Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 July 2003
Issue No. 648
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Back to the UN

The deteriorating situation in Iraq is forcing the US administration to rethink its attitude towards the UN, writes Salah Hemeid

If US claims that it killed Saddam Hussein's two sons on Tuesday prove true, the campaign to end the insurgency that has daily killed or wounded American troops will have notched up its first significant victory.

Lt Gen Ricardo S Sanchez, the American ground commander in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad that four people had been killed during a massive assault in the northern city of Mosul and that two of them had been positively identified as Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said US President George W Bush was pleased to hear Uday and Qusay were dead: "Over the period of many years these two individuals were responsible for countless atrocities committed against the Iraqi people and they can no longer cast a shadow of hate on Iraq."

The deaths, if true, are good news for an administration which is coming to realise that its troops in Iraq are in danger of being bogged down in a guerrilla war. The reports came as good news too for millions of Iraqis. Soon after the deaths were announced Baghdad and other Iraqi cities erupted in an explosion of celebratory gunfire.

"Inshallah, their father is next," Nawal Ali told Al Ahram Weekly from Baghdad by telephone.

Washington is badly in need of any victories it can score in restoring law and order in Iraq. Having repeatedly spurned the UN in its campaign to drive Saddam Hussein out of power, Washington relied instead on the small group of allies that supported its Iraq policy. But now President George W Bush, who earlier warned that the UN risked fading "into history as an ineffective, irrelevant debating society" appears on the verge of U-turn.

Increasing resistance to US troops in Iraq, and the reluctance of other nations to contribute peacekeeping troops or reconstruction money without UN approval, are pushing the Bush administration back towards the world organisation. The administration's predicament deepened when India, Russia and other nations announced that they would consider sending peacekeeping troops only if a UN mandate was in place outlining mission and timetable. On Monday Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal adopted a similar position after discussing the Iraqi situation with President Mubarak in Cairo.

There are 160,000 troops in Iraq, 146,000 American and most of the rest British. While US defence officials said there were "firm commitments" from other nations for 30,000 troops for Iraq, a Pentagon advisory panel, just returned from Iraq, has reported a pressing need for international assistance.

Washington has made no official request to the UN as yet, though President Bush's meeting last week with the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sparked a round of speculation that the administration has started the arduous process of involving the UN in policing Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, has been in contact with Security Council diplomats while Secretary of State Colin Powell met with the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, to discuss ways of expanding international support for the Iraq occupation, including seeking a new United Nations resolution.

Powell later said he had started working on the possibility of a new UN mandate for Iraq which would open the door for more international troops.

The critical report by Annan on Iraq to the Security Council this week is unlikely to help the US efforts to win support for an international force and ease the burden on the American troops in Iraq. In the report, delivered on Tuesday, Annan called on American-led forces in Iraq to set a "clear timetable" for a staged withdrawal. While welcoming the formation last weekend of the 25-member Governing Council for Iraq Annan said "there is a pressing need to set out a clear and specific sequence of events leading to the end of the military occupation."

The toughly worded report came on the eve of Security Council discussions on Iraq attended by three members of the new Governing Council. While at the UN the Iraqi delegation intends, according to sources, to declare the council as the sole representative of the Iraqi people in an attempt to pave the way for international recognition. Though such a move might satisfy nations such as France, Russia and India, which remain reluctant to send forces to Iraq under the current dispensation, the Security Council is not expected to make an immediate decision recognising the Governing Council as the representative of Iraq, a decision which the UN General Assembly must in any case approve.

The problem facing the Bush administration is that the case is growing for a new Security Council resolution. The issue was not addressed in Annan's report, though some UN members are arguing that Security Council Resolution 1483 could be amended to meet concerns expressed in New Delhi, Moscow and Paris. Any amendments, they argue, have to ensure that foreign troops are seen to be serving the needs of the Iraqi people and not those of the American and British occupiers. Others think a completely new resolution is required.

The ongoing debate reflects the growing realisation that the reconstruction of Iraq requires a new international alliance. But whether Washington is ready to pay the price demanded by new partners, who are not expected to help ease the Iraq crisis without a guaranteed share in the nation's enormous cake, is by no means clear.

Senior Pentagon officials have, meanwhile, warned that time is running out for the US to establish law and order in Iraq, where more than 155 US soldiers have been killed since hostilities were officially declared over on 1 May.

The increasing death toll has led General John Abizaid, chief of US Central Command, to declare the establishment of an Iraqi "civil defence force", or armed militia, of about 6,800 men to help American forces combat violence claimed to be spearheaded by remnants of Saddam's regime. On Sunday Abizaid said eight battalions of armed Iraqi militia, each with about 850 men, will be trained by US forces. They are expected to be operational within 45 days.

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