A deadly bomb explosion at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad Aug. 19 sparked calls for a stronger UN role in Iraq and a rapid end to the U.S. occupation. The attack killed 20 people including the chief UN representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian who had been the UN commissioner for human rights. The UN office was destroyed by the blast and 100 people were wounded. A UN spokesperson said the UN had depended on the U.S. for the building’s security.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the attack proved that the international community must become more heavily involved in restoring order in Iraq.

“The UN is paying a price for the U.S. occupation,” Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies told the World. UN members overwhelmingly opposed the U.S. war, she noted. The Bush administration had to fight to get the UN to agree to “a kind of partial legitimation” of the U.S. occupation, and then refused to give the UN any real authority in Iraq. The solution, she said, is for the U.S. to get out of Iraq, to be replaced a truly international UN-led peacekeeping force and an infusion of money to enable Iraqis to rebuild their country.

Steven Zunes, a Middle East expert at the University of San Francisco, told the World the attack makes the case even stronger for turning authority for Iraq over to the UN “as a genuine UN trusteeship.” He called the attack on UN humanitarian workers “particularly tragic and ironic” because they have been among the most outspoken opponents of the U.S. war and occupation.

Just days earlier, The New York Times reported that the

Bush administration had dropped the idea of allowing the UN a bigger role, insisting on retaining sole control over Iraq. According to the Times, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “vehemently opposes any dilution of U.S. military authority.”

But the administration is facing heavy domestic pressure, including from U.S. troops themselves, to bring American soldiers home quickly. And U.S. occupation head L. Paul Bremer said last week that the money needed for Iraq over the next four years would be “staggering.” Some estimate the amount at tens of billions of dollars.

A meeting of possible “donor” countries is planned for Oct. 24 in Madrid. But France, Germany, Russia and other key countries, who have their own interests in the region, have said they will not contribute funds unless the UN has more say in Iraq’s reconstruction.

France, India and others have refused to send troops without greater UN authority over peacekeeping efforts. Currently 139,000 U.S. soldiers and 20,000 British troops are in Iraq. Other countries that have sent handfuls of troops are Albania, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine – all serve under U.S./British command.

Last week, blasts destroyed Iraq’s main oil pipeline to Turkey and a Baghdad water main. Also, a Reuters journalist filming outside a U.S.-run prison in Baghdad was shot and killed by U.S. soldiers, sparking international protests.

With U.S. troops and Iraqis being killed and injured daily, President Bush backtracked on his May 1 photo-op statement that combat in Iraq had ended.

In an Aug. 14 interview with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, Bush interrupted the interviewer to insist that his much-publicized aircraft carrier speech referred to “major military operations” but not to “combat operations.”

“Because we still have combat operations going on,” Bush blathered. “It’s a different kind of combat mission, but, nevertheless, it’s combat, just ask the kids that are over there killing and being shot at.”

In an apparent damage control effort, a White House spokesman said Bush was not making a distinction between combat and military operations, according to the Washington Post.

In the same interview Bush claimed the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is being “gradually replaced” by other troops. “We’ve got about 10,000 troops there, which is down from, obviously, major combat operations,” he said. In fact, the 10,000 U.S. troops are the largest number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan since the war there began.

Bush also said Poland will send a “major contingent” of troops to Iraq. In reality, Poland has agreed to send 2,400 troops, and the Pentagon will pay much of the cost.

As the administration continues to play fast and loose with the truth, 112 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) bill to establish an independent commission to investigate the evidence Bush used to make the case for war. MoveOn, Win Without War, and United for Peace and Justice have launched a grassroots lobbying campaign on this issue.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.