The return of the
United Nations to Iraq will be an important test of the world
body's relevance in the post-Saddam era. Today the U.N. looks more
like a glorified debating society than a serious global body
designed to confront the world's growing threats and problems. An
effective job by the U.N. in assisting with the electoral process
in Iraq will help to restore its reputation on the international
A Potential Role for the
The United Nations
is considering sending a team of experts to Iraq to assist with
U.S. plans for the transfer of power in Baghdad. The decision
follows a meeting in New York on January 19 between U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan and the U.S. Administrator for Iraq, Paul
Bremer. The U.N. withdrew most of its personnel from Iraq after the
August 19 suicide bomb attack on its headquarters in Baghdad, which
left 23 people dead, including the U.N.'s chief envoy, Sergio
Vieira de Mello.
The decision to
involve the United Nations in the development of a democracy in
Iraq is an astute move by the Bush Administration, provided it does
not result in a dilution of U.S. authority on the ground. U.N.
involvement will encourage a greater level of international support
for U.S. plans for the future of Iraq, as well as increased
humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people.
Critically, a U.N.
presence should also help smooth relations between the Coalition
Provisional Authority (CPA) and the spiritual leader of the Shiite
Muslim majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The past week has
seen several large-scale demonstrations by Shiites in Iraq, who
comprise at least 60 percent of Iraq's population of 25 million.
The protests, which have been largely peaceful, have called for
direct elections to be held in the country as soon as the CPA
relinquishes power at the end of June 2004. Direct elections
currently are scheduled to be held in December 2005, after a
provisional government has prepared the ground for genuine
The United Nations
could play a valuable role acting as an intermediary between
Ambassador Paul Bremer, the leader of the CPA, and the Ayatollah,
who has called for U.N. involvement in the electoral process. It
will be in the interests of the United States to work closely with
Sistani, rather than alienate him. Sistani is a pragmatic leader
who long opposed Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and now is
increasingly being challenged by radical Shiite leaders who are
hostile to the United States.
Maintaining U.S. Authority in
While it is in
U.S. interests for the U.N. to be brought back into Iraq as a
stabilizing force, Washington should be wary of giving the U.N. a
prominent political or military role in the country.
Decision-making authority should continue to rest in the hands of
the U.S.-British led CPA, and with the Iraqi Governing Council.
While the U.N.
could play an important hands-on role in helping to build the
democratic process in Iraq, it should not be entrusted with
deciding how to shape that process. Adding the U.N. to the policy
mix would only add another layer of confusion and delay, as rival
Iraqi factions would seek to maximize their bargaining leverage by
playing the U.N. against the U.S. This would not only undermine
U.S. influence but would bog down the whole process. It will be
difficult enough to turn over sovereignty to Iraqis by July 1, as
called for by the "Agreement on Political Process" signed on
November 15th by Ambassador Bremer and the Iraq
Governing Council. If the U.N. becomes an active participant in the
ongoing negotiations, then progress could be slowed further and it
will become almost impossible to meet the July 1 deadline.
Nor should Iraq be
allowed to develop into a glorified U.N. protectorate on the model
of Kosovo, which would be a recipe for disaster. Security in the
country should also continue to be maintained by U.S., British, and
other Allied forces currently stationed in Iraq, and not by United
Nations peacekeepers. The U.N.'s peacekeeping record, from the
Balkans to West Africa, has been poor.
The U.N. should
also not be given a role in deciding the fate of Saddam Hussein.
The former dictator should be tried by an Iraqi court, and not by
the International Criminal Court.
Building Democracy Requires
The U.N. can also
play a valuable role in helping to train election officials,
monitor the elections, and assure an accurate vote count. But the
U.N. role should be limited to providing technical advice and
training, not determining the timing of elections. The United
States, in consultation with the Iraq Governing Council, already
has established a timetable for free elections. Washington must
make sure that the U.N. does not jeopardize Iraq's political
stability by rushing prematurely to elections before Iraq is ready
An overly ambitious rapid democratic
transformation could bring anti-democratic forces to power and
destabilize Iraq. Premature elections would favor Islamic radical
parties whose concept of democracy is "one man, one vote, one
time." In 1992, an overly ambitious scheme to inject democracy into
Algeria's one-party political system led to the electoral victory
of the Islamic Salvation Front, plunging Algeria into a bloody
civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives. A premature
rush to democracy in Iraq could lead to a similar
Democracy should be phased in incrementally:
first local and municipal elections, then provincial elections, and
finally national elections. In the meantime, the United States
should gradually transfer power to an inclusive, broad-based Iraqi
interim administration that will prepare the ground for future
Dr. Nile Gardiner
is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the
Center for International Trade and Economics, and James Phillips is
Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at the Heritage