- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

Iraq security update

Six months after “hostilities” ended, the United Nations has withdrawn nearly all foreign staff from Iraq. It was not an evacuation, U.N. officials stressed last week, but more of a temporary relocation until the security situation can be improved.

The timing is both overdue and tragic.

The U.N. Staff Union, which long has criticized the organization’s inability to protect workers in the field, says there was no reason for more than 600 foreign staff to be in Iraq at the time of the deadly Aug. 19 bombing.

And tragic because the organization last week received a resounding endorsement to guide and advise the political reconstruction of Iraq. Nearly every world leader to take the podium during the first half of the General Assembly debate called on the U.S.-led occupation authority to give U.N. experts a larger role.

On Tuesday, President Bush explicitly welcomed U.N. assistance in drafting an Iraqi Constitution and organizing elections — to the relief and sometimes vindication of many governments. But the withdrawal of more than six dozen foreign staff is a slap at the Americans, who cannot guarantee their safety.

Without legal experts and other advisers on governance, the world organization is effectively sidelined from the role it finally has been invited to play. But the humanitarian programs are unlikely to break down, because more than 4,000 Iraqis are available to deliver basic relief efforts.

“We believe the U.N. can play a vital role in the reconstruction of Iraq,” the Bush administration’s viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, told reporters in Washington last week.

“I think it’s regrettable that it has apparently decided to reduce still further its representation there,” Mr. Bremer said. “I look forward to the day when they come back in and help us as full partners to the reconstruction.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. panel appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate security failures in Baghdad is not likely to begin its task anytime soon. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who heads the panel, said it would not be able to go to Iraq until security there improves.

A flood of palaver

Listening to the yearly General Assembly debate is a little like trying to sip water from a fire hose. Observers were drowning in words last week.

So it was interesting later to sift through key speeches and discover unreported gems that might have made news if it weren’t for the focus on Iraq’s reconstruction, and spanking the Bush administration for going to war without U.N. concurrence, and the widening of the North-South rift after the World Trade Organization breakdown in Cancun.

Last Monday, President Jacques Chirac of France endorsed something called an International Financial Facility (IFF), which appears to be a fund that could be used to secure bonds issued by developing countries.

“I would also like us to give pragmatic consideration to the idea of international solidarity levies, a kind of tax on the wealth generated by globalization,” he said in his annual address to the General Assembly.

Asked at a news conference to amplify his remarks, Mr. Chirac emphasized France’s commitment to famine relief and development.

“I would favor a kind of taxation of profits incurred by the globalization,” he told reporters. “It’s a crucial element for development. But then, at the same time, it would also be normal and legitimate that if there are profits from globalization, these profits should be taxed. Just a small tax could bring in quite a bit of money.”

The IFF, proposed years ago by the British, would be used to secure bonds issued by the poorest governments. These nations could then borrow money at more better rates if they could guarantee payments.

The tax would supplement official development assistance, or ODA, which only a handful of wealthy nations provide.

• Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]aol.com.

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