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Whose Problem, Whose Solution? | The Nation

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Whose Problem, Whose Solution?

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Perhaps the most telling comment on the latest US/UK resolution on Iraq was the resignation of British overseas development minister Clare Short over its marginalization of the United Nations' role. Of course, she is quite right. In no way does this resolution give the UN the "vital" role that Bush promised Blair, and that the latter promised the world--and Clare Short.

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Ian Williams
Ian Williams is The Nation's UN correspondent. In addition to his work for the magazine, he frequently comments on...

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Although Kofi Annan's tenure was shadowed by political catfights, he leaves the United Nations as one of its most successful secretary generals.

Despite the best efforts of the State Department and the British, who together wrestled with the Pentagon over its wording, the resolution still emerged as a cynically expedient response to the White House's horrified discovery that it could not sell Iraqi oil to finance the occupation of Iraq without the UN's say-so. Until then, the prevailing Washington view was, "We stole it fair and square. It's ours."

The resolution does throw a bone to Russia and France, in that priority contracts under the Oil for Food program will be honored; and a legal crumb for other objectors, in that the United States and Britain actually describe themselves as "occupying powers" and accept their responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions. Ironically, US diplomats castigated Annan for using that phrase only two weeks ago.

However, the resolution's core provision is for all oil revenues to go into the "Iraqi Assistance Fund," which, although it would have an international advisory board, would in the end disburse the cash at the behest of "the Authority," i.e., the US occupation authorities. Indeed, the fund, and thus "the Authority," will have the right to get its hands on any Iraqi cash, whether governmental or from Baathist family slush funds, anywhere in the world.

In return for the end of sanctions and this handover of the UN revenues to the occupiers, Kofi Annan gets to appoint a UN "Special Coordinator," whose job is, well, to coordinate with "the Authority," on a whole list of worthy development aims. In effect, the coordinator has no power, but when things go wrong with reconstruction, the UN will take the blame.

And there will be a lot of blame to go around. Currently, the UN's Oil For Food program is entirely responsible for feeding 60 percent of Iraqis, and another 30 percent benefit from it in some measure. The resolution would terminate the program by October. Looking at the occupation's failures so far, there are ample grounds to doubt its ability to fill the gap.

There is no mention of the UN weapons inspectors, on behalf of whose unfettered access the war was waged. Although the resolution maintains the arms embargo, it makes no provision for UN enforcement of it.

However, there is a provision for 5 percent of oil revenues to be devoted to reparations for the last Gulf War, most of which will go to Kuwait. This could easily be a Versailles-like fuse for future conflict, not least since Iranians are beginning to wonder where their reparations are, for the war that Iraq waged on them earlier--and which we know was aggression because not only did the UN say so, but so did George W. Bush when he spoke to the UN General Assembly last year.

As one non-aligned diplomat said this week, the resolution does not try to bring the Iraqi occupation into line with international law; it attempts to squeeze international law to fit the occupation. Unless the international community and the UN participate in a genuinely Iraqi administration, it not only sets an ominous precedent for future invasions, it stigmatizes any ensuing Iraqi government as a Quisling administration, much as Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is seen by his fellow rulers.

While the other Security Council members have shown they are prepared to compromise in the interests of the Iraqi people, it remains to be seen how far the Pentagon is prepared to go. Will it accept a timetable, and genuine international involvement in rebuilding Iraq? Or will it blunder on into a creative messy amalgam of Somalia and Vietnam...and then throw the problem to the UN?

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