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Amy Goodman interview: Ex Top UN Official in Iraq Hans Von Sponeck: The Attack Should Come As No Surprise Wednesday, August 20th, 2003 http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=03/08/20/1513210 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] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- 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 there? 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 there? 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. www.democracynow.org _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk