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[casi] The Politics of the UN tragedy

The Politics of the UN tragedy
by James Petras 31 August 2003    3 September 2003
The URL of this article is:


  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 Annan. 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 US occupation army,
the US 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 of 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 US 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 US 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 provoked the attack.

  The United Nations led by Kofi Annan has not played an impartial role in
the US- 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 US-British bombing
of Iraq for over 12 years. Up to the final hour of the US invasion of Iraq,
the entire attention of the UN was directed toward pressuring the Iraqi
government to accept US demands, not condemning US war preparations, even as
the Security Council did ultimately refuse to give approval to the
unilateral US invasion. The historical record of the decade preceding the
invasion clearly puts the UN on the side of the US, to the point that
several of the UN inspectors were identified as working with the CIA and
conducting searches and providing strategic information to US military

  To this some writer may object and argue that UN-US collaboration was a
thing of the past, after the US 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 US colonial
ruler, Paul Bremer in an attempt to consolidate US control of the occupied

  After the disastrous month in office of the first US 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 rulership was
resulting in a powerful resistance movement of all sectors of Iraqi society
and the total isolation of the US 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 US rule. Annam dispatched Viera de
Mello to work with the US colonial governor Bremer and he was a brilliant
political success in terms that were advantageous to US 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 figleaf for US 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 US colonial
governor approved all of its members, and that all approved the US 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 US colonial rule. Once the
US approved junta was in place, de Mello traveled throughout the Middle East
trying to convince neighboring countries that the US "creation", opposed by
the majority of Iraqis was a legitimate and representative "transitional
regime". De Mello's main argument was that the US appointed junta was a
"governing" and not merely "advisory" body, an argument that convinced
nobody, least of all the US officials handing out contracts to Halliburton
Corporation and organizing the privatization of Iraqi oil and certainly not
the US military terrorizing and shooting innocent Iraqi civilians.

  Both UN resolution 1483 in pursuit of "reconstruction" under US colonial
rule and de Mello's active role in promoting and defending the US puppet
interim regime were not disinterested humanitarian activities. These were
political positions - commitments that involved acceptance of US 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 Bermer,
the US 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 Annan and de Mello were appendages of US colonial power.

  Denis Halliday, the former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN H
umanitarian Coordinator in Iraq recently stated that the bombing of the UN
in Iraq was payback for collusion with the US. On August 24, 2003 in an
interview with The Sunday Herald (Scotland) he noted that "further
collaboration" between the UN and the US and Britain "would be a disaster
for the United Nations as it would be sucked into supporting the illegal
occupation of IraqSThe UN has been drawn into being an arm of the US - a
division of the State Department. Kofi Annan was appointed and supported by
the US and that has 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) influenceS 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 US 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 US 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. Given
the active partisan role of the UN in Iraq, in creating a political
framework compatible with prolonged US colonial rulership, 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 US and
European multinational corporations. Having taken sides with the US, it is
the height of hypocrisy for top UN officials to claim to be innocent
victims. Just as it is deceptive for US and UN officials to claim that the
anti-colonial resistance is made up of "foreigners", Saddam Hussein
"remnants", Al Queda 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 US colonial
occupation, destruction of infrastructure and the physical and psychological
degradation of 23 million Iraqis. While the Iraqis suffer from 80%
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 Queda 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 US
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.

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