- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan circulated a letter yesterday reassuring staff that the “serious shortcomings” of U.N. security in Iraq will be properly addressed after a blistering independent investigation found widespread blame last week.

Meanwhile, the head of U.N. security operations in the field ordered all foreign staff out of Baghdad for at least two weeks, sending them to Cyprus for consultations to decide what to do next.

Fewer than 20 foreign staff remained in the Iraqi capital, and they were expected to leave over the weekend, according to U.N. officials. Forty international staffers clustered around Irbil, in the Kurdish north of Iraq, were to remain in place.

Most of the U.N. aid programs will be continued by more than 4,000 Iraqi nationals who work with the organization. They will continue to be paid and unspecified steps are to be taken to ensure their safety, according to a cable sent last night by U.N. security coordinator Tun Myat.

“Recent events in Baghdad underscore the need for a thorough review of a range of interrelated programs and security issues,” Mr. Myat said in the cable, sent to duty stations in the region.

“Such a review requires the participation of headquarters personnel as well as of U.N. agencies, funds and programs, and cannot be carried out in Baghdad under current circumstances, including in particular the very limited secure living and working accommodation available at the Canal complex,” the cable said.

The former Canal Hotel, a compound used by the United Nations since 1991, was destroyed by a truck bomb on Aug. 19. More than 150 people were injured in the blast, and 22 persons were killed — a toll that could have been lessened with proper precautions, according to a recent investigation.

On Oct. 25, a panel led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari concluded that the U.N. security system is “dysfunctional” with procedures repeatedly broken or ignored.

“I am appointing an independent team of experts to review the responsibilities of key individuals for the lack of preventive and mitigating actions before the attack,” Mr. Annan wrote to the U.N. staff.

Guy Candusso, a member of the U.N. Staff Union, received the secretary-general’s letter without enthusiasm. He said he would wait to comment until he sees who is appointed to the independent panel next week.

“This investigation should not stop until all the guilty are named and punished,” he said yesterday.

One potential conflict is the role of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who Mr. Annan has assigned to oversee the reorganization of the security management system.

Miss Frechette has for months chaired the low-profile U.N. working group on Iraq, which coordinated U.N. humanitarian preparations for the U.S.-led war, as well as the political response to the situation. If there were serious breakdowns in the security management system, her office would likely have been culpable.

U.S. officials said there was nothing improper in assigning Miss Frechette to lead the effort.

“Right now the current security system is under the responsibility of the deputy secretary-general, so it is natural that this evaluation is being done under her leadership,” said U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe.

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