High stakes for UN
By Robert McMahon
NEW YORK - Lakhdar Brahimi mediated an end to
the Lebanese civil war, helped oversee the transition of
post-apartheid South Africa, and presided over
Afghanistan's initial move to democracy.
70-year-old United Nation envoy now faces perhaps his
toughest challenge in trying to broker an interim
political settlement for Iraq amid escalating violence
in the country.
In Fallujah, despite a
ceasefire, sheiks from across Iraq were due to head for
the troubled city on Wednesday to discuss the two-week
standoff between US Marines and Iraqi fighters. On
Tuesday night, US warplanes bombarded positions in the
Sunni stronghold after a battle on Monday left one
Marine dead and nine wounded. Tuesday was the deadline
for insurgents to turn in their heavy weapons, but they
have been granted more time. And plans to begin joint
Marine-Iraqi police patrols in the city have been
Farther south, about 2,500 US troops
are poised outside Najaf, where an uprising led by
Shi'ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr began three weeks
ago. US helicopter gunships attacked fighters from
Muqtada's Mahdi Army, on the outskirts of the city late
on Monday. Seven Shi'ite militia were killed after
opening fire on a US patrol, and a later clash killed 57
militiamen. US officials want to capture or kill
Muqtada, who is wanted on murder charges in connection
with the slaying of a rival cleric last year. Talks
aimed at defusing the possibility of fighting between US
troops and the Mahdi Army are proceeding.
into this cauldron that Brahimi will walk. He has a
powerful ally in the US, with whom he
worked closely while serving as UN envoy to both
Afghanistan and Haiti. But Brahimi, a former Algerian
foreign minister, must also balance regional interests
in seeking to establish a democratic state under a
US-led military occupation.
handed Brahimi the task of drawing up the blueprint for
Iraq's transitional authority, which is to assume power
from the US-led coalition on July 1.
administration officials reacted positively to Brahimi's
initial proposal for a caretaker government. It calls
for the disbanding of the current US-appointed Iraqi
Governing Council and replacing it with a government of
limited powers supported by a consultative council until
elections in January.
Brahimi was expected to provide a
more detailed proposal to the UN Security Council on
Brahimi, his plan envisages an interim Iraqi
government being chosen by the end of May, despite
the "extremely worrying" security situation in Falluja
and elsewhere. "Though it will certainly not be easy, we
do believe that it shall be possible to identify by the
end of May a group of people respected and acceptable to
Iraqis across the country, to form this caretaker
government," Brahimi said.
The 15-nation council
issued a statement welcoming Brahimi's "provisional
ideas" for an interim Iraqi regime that would be made up
of nonpartisan technocrats.
Brahimi warned about
the "increase in violence up and down the country" and
especially in the besieged city of Falluja. "It is
extremely worrying," he said, that the US-led coalition
knew "better than everyone else that the consequences of
such bloodshed could be dramatic and long-lasting".
"Is it possible for the process to proceed under
such circumstances? Will it be viable? Will it be
credible?" Brahimi asked. "I put it to the [the Security
Council] that there is no alternative but to find a way
of making the process viable and credible."
Brahimi made clear that the new government would
not have many powers until elections in January 2005. He
said it should reach "crystal clear understandings" on
sovereignty with the US before June 30.
want 150,000 soldiers to disappear at midnight on June
30? Those soldiers are going to be there," he said. US
Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday that the
interim Iraqi government would have to give up some of
its sovereignty to allow a free hand to US-led armed
Brahimi has proposed that the current
US-selected Iraqi Governing Council be dissolved and an
interim government made up of nonpartisan experts take
its place until the elections. He said the UN would
"help" select the government, along with the US-led
Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing
But Brahimi said it was important that
members of the caretaker government shunned
partisanship. "It is best if the members of the
caretaker government, including the interim president,
vice presidents and prime minister, were to choose not
to stand for elections," he said.
organizing a national conference in July of at least
1,000 people to draw Iraqis together. This conference
would elect a "consultative council" to provide advice
to the government and receive reports from ministers.
The US is currently drawing up a Security
Council resolution, expected to be circulated next
month, that would approve an interim government.
At the end of his most
recent trip to Iraq, Brahimi called for a revision of
the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA)
de-Ba'athification policy. He said the policy had
removed many qualified technocrats from Iraqi society.
On April 23, CPA chief L Paul Bremer announced an easing
of the ban, saying it had been unjustly implemented.
The decision seemed to signal Brahimi's mounting
influence, says Mustapha Tlili, who is a senior fellow
on Islamic relations at the New York-based World Policy
Institute. "Clearly, Bremer was expressing views that he
did not express a few months ago, and I would assume it
is under the influence of Lakhdar Brahimi, because he is
a man of experience and reason, and he was saying the
obvious," Tlili said.
Brahimi last weekend also
warned the US against launching assaults on Najaf or
Fallujah. He said that there is no military solution in
Brahimi, who has also served as
a top official of the Arab League, has generated more
controversy in recent comments about Israel. In separate
interviews on April 21 and 24, Brahimi said Israeli
policies in the Palestinian conflict are "poisoning" the
Mideast region. He said his job of forming an Iraqi
government was becoming complicated by Israeli policies
and by US support for them.
ambassador, Dan Gillerman, sent a letter to UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan, objecting to Brahimi's comments. It
said the envoy was making an unfair connection between
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq. UN spokesman
Fred Eckhard last week distanced the UN from Brahimi's
statements. Annan said that it appears Brahimi was
trying to reflect opinions from the Arab world.
Eckhard later told reporters: "[Brahimi] was
criticizing Israeli policies and saying what he felt the
impact of those policies was on the region and, in
particular, on Iraq, which is, of course, his
responsibility here at the United Nations now."
But Brahimi's unusually sharp comments leave the
UN open to charges that it is continuing a perceived
pattern of discrimination against Israel.
Neuer is director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based
non-governmental organization that is supportive of
Israel. He told RFE/RL that Brahimi's comments raise
concern about his fitness to broker the Iraqi political
"It's a position of utmost importance for
building democracy in the Middle East, and if the person
in Brahimi's position believes that the greatest threat
to Middle East peace is the sole democracy in the Middle
East, then that suggests there is a problem with him
being in this position," Neuer said.
World Policy Institute's Tlili, who is also a former UN
official, told RFE/RL that Brahimi's comments should not
detract from his crucial role in Iraq. He suggested the
comments may have been primarily aimed at a Middle East
audience. "I think [Brahimi] made his statement to make
sure that people understood his position - yes,
absolutely - because he has also to establish his
credibility in the region," Tlili said.
Brahimi's comments come at a time of increasing
criticism from supporters of Ahmad Chalabi. Chalabi is a
member of the Iraqi Governing Council who has had major
influence with the US government. They label Brahimi as
an Arab nationalist who is biased toward Sunni Muslims
and thus incapable of acting as an honest broker with
Iraq's majority Shi'ite leaders.
But Tlili, who
says he has known Brahimi for 15 years, describes him as
a strongly independent figure. Tlili said Brahimi is
motivated in his current role by a sense of obligation
to end the suffering of the Iraqi people and bring
stability to the region.
by Asia Times Online)
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