Tragedy and terrorism struck last week in Iraq. Not so long ago, a
column in this space described the good news from Iraq that's
mostly ignored by the news media, but bad news travels post-haste
to the front-pages, and there was plenty of it. The suicide bombing
of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on August 19 was absolutely
outrageous and ought to galvanize world opinion against Al-Qaeda,
which has now claimed "responsibility" for the deed. Whether that
will happen is, of course, a question. After the condemnations, the
reaction has been mainly calls for greater involvement by the
United Nations in Iraq -- as opposed to renewed efforts to root out
the criminals who did this.
You don't have to be any great fan of the United Nations to be
sickened by the cold and cowardly calculations that went into the
attack. The terrorists, like the suicide bomber in Israel who
struck on the same day, do not want peace and political stability.
They don't care who they kill to thwart that objective.
Among potential targets in Baghdad, the U.N. compound was
certainly among the most vulnerable. In a sense, it was designed
that way by a decision from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Why?
Because Mr. Annan did not want his people associated with the U.S.
military occupation. In retrospect, this was a terrible
miscalculation that ought to be the subject of a full investigation
at the United Nations. The effect was to make the U.N. staff
sitting ducks for the terrorists, who for reasons of their own
decided to target the international community.
The attack killed U.N. Special representative Sergio Vieira de
Mello and 22 others, wounding many more, who were there to help the
Iraqi people. In addition, the attack also jolted into focus again
the discussion over the United Nations' role in the reconstruction
Some of us have felt from the beginning that -- based on past
experience in the Balkans and in Africa - that the United Nations
is not at all well equipped for exercising political or military
control in Iraq. The fact that half of the U.N. staff is now being
pulled out in the wake of the bombing can only bolster that view.
The muddled chains of command and lengthy lines of communications
to New York for decisions that have to be made in an instant would
be disastrous if applied to Iraq. Therefore, humanitarian and
refugee work is what the organization does best if it is to be
Nevertheless, there is a growing chorus both here in Washington and
internationally -- from the French, among others, of course --
demanding that the United Nations be given more control.
The terrorist attacks and the steady drip of daily U.S. casualties
(now 138 since the major military action was declared over by
President Bush) has produced calls from both Democrats and
Republicans either for increasing U.S. troops deployments in Iraq
substantially, or alternatively for accepting military and other
assistance from nations such as Russia, France, Germany, India,
Pakistan and Turkey under a multilateral umbrella.
Mr. Annan, however, has rebuffed President Bush's requests for
international assistance unless the United States relinquishes the
exercise and transition of political power in Iraq to the United
Nations. That is just a bad idea, which the administration should
continue to resist.
What is really the crux of the matter is an accelerated process to
turn over governance of Iraq to the Iraqi people. For now, many
more civilian workers are needed to facilitate that process. This
would free up U.S. troops to do what they do best, establishing a
secure environment in Iraq.
Mr. de Mello had been one of the strongest advocates of the
25-member Iraqi Interim Governing Council, which was constituted on
July 13 to give Iraqis a governing authority with legitimacy both
at home and abroad. Critics have faulted the council for including
too many returned exiles and for being impractical with a
nine-member rotating presidency. Still, it is clearly movement in
the right direction. Likewise, Iraq needs an Iraqi police force and
army. It is the only durable long-term solution.
The United States should certainly welcome contributions from
other nations; NATO could provide the right kind of venue. But it
is a mistake to think that a multinational force would be less of a
red rag in the face of fundamentalist radicals and of remnants of
Iraq's old guard still loyal to Saddam. Any such notion ought to
have been dispelled by last week's terrorist attack. For the
terrorists, we are all targets.
Originally appeared in the Washington Times