Global Policy Forum

UN Role in Iraq

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Because the UN Security Council refused to endorse the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003, Washington and London hoped to ignore the UN and operate with a free hand in the country. But a fierce Iraqi resistance, persistent economic and political problems, and continuing international criticism forced the US-UK to seek international partners for their enterprise, including assistance from the UN. A debate ensued between those who thought that the UN could be the wedge for internationalization and US-UK withdrawal and those who thought a UN presence would only discredit the world body. Following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1483 two months after the war, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a Special Representative for Iraq and the UN assumed some small responsibilities there. Many critics warned, though, that the UN should not be identified with the illegal war and occupation.

In August 2003, a massive bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad confirmed the critics' fears, killing fifteen UN staff including the Special Representative. The UN then pulled out of Iraq and kept its distance, but in February 2004, under heavy US pressure, the UN agreed to send a mission to the country, to help construct a new interim government. Again, Washington kept the UN's political role weak, while seeking legitmacy from the UN. After the establishment of an interim government in June, the US pressured the UN to take a larger role in planning national elections, but security dangers and reluctance by the Secretary General and UN staff kept the UN role to a minimum.

Now, as the situation spirals more and more out of control, Washington is citing the worsening humanitarian crisis as reason enough for the UN to step in. But critics say the US intends to use the UN to push Iraqis to accept US-imposed "benchmarks" for reconciliation, including a controversial oil law and debaathification. The new Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, seems to be more pliant to the US and more supportive of greater UN involvement in Iraq. Despite strong opposition from the UN Staff Council – which represents 25,000 UN workers – the Security Council succumbed to US and UK pressure and voted on August 10, 2007 to expand the UN's role in Iraq. Only if the US occupation ends can there be a substantial – and politically viable – UN role.



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Cutting Off UNESCO, U.S. May Endanger Programs in Iraq (November 16, 2011)

When UNESCO approved full membership for Palestine last months, the US immediately cut off all financing for the UN agency. The US pays 22 percent of the agency’s budget and an extra $2-3 millions for specific projects. Officials of UNESCO state that these cuts will put the agency’s programs in Iraq at risk, and regard this as a self-defeating move for the US. Important projects in Iraq include education, literacy training and special training to the judiciary. These projects depend on UNESCO money and will be halted or harmed by an overall budget cut. (New York Times)


UNHCR in Iraq: NGOs Say Ready for More Responsibility (December 31, 2009)

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Iraq aims to broaden its operations and impact at the local community level. According to its 2010 operations profile, the agency will expand its national NGO partnership program by building closer ties with local Iraqi NGOs. Such increased cooperation can lead to more effective aid for internally displaced Iraqis. Nevertheless, ongoing violence, the weak Iraqi government and stringent UNCHR safeguards are serious constraints hampering this work. (IRINNews)


Security Council Extends Protection of Iraq's Assets (December 22, 2008)

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution which serves to protect Iraq's assets until the end of 2009. This shields Iraq from billions of dollars in international claims. Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, argues this resolution is vital for the stability and economic development of the country. Further, the Council also agreed to allow the Iraqi government to conduct a review process leading to the cancellation of over 50 resolutions passed by the UN Security Council on Iraq since 1990. (New York Times)

UN's Iraq Report Still Missing Causality Count (December 3, 2008)

The UNAMI report issued in December 2008 covering the first six months of the year does not include statistics on the number of Iraqis killed in war related violence. The UN human rights reports have failed to mention the mortality rate in Iraq since April 2007 and UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says the next report should include this information. (Los Angeles Times)

Massachusetts Congressmen Want UN to Replace US Soldiers in Iraq (June 26, 2008)

US Congress Members James P. McGovern, John F. Tierney, and William D. Delahunt warn that a long-term security agreement between Iraq and the US will lead to endless war and a permanent presence of US forces in the Middle East. Instead, the congress members propose that UN forces should take over in January 2009 and that the US normalize relations with neighboring Syria and seek rapprochement with Iran.(Boston Globe)

UN Body to Send Its First Iraq Envoy Since 2003 (February 18, 2008)

According to this Reuters article, the United Nations will send an Iraq envoy for the first time since the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. The United Nations evacuated its staff from Iraq after losing twenty-two employees in the attacks. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, will increase staffing in Baghdad in an effort "to better help Iraqis, either displaced or fleeing the country."

Oil for Iraqi Citizens (January 6, 2008)

This Al-Ahram article disputes the claim that "improved conditions" in Iraq have prompted 25,000 Iraqis to return to their country. Instead, deteriorating conditions in host countries Syria and Jordan are causing the return of refugees. In November 2007, the Iraqi International Initiative on Refugees urged the Security Council to pass a binding resolution requiring Iraq to defend the rights of its citizens and allocate part of Iraq's oil revenue to refugees in host countries.

UNHCR Iraq Situation: Supplementary Appeal 2008 (January 2, 2008)

According to this report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4 million Iraqis are currently displaced from their homes, including 2.2 million inside of Iraq and up to 2 million refugees. Neighboring countries are restricting Iraqis the right of entrance and those already resettled are unable to gain the residency status to work. Although UNHCR is implementing changes to reduce assistance wait times, Iraqi refugees must often wait up to two months after registering with UNHCR to receive any help.




Government to UN: 'Don't Extend Mandate for Bush's Occupation' (November 9, 2007)

The Iraqi parliament has made several attempts to affirm its opposition against the renewal of the multinational force mandate in Iraq. However, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki under pressure from the US and UK is likely to request that the UN Security Council extend the mandate for another 12 months. According to the authors of this Alternet article the renewal debate exemplifies the political crisis between the nationalists who control parliament and the separatists who control the Cabinet. Despite the MNF renewal having major ramifications for political reconciliation in Iraq it is not covered in the mainstream US media. Instead conflict in the country is perceived as a "religious war", when in truth it is a conflict about the future of the country.

The Iraqi Parliament and the UN Security Council: Questions About Renewal of the MNF Mandate (November 5, 2007)

In late 2007, the UN Security Council will consider renewal of the mandate that authorizes the presence of the US-led multinational force (MNF) in Iraq. Global Policy Forum outlines the little-known demands of the Iraqi parliament to ratify any new agreement on the MNF. The Iraqi constitution requires the cabinet to submit such agreement for ratification and the parliament has already passed a law demanding conformity with this provision. A majority of parliamentarians also wrote a letter to Security Council members about the matter, calling for a timetable for MNF withdrawal. If Prime Minister al-Maliki again submits a request to the Security Council without parliamentary approval, a constitutional crisis in Iraq would surely follow. GPF argues that the Council should take into account the concerns of the parliament and of the great majority of the Iraqi people, so that a withdrawal plan can be set.

Taking Sides or Saving Lives: Existential Choices for the Humanitarian Enterprise in Iraq (June, 2007)

This report by The Feinstein International Center assesses the humanitarian efforts in Iraq. According to the report, the humanitarian response has been slow and insufficient, due in part to concerns about the security of humanitarian workers. The study found Iraqis were responsive to humanitarian assistance, but many perceived the UN and NGOs as part of Coalition forces and were suspicious of aid workers as "spies." The report recommends aid agencies distance themselves from MNF forces and ensure neutrality in order to gain the support of Iraqis. This is particularly important for the UN, if it is to overcome its "failure…to live up to its mandated humanitarian assistance and protection responsibilities in Iraq." 

Iraqi MPs Challenge Coalition Mandate (November 13, 2007)

In this Inter Press Service article, Thalif Deen reports on the renewal of the UN mandate of the multi-national force in Iraq. Deen cites a letter from Iraqi parliamentarians calling on the Security Council to refuse an extension of the mandate. The letter which is signed by a majority of Iraq's parliament was not delivered to the Council as intended in April 2007 and was released early November 2007 by Global Policy Forum for the attention of Security Council members.

UN Challenges US on Illegal Air Strikes in Iraq (October 23, 2007)

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) calls on the US to investigate and make public the deaths of Iraqi civilians caused by US air strikes and raid operations. During interviews of Iraqi civilians, officials and journalists, UNAMI gathered information on the deaths of 88 civilians from US air strikes from March to June 2007. The US claims the air strikes target terrorists and not civilians. However, according to the UNAMI report, the number of strikes is on the rise and about 15 to 20 percent of all bombs miss their target by at least 40 feet. (Online Journal)

Report of the Secretary-General on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (October 15, 2007)

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon reports on the progress of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The Secretary-General summarizes the political developments in Iraq, citing political boycotts, assassinations, resignations and the formation of alliances. He criticizes the inadequate response by the Iraqi government to providing basic services to internally displaced Iraqis The report concedes that ongoing violence in Iraq impedes the work of the UN in dealing with human rights violations, including the plight of detainees held in Iraqi and MNF facilities. The Secretary-General suggests there is an opportunity for the UN to increase its role in Iraq, especially in the area of national reconciliation.

Iraq Seeks Long-Term US Security Pact (September 30, 2007)

The Iraq government will request that the UN Security Council renew the Multinational Force (MNF) when the mandate expires in December 2007. Iraq's deputy foreign minister indicates that the government will request a final one year renewal to be followed by a long-term bilateral security agreement. (New York Times)

Al-Maliki Says Iraq is Secure for Expanded UN Role (September 23, 2007)

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says peace in Iraq cannot be achieved by military means and calls for regional cooperation to ensure the country "continues efforts at reconciliation." The call comes after a meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Secretary General, Security Council members, representatives of regional and international organizations and the Group of Eight leading industrial nations to discuss greater UN participation in Iraq. Commentators suggest, however, that the US and Britain are merely pushing Iraq's political problems onto the UN so that the coalition troops can pull out. (Mail and Guardian)

How Much Can UN Achieve in Iraq? (September 21, 2007)

The US suggests the UN increase the number of personnel in Iraq and promote dialogue and reconciliation between Iraq's political factions. However, UN officials are cautious about an expansion in staff as long as security remains so risky. (Christian Science Monitor)

UN Waits To Issue Its Report On Iraq (September 9, 2007)

A United Nations quarterly report on human rights in Iraq which was due in July will not be released until October 2007. The report describes violence committed by Iraqi militia and insurgents and documents human rights abuses by US and Iraqi forces. According to UN officials, Ambassador Ryan Crocker requested the delay to allow the Iraqi government to "study" the report. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will meet in New York on September 22, 2007 for high level discussions on Iraq. UN officials suggest the delay "is in part to avoid embarrassing Maliki on the eve of the New York meeting." (Independent)

US and UN Shift on Iraq (August 22, 2007)

UN Security Council Resolution 1770 expands the role of the UN in Iraq, should the security situation improve. This cautious approach reflects the UN concerns over the security of its staff in Iraq, four years after the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. While the UN is planning to build a fortified compound in the capital, UN officials have warned that without a withdrawal of Coalition troops, UNAMI will be "doomed." The renewed UN commitment in Iraq puts the UN's legitimacy in question, as it comes to the aid of the US even though the Coalition invaded Iraq without a Security Council mandate. (Council On Foreign Relations)

A Dangerous Acquiescence (August 20, 2007)

Marking the four year anniversary of the bomb attack at the UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 UN workers, Salim Lone recounts his experience as a UN spokesperson in Iraq. Lone is critical of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's deployment of 30 UN workers to Iraq to promote reconciliation noting the UN will only be effective if the US and UK withdraw completely from Iraq. The author acknowledges, however, that even an independent UN force "will carry no promise of success." (Guardian)

US Seeks UN Help With Talks on Iraq (August 10, 2007)

After failing to gain regional support for its policies in Iraq, the Bush administration is turning to the UN for assistance with the political process. Washington is struggling to garner cooperation from Iraq's neighbors, though it turned down calls in 2003 to engage in a regional forum. (Washington Post)

UN Staff Oppose Proposed Iraq Resolution (August 8, 2007)

As the US and the UK push the UN Security Council to expand the UN role in Iraq, the UN Staff Council opposes such plans on behalf of 25,000 UN workers, demanding that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon withdraw all personnel already there. Given both the security crisis and the Bush administration's long-existing disdain for the UN, the union's first vice president, Emad Hassanin, sees a greater UN role in Iraq as the "sacrificing of UN civilian lives to save face of a few strong member states." (Inter Press Service)

A Rising Refugee Crisis (July 31, 2007)

The ongoing violence in Iraq has limited aid workers' access to the most vulnerable communities. UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes calls for more action and resources to improve the plight of Iraq's refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). In that same vein, Holmes urges that humanitarian efforts remain independent of any political, security or economic agenda. (International Herald Tribune)

The UN in Iraq – Handle With Care (July 27, 2007)

This article from the Century Foundation speculates that "if any outside intervener can help Iraqis regain peace and stability at this late date, it's probably the United Nations." But since most Iraqis blame the US military presence for the disaster in their country, a UN role too closely aligned with Washington's agenda will only discredit the organization. Author Jeffrey Laurenti cautions that without a complete US withdrawal from Iraq, the UN will likely fail to resolve the crisis.

Why the United Nations Belongs in Iraq (July 20, 2007)

Conservative US politicians strongly condemned the UN Security Council's refusal to endorse a US-led attack on Iraq back in 2003. Yet now, US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad argues that the United Nations should take on a greater role in Iraq. He explains that the organization's "inherent legitimacy and flexibility" render it the "best vehicle" to mediate between all parties in the Iraq conflict. Critics doubt that Khalilzad is serious and they suspect that this is mainly a Bush administration public relations offensive to create a sense of progress and multilateral cooperation concerning Iraq. (New York Times)

Dilemma for UN in Expanding Iraq Presence? (June 12, 2007)

In his quarterly report to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon explores ways the UN could expand its role in Iraq. The UN has had a minimal presence in Iraq since the 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. Critics warn that an increased UN presence would identify the organization with the US occupation, as the UN depends on Coalition forces for its security. (IraqSlogger)

Is US Eyeing UN as Dumping Ground for Iraq? (June 7, 2007)

As the situation in Iraq rapidly deteriorates and in light of a new UN Secretary General "who appears more pliable" to Washington, the US might seek a greater UN role to resolve the crisis. Such a move would allow the Bush administration to shed some responsibility for the catastrophe it has created, and would likely discredit the notion of an impartial, autonomous UN. Norman Solomon, the Executive Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, asserts that, "the only proper UN role would be to strongly oppose the US occupation of Iraq." (Inter Press Service)

UN Team Still Looking for Iraq's Arsenal (June 2, 2007)

The Saddam regime fell more than four years ago, but the UN is still searching for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the country. The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) runs on a $10 million yearly budget which is fueled by Iraqi oil money. Many, including Charles Duelfer, a former UN weapons inspector, believe that the search is futile. However, Russia demands a formal confirmation from the inspectors stating that disarmament in Iraq is complete. Unfortunately, the US refuses to give the inspectors access to information necessary to come to that conclusion.(Washington Post)

Bush May Turn to UN in Search for Iraq Solution (May 23, 2007)

The Bush administration hopes to "internationalize" its Iraqi quagmire. Having paid little heed to the UN throughout the past four years of the conflict, President George W. Bush wants to involve the world body in a greater future role, including peacekeeping. Pakistani President and US ally, Pervez Musharraf, has proposed sending UN peacekeeping troops composed of citizens from Muslim nations. (Guardian)

UN Report on Human Rights in Iraq Draws US Denunciation (April 26, 2007)

The US has been criticizing the UNAMI Human Rights report, which says that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating and that the US government is holding Iraqi detainees without due process. Washington further questions the mortality data presented in the report and argues that, contrary to UN accusations, the Iraqi government has not refused to provide death toll figures, but is instead attempting to consolidate these numbers into a "verifiable system." The refusal to accept the credibility of the report suggests that the US and the Iraqi government do not want to publicly acknowledge that violence is rising in Iraq. (Washington Post)

Nations Balk at Compact for Iraq (April 25, 2007)

Ahead of a meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, the US is presenting a resolution supporting the new International Compact for Iraq, a five year economic and political plan pressed by the US at the UN. Although Washington claims the plan would bring about the development of the country, the initiative was designed to attract international funds for Iraq and open the Iraqi economy to the global markets, thus furthering US interests. Many states, however, do not want to contribute to the Compact, for fear of being seen as endorsing the occupation and an Iraqi government that has failed to keep its political promises and bring about national reconciliation. (Washington Post)

Brokered Peace (March 27, 2007)

The Bush administration has been ignoring since 2003 the need for a formal political settlement in Iraq and trying to achieve stability simply by the use of force. The Baghdad Conference was a good start for a political dialogue, bringing together the US and Iraq's neighbors, and calling on them to address border security, fuel imports and refugees issues. This Washington Post opinion piece argues that the US now needs UN mediation to generate a formal agreement that includes the sharing of oil revenues, federal-regional power sharing, amnesty for combatants and disarmament of militias. However, the UN faces the risk of being seen as a tool of US power endorsing the occupation, thus losing its credibility among Iraqis.

UN Chief Shaken by Baghdad Explosion (March 22, 2007)

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon paid his first official visit to Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked for UN support to the Iraqi government and said that the country was "on the road to stability." Yet, an explosion very close to where the conference was taking place left the building shaking and seems to indicate the contrary. The Iraqi government also acknowledged that it is taking steps to bring about reconciliation in the country, holding talks with the Sunni insurgency. However, many insurgent groups said they will only lay down their arms after the US announces a timetable for withdrawal. (Guardian)




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