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UN ponders as Fallujah burns
By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK - As violence continues to escalate in Iraq, the United Nations remains ambivalent about its own ability to help salvage a country on the brink of disaster. In the meanwhile, a radical plan has been hatched to end the siege of Fallujah.

The US military said on Thursday that Marines and former Iraqi generals had reached an agreement to pull US forces away from Fallujah. But details of the deal remain sketchy and new air strikes on the besieged city as well as gun battles were reported later in the day.

Lieutenant-Colonel Brennan Byrne initially said troops would leave a southern zone of the city on Friday and hand over security to a new Iraqi force, headed by a former Iraqi army officer. The deal provides for a new force, known as the Fallujah Protective Army, to provide security. It will consist of up to 1,100 Iraqi soldiers.

Only last week, US commanders threatened to launch an all-out attack on the city to root out an estimated 1,500 Sunni insurgents inside. US marines encircled the city of 200,000 on April 5, after the killings and mutilations of four US contract workers on March 31.

It was unclear exactly who the members of the new force are or what influence they would have over the guerrillas inside the city west of Baghdad. Byrne later said the agreement was "tentative", while Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said he was not aware of a deal.

Byrne identified the commander only as General Salah, a former division commander under Saddam Hussein. But a Lieutenant-General Salah Abboud al-Jabouri, a native of the Fallujah region, was a senior commander in Saddam's military.

Overall on Thursday, 10 US soldiers were killed in three separate attacks, while at least six Iraqi civilians were killed in several incidents. In addition, seven Iraqi police were killed by gunmen in the northern city of Mosul.

In New York, meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been dragging his feet over the appointment of a new special representative for Iraq to succeed Under Secretary General Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died in the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad last August.

"Perhaps there are no takers willing to volunteer for a job which may be one of the world's riskiest," an Arab diplomat told IPS. "We are not surprised at all."

Asked when the UN will name a special representative to the occupied country, Annan would only say: "I cannot give you a name, I cannot give you days, but I can assure you that we are thinking about it."

At the same time, the world body's chief has refused to return his international staff to Iraq - temporarily relocated in Cyprus and Jordan - because of the unbridled violence, not just against US soldiers, but against all foreigners.

And on Wednesday, Annan told reporters: "I will never see a UN peacekeeping force under a UN representative [in Iraq]," although he said a multinational force was a possibility.

Despite his acquiescence to reported heavy US pressure in appointing Lakdhar Brahimi as UN special adviser on Iraq and in following the US political agenda in Iraq, Annan still believes that the role of the world body will be clouded in uncertainty as long as coalition military forces remain in Iraq.

"We all want to see the end of the occupation," he says, adding, "we all want to see a genuinely representative government in Iraq."

But he will see neither, predicts Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. "To a significant extent, the United Nations currently faces choices between being excluded or being manipulated; naturally there will be some blend," he told IPS.

Solomon said there appears to be a kind of tacit division of labor, as the UN concerns itself with humanitarian mitigation of the consequences from the US-led war and occupation while the US government focuses on retaining control of Iraq through military means.

The world body is also being "strongly coerced" to stage-manage the formation of a new interim civilian government in Baghdad come July, he added. At the same time, the UN is also to be mandated to hold nation-wide elections in January 2005.

But judging by the deteriorating security environment in Iraq, the world body might not be able to accomplish either of those goals.

"As I said earlier, elections require a certain calm environment for it to be effectively and fairly organized. We don't know what the future holds and what the situation will be like between now and January," Annan said on Wednesday.

What is known is that both UN mandates are to be executed under two conditions: Washington will not only keep its 130,000 troops in Iraq; it will also control the country's oil revenues. "The US government continues to keep its big gun at the head of Iraq, and the United Nations should be willing to declare that such ongoing coercion is unacceptable," says Solomon, author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You.

Mouin Rabbani of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group told IPS the situation in Iraq places the UN in a particularly precarious position. "Sobered by reality, the United States has reversed its previous contempt for the world body, and is now asking it to pull the American chestnuts out of the Iraqi fire," said Rabbani.

"Can it do so, between the hammer of American efforts to control the show behind a UN facade and the anvil of growing Iraqi opposition to the American occupation, with which the United Nations will be associated if it is not sufficiently independent?" he asked.

Brahimi, who has received the blessing of US President George W Bush in trying to negotiate an interim government in Baghdad, told the Security Council on Tuesday the "security situation [in Iraq] was and remains extremely worrying".

He was very critical of the killings of civilians by US forces and the attack on a minaret, which he described as "a source of shock and dismay".

Still, Brahimi sounded hopeful the political process currently under way could help restore "Iraqi sovereignty and independence, preserving the country's unity and territorial integrity, and making the Iraqi people truly the masters of their own destiny, with the political system of their choice and control over their own natural resources".

But Rabbani remains skeptical, because he doubts Iraqi sovereignty can really exist in the shadow of the US-led military occupation. "As it has become clear that US interests and democracy in Iraq are basically incompatible, the United States has, unsurprisingly and as many predicted, chosen to preserve the supremacy of its own interests and its control of Iraqi affairs at the expense of a genuine transfer of power and the establishment of a political system in which Iraqis are able to choose their political system and control their destiny and resources," Rabbani added.

He also pointed out that transfer of power involves more than just establishing a new government - even an elected one. "Iraqis will continue to view their country as occupied as long as foreign forces are stationed on their soil," said Rabbani.

"Given the disastrous progression of events so far, I think a betting person with a reasonable track record would place his money on the further unfolding of a Lebanon-type scenario, meaning a combination of resistance to foreign occupation with increasing internal strife, leading to the progressive marginalization and disintegration of the central state and its institutions," he added.

Solomon said the "political process" in Iraq can be separated from the fundamentals of military control only in a world of fantasy and spin.

The current "doubletalk" from Washington - such as "limited sovereignty" coupled with Iraqi "partial control" over its military forces - is a thin smokescreen for the reality that the US government continues to insist on dominating Iraq, he added.

(Inter Press Service)

May 1, 2004

Iraq's future: Dreams and nightmares
(Apr 30, '04)

High stakes for UN troubleshooter
(Apr 29, '04)


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