleague but had become a
friend particularly in the context of the Iraq discussion. When I served in
Baghdad, he was the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs in New
York and weíve frequently consulted, the United Nations will have great
difficulty to replace this eminent civil servant and it will set back the
role that the UN can play to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people in
this post war period.

On the other hand, anyone who is taken by surprise either doesnít know the
Iraq situation or is simply willing to ignore the signs that are all
pervasive, there is a shift from targeting the US military, to a lesser
extent the British military because they are increasingly protecting
themselves against attacks. And the choice of those who are on the extreme
end of dissatisfaction in Iraq are the softer targets. We have seen oil
installations being attacked, water facilities blown up, electricity
facilities disabled and weíve had a terrifying blast at the Jordanian
embassy. This was just over a week ago and now the United Nations, it isnít
a surprise. The Iraqis are angry.

The range of anger goes with dissatisfaction about the lack of progress in
restoring normalcy to these extreme forms of hostility President Bush again
today repeated that they brought freedom to Iraq. This is not freedom. An
imposed externally imposed rather than a Iraqi made freedom is no real
freedom and we will see more of what has happened today as we go along
unless the CPA, Coalition Provision Authority, American and British victors,
are changing their approach.

AMY GOODMAN:We are talking to Hans Von Sponeck, who is the former U.N.
coordinator for the food program in Iraq, Do you know this office well, this
office in particular was it yours?

HANS VON SPONECK: I was 17 months in that office. It is on the left side of
the building second floor. This is where the major impact of this blast
occurred. It is a former hotel. Cheaply built. A little bit amazing that an
incoming army was not able to move in heavy earth moving or other heavy
equipment that could remove some of the collapsed walls. We donít know yet
the extent of casualties though the suicide bombers, and I presume they were
hit, the most vulnerable corner of this building.

AMY GOODMAN:I had a question about what was on the grounds, Were there any
chemicals, perhaps biological or chemical weapons that the U.N. had gathered

HANS VON SPONECK:No because they had been dismantled. In 1999. July when the
office of Chemical Weapon Prohibition in the Hague at my request, because
month after month, Iíd asked the United Nations to send a team to open the
laboratories that Richard Butler, the chief of the disarmament group had
left behind irresponsibly. They came with a team headed by a South African
expert of chemical weapons to come to Baghdad to neutralize the substances .
They found at the time a kilogram of mustard gas anthrax vx, ,sarin samples
that were used for calibration but the mustard gas certainly was. Had it
come into contact with fire ,water or other external influences but thatís
all gone. So, there was today there were no laboratories that could have
posed a threat in addition to the external threat through the bomb. .

AMY GOODMAN:What do you mean that Richard Butler had irresponsibly left

HANS VON SPONECK:Mr. Butler knew what he left behind. When on the 16th of
Dec. 1998 when Operation Desert Fox began when he withdrew his team while
the secretary general left us the humanitarian workers left Baghdad and the
records can give evidence to the fact that on the same day I began to write
to the U.N. that the laboratories be looked at. It took over six months
before finally a team came to open these labs and dismantle what there was .
Mr. Butler knew this. Mr. Butler who has played such an enormously
dishonorable role in this whole affair pretended that he had security in
mind but did little to actually accelerate the opening of these facilities
and the disabling. He knew what was there and therefore he knew the
potential threat that existed for the safety not only for the UN staff but
also of the people that lived in the vicinity of the UN building that today
was the subject of the bombing.

AMY GOODMAN: And where did these chemicals come from?

HANS VON SPONECK:Some of them as we now know were brought in legitimately as
substances that were needed for calibration purposes . These were controlled
substances that was all in order, there was nothing wrong in bringing these
in and as we were told not dangerous in case there had been an aerial attack
as there was in Dec. 1998, or an earthquake or whatever. But, in addition
there were substances that the UNSCOM, the disarmament group had taken from
the Iraqis and stored in that laboratory. Including this 1 kilogram of
mustard gas. And that was the problem. That is where one can make an
accusation to Mr. Butler who never was an international civil servant. He
was a king in his field who thought, and I am very accusatory here but I
think thereís a justification because he did not do what an responsible
civil servant would have done and that is to make sure that these
laboratories would have been undone quickly, neutralized with the urgency
that the issue deserved.

AMY GOODMAN:Hans Von Sponeck, we are now hearing that 17 people are dead and
over a hundred are wounded, did you know any of the other people who are
still at the United Nations compound in Iraq, and can you describe that area
that you worked in for so many months?

HANS VON SPONECK:I donít know yet I have not seen apart from my colleague
Mr. De Mello . I donít know who else may be in the casualties, there are
certainly many international and national staff who work there today who
were in that building when I was there. I have to see. I pray that some of
those that I worked with are not among the casualties but I feel sorry for
any of my colleagues who have become victimized by this brutal but not
surprising attack. The building itself, on three sides, there are no other
buildings. On the fourth side, thatís the side that was particularly
affected by this blast , there is a military psychiatric treatment facility.
Or it was at least in my day. Thatís the only other building that is
immediately adjacent to the Canal hotel apart from some service buildings,
like an auto repair workshop thatís on the compound but thatís of no
consequence. Thatís a light building not a big problem. But behind the back
of the building opens into an area that used to be an airfield of the Iraqi
Air Force that was abandoned even before this war. In the distance about 800
meter air distance is a building that played a prominent role in Operation
Desert Fox , the American British air offensive of Dec. 1998Ö the general
security building of the Iraqi secret service that was damaged then. But
thatís quite a distance away, itís about 8-900 yards away. The building
unlike the reports that I heard this afternoon, is not far away from the
center of Baghdad, in fact its on the outskirts of Baghdad, there are
several highways that are passing by in the vicinity and it is therefore not
in an area that is highly populated.

AMY GOODMAN:We are talking to Hans von Sponeck, formerly head of operations
in Iraq now remembering his colleague only at this point the one who he
knows has died, thatís Sergio De Mello. Many other people have died, news
not yet out of their names. You were there during the bombing of Iraq in
1998 when Clinton was the president of the United States. We are seeing
these horrific pictures, the actual pictures someone had, NHK Japanese
television, in the midst of a press conference when the bomb went off, glass
shattered, and then you see people who are wounded. We donít usually get
images like this when Iraqis civilians are attacked because the cameras are
not usually in their homes. People are embedded in the military or they are
here at this press conference. But you were there during that that time.
What was it like? Is it bringing back memories?

HANS VON SPONECK:Well I would say if I had to choose between whatís
happening in Iraq now and what happened in the building that was my office
for these 17 months today and what happened in December of Ď98 during
Operation Desert Fox during those four days of bombing. If I had to make a
choice, I would prefer to revisit what happened in 1998. That was a much
more focused, almost predictable attack on buildings that the US
intelligence, the British intelligence had carved out, had marked. Today
this was totally unexpected, it was a target that no one had in mind.

The United Nations, an unarmed organization that is meant to promote peace.
No one thought that the swaying toward soft targets would go that way to
have such a soft target as the United Nations in Baghdad involved. So I
would say Ď98 was harmless compared to what happened today not only because
of the casualties but also because of the trauma that is deepening now for
not only the international staff living in Iraq but also for the people of
Iraq who have gone through so much and who are happy to see a dictator
having gone but what they have right now in terms of day to day living is
worse than what they had before the dictator was gone.

So it is to me, as a person who has lived there, who appreciates the Iraqis
and their pride and their willingness to survive. Itís a bitter cynicism
when I hear the president of the United States talking about freedom for
Iraqis, having brought the freedom. There is no such thing asÖ There is an
American freedom that an ill-directed US administration has tried to bring
down by parachute. But itís not an Iraqi freedom. And no calm, no
tranquility, no normalcy will return to that country until the American
administration understands that only Iraqi-made freedom will bring that
peace that they are talking about so much in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN:Hans Von Sponeck, Salim Lome, spokesperson for the UN in Iraq
came out of the rubble and was interviewed and said the mission of the
United Nations is to end the occupation. He was extremely upset and angry.
Do you see that that is the mission. I mean earlier the documents that came
out showing the UN recognized said they would be playing a subservient role
to the occupying powers this those docs released from the Executive
Committee on Peace and Security.

HANS VON SPONECK:What comes to my mind when I hear you Amy is what was
indeed the last meeting that my colleagues Mr. De Mello, undersecretary
general and in charge of the Iraq programs now had to say on the 17 of July
in the Security Council repeatedly reminded, and the undersecretary generalí
s report repeats this, the Sec Council that what happens in Iraq must be
Iraq made. It must be an externally imposed development. He cautioned the
Security Council obviously directing this caution primarily to the occupying
powers, the US and Britain to believing there can be an indefinite period of
their presence and involvement that the first fiddle in the reconstruction
period must be played he kept saying by the Iraqis themselves I think this,
what now is maybe the final speech of Mr. De Mello to the Security Council,
I hope that everyone from the Secretary General to Colin Powell to President
Bush, to Prime Minister Blair, I hope they all will remember that.  And do
what needs to be done now to give greater leeway to local leaderships,
secondly to try and internationalize the Iraq reconstruction effort,

And by that I do not mean that the international community should pick up
the cost of damages that were created by two ill directed governments that
decided to go to war against Iraq, But to help in the reconstruction
efforts, rehabilitating the infrastructure trying to redevelop the education
system, the water system and so on. All that that had nothing to do with the
war damages. The war damages, Iím sorry, must be the responsibilities of
those who fought this illegal war.

But the other many challenging aspects of the reconstruction Iraq, the
international community must help the Americans as the leading occupying
power headed by Mr. Bremer must become much more sensitive to lead giving
the United Nations and the other a role of equals not the role of a sub
agency of the Defense Department of the United States or of the State dept.
In internationalizing the reconstruction effort, in fact, I would hope that
the Security Council can really become the lead agent in the reconstruction
effort. Thatís where that effort belongs, not to a bilateral capital. And
then I think we have learned a little bit out of very tragic circumstances
that culminated today in the attack on the UN building.

AMY GOODMAN:The reports were that there were some US soldiers standing guard
but only a one few guards in one area outside the United Nations compound.
It sounds like it was isolated. Do you know how this compares to the number
of soldiers that stand guard by the oil ministry, by the oil fields?

HANS VON SPONECK:No I donít. But I do know that the UN for good reasons
always was reluctant to be guarded. Even during my days we had the Iraqi
army surrounding the Canal hotel compound. We accepted that, but we were not
comfortable with that. And I take it that the same applied to the current
situation United Nations being heavily guarded by troops of a country that
fought a war that many Iraqis didnít want wasnít seen as very wise. So the
UN was one of the softer targets in Baghdad and on top of it and I think
thatís a security lesson for the United Nations and maybe for the CPA, the
provisional authority is that one shouldnít just guard the entrance to the
United Nations compound, the back was relatively unprotected, so were the
sides. So one had a very close security look at the main entrance to the UN
compound, and I think that those who planned the attack today of course
exploited that and avoided placing the truck near the better-guarded part of
that Canal hotel compound.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that if Saddam Hussein were captured that this
would still go on?

HANS VON SPONECK:Again, I would really say the sooner we accept that
dissatisfaction extends beyond remnants of the Baath party or loyalists that
canít understand that to be without the dictatorship is a blessing for Iraq.
The sooner we understand that the dissatisfaction Iraq goes way beyond those
groups or worse, James Rubin, the former spokesman during the days of
Madeline Albright in the State Department today in an interview with CNN
kept talking about thousands of Saudi Arabian irregulars and terrorists
entering and he said, I donít, but he said, entering Iraq from Northern Iraq
in other words not even from the Saudi boarder area, I think there is a
group of leaders, of political leaders who are fooling themselves in
Washington or they want to believe that they can fool others including us
here in Europe. Iím sorry, itís quite different. The dissatisfaction as I
said before goes way beyond these clusters of dissatisfaction and maybe a
few misdirected people who would like to go into Iraq to assist those
elements of extremists. If one believes that, one doesnít really understand
the reality of todayís Iraq.

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