Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:

Sixteen Wise People and the Future of the U.N. (December 1, 2003)
"This could be a last-chance opportunity to reinvigorate a battered United Nations."

Saving Congo, One Woman at a Time (November 24, 2003)
"The impunity enjoyed by anyone with a gun, and the savagery of the sexual assaults women suffer as a result, has stunned and sickened aid workers."

Oil for Food: A Great Experiment Ends (November 17, 2003)
"The oil-for-food program wasn't perfect. It was manipulated by both the Iraqis and the West. None of that, however, should obscure the essential value of the concept."

A New-Look Security Council: What Makes a Winner? (November 11, 2003)
"The question of which countries might rightly claim new permanent seats is becoming less hypothetical. A group of newly emerging powers is already circling the chamber demanding a permanent presence."

Leveraging Private Money for the United Nations (November 3, 2003)
"Since the late 1990s, the U.N. Fund for International Partnerships has been playing matchmaker between small, innovative U.N. programs in need of cash and an increasingly wider world of private corporations and foundations willing to give them a boost."

U.N. and U.S. in Iraq: Nobody Won This Round (October 27, 2003)
"There is, in plain words, no great desire to help the United States out of a more difficult postwar period than the U.S. Defense Department apparently planned for."

AIDS, Asian Values and States of Denial (October 20, 2003)
"Asian leaders often acknowledge only that infections happen in what they call 'deviant populations.' Yet it is well known that sex industries across the region attract men from every level of society."

More from U.N. Notebook.

U.N. Notebook | December 9, 2003
from U. N. Wire Too Soon to Count the U.N. in on Iraq

by Barbara Crossette

UNITED NATIONS—When U.S. presidential candidate Senator John Kerry outlined his foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations last Wednesday, he gave resounding, explicit support to the United Nations in the kind of unambiguous language not heard from other candidates. In fact, Kerry suggested that the United Nations should be given charge of Iraq, more or less from the top down, as the country is being rebuilt and its first democratic institutions created.

Other influential voices outside presidential politics have been advocating the same course, and public opinion also seems to be moving in that direction. A poll taken at the end of November by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed that Americans (60 percent in this poll) thought that the process of creating an Iraqi government was going too slowly.

A large majority (71 percent, up 7 percentage points since June) said the United Nations should take the lead in writing an Iraqi constitution and building a democracy. An even larger majority (77 percent) of respondents to the poll, conducted jointly by PIPA and Knowledge Networks, said the United States should agree to other nations' proposals to put the overall rebuilding of Iraq in U.N. hands.

These opinions, however, often rest on the assumption that all that is needed is a change in thinking in Washington. Even more important may be a change in thinking in New York, at U.N. headquarters. The United Nations—least of all Secretary General Kofi Annan—is not going to jump at the chance to take over the management of Iraq. Too much needs to change not only in Washington but also on the ground in Baghdad.

On Dec. 2, Julia Taft, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration who is now assistant administrator of the U.N. Development Program and director of its bureau of crisis prevention, told a meeting of the Women's Foreign Policy Group in Washington that the United Nations was still "seared" by the death of its special representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. He and more than 20 others were killed Aug. 19 in the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Taft also said that no U.N. flights were going to Baghdad's international airport.

With most of the U.N. international staff outside the country, many in Cyprus, it is obvious to all that security has to improve in Iraq. But security for the United Nations will have to mean more than safe streets. It will require that the world body can free itself of the perception that it has become a tool of American occupation, said Ghassan E. Moukheiber, a human rights lawyer and member of the Lebanese Parliament, who was attending a conference on the future of the United Nations in New York last week.

Moukheiber said in a conversation between conference sessions that the United Nations has lost its image of neutrality across the Middle East, a dangerous position to be in when little is known about where the bombers disrupting Iraqi life originate.

It was interesting, he said, that the secretary general met last week with Iraq's neighbors as well as 10 members of the Security Council and Egypt, to seek the advice of the broader region as the United Nations assesses its role. When the United Nations had Kosovo dumped in its lap by the Clinton administration, it got help from the Europeans in a variety of tasks from administering the territory to policing it. Which Middle Eastern nation, Arab or otherwise, has demonstrated willingness to do the same in Iraq?

Since the publication in 2000 of the Brahimi report on the realities (and frailties) of U.N. peacekeeping, the organization can readily find reasons to decline new missions when countries ask it to do too much. Lakhdar Brahimi, who led the team that prepared the report, is now in charge of U.N. programs in Afghanistan, where he insisted from the start that the organization's "footprint" be light and that authority for running the country had to come from a functioning interim Afghan government. Iraq is far from that stage of political development.

Diplomats say Annan was very firm in telling the permanent members of the Security Council in a private session early this fall that he wanted to deal with an Iraqi administration, not an occupation authority. This apparently helped push Washington into setting out a more internationally acceptable timetable for establishing an Iraqi-led government.

Then there is the question of improving the atmosphere. U.S. authorities in Iraq and officials in the Pentagon seem incapable of giving any credit to the United Nations for what has already been accomplished there. Long reports continue to appear in the U.S. media crediting the occupation administration in Iraq with all the reconstruction and repair that has taken place. Do Americans know, for example, that UNDP, using Iraqi employees, restored part of the harbor at Umm Qasr quicker and at a far lower cost than a U.S. contractor was able to do with its portion of the work?

In a recent report to the Security Council, the much-reduced corps of U.N. arms inspectors and analysts included the astonishing fact that the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) had never been sent a copy of the first report released this fall by the U.S.-led team looking for prohibited weapons in Iraq. UNMOVIC had to read about it in the press, and the experts have doubts about the findings. But these U.N. inspectors, with years of experience, remain completely sidelined.

Does any of this build the groundwork for a smooth handing over of authority in Iraq to the United Nations?

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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National Journal Group. For information on National Journal Group publications, see

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