restricted access August 2003
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August 2003 Baghdad Bulletin 8.17.03 “U.N. in Iraq: Under threat” By Catherine Arnold Despite reassuring platitudes delivered with the studied certainty of the professional spin doctor, nobody believes the Coalition Provisional Authority’s claims that the security situation is getting better; least of all the U.N. U.N. security in Iraq now sits at Phase Four, with the largest security presence of any U.N. branch in the world. There is only one stage higher, Phase Five, requiring summary evacuation of all personnel. The security threat has been deemed so great that if protocol were strictly adhered to there would currently be no U.N. programs running in Iraq at all—Phase Four demands the cessation of all programs in a country until security improves. But despite concerns from U.N. security specialists and field workers—agreed that the situation is in fact worsening, particularly in the light of the recent bomb attack on the Jordanian embassy and the tragic deaths of two aid workers—the U.N. is coming under immense pressure from the United States to downgrade the threat. 51 A U.N. source who spoke on the condition of anonymity predicted the security alert will probably be downgraded to Phase Three before the end of August, irrespective of augmented security fears. Meetings are already believed to have taken place between U.S. officials and top U.N. representatives to broker a deal—greater involvement for the U.N. in return for downgraded security. Four months after the invasion, an anxious CPA is eager to send home the message that if nothing else, their troops are bringing the security situation under control. A U.N. endorsement of this would buy greater international credence than any number of earnest proclamations by CPA spokesmen. Despite official impartiality, the U.N. has had to tread a political tightrope since the invasion simply to maintain a presence here at all. “The U.S. hugely underestimated her involvement when she rushed into the recent conflict,” said another U.N. employee, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They were not welcomed with open arms, they did not anticipate nor can they deal with the strategic ace that Saddam dealt when he released dangerous criminals into a city without a police force, nor did they adequately anticipate the law and order problems stemming from social unrest and infrastructure problems. The last successful intervention of this type was in Kosovo where a U.N.-led attack was immediately followed by a U.N. civil administration and police force to fill the law and order vacuum . Even Bremer has admitted that Baghdad will attract all the weirdos of the world.” If specifically anti-western terrorist organizations gain a foothold, there could be serious consequences for the U.N. Groups with political or social agendas will usually avoid targeting aid organizations, but they provide soft targets for fundamentalist groups bent on flushing out any western presence. The U.N. is already preoccupied with the potential threat from disillusioned parties in Iraq who have failed to make the distinction between U.N. as aid agency and the U.N. Security Council that brought sanctions to Iraq. The widespread availability of rocketpropelled grenades further adds to the U.N.’s security nightmare. 52 BAGHDAD BULLETIN At the weekly NGO security meeting, a rapt audience of nervouslooking aid-workers listens as Jean-Luc Massard, head of U.N. security , enumerates the latest hot-spots and the week’s security issues. Ending the official brief the discussion is opened to the floor and hands fly up, each eager to alert the community to individual security threats encountered. It bears more than a passing resemblance to a group therapy session—except that no one expects a resolution to the problem. Baghdad 8.20.03 The Canal Hotel, the building the U.N. uses as its local headquarters , has just blown up. One corner of the three-story building has collapsed, burying twenty-two people. I felt the explosion in our apartment, a quarter mile from the site. My ears popped, and then I heard the tinkling of our neighbors’ windows shattering. Rosie’s shouting; she and I hop into the car with Salam and are there in less than ‹ve minutes, before the military arrives. I walk toward the building, past the ›aming cars, and am soon the only journalist in the cordoned-off area. My ‹rst thought is to try and help dig people out. I curse...


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