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U.S.: Experts Say Bomb Attack Could Lead To Greater Cooperation With UN

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Experts say yesterday's bomb blast at UN offices in Baghdad could eventually result in closer cooperation between the UN and the U.S.-led occupation. They say UN critics of the U.S.-led war in Iraq may now be forced into greater involvement in Iraq -- if only to demonstrate support for the UN. The blast underscores the continuing difficulties the U.S.-led coalition is having in pacifying Iraq and could put pressure on the U.S. to rethink its security strategy.

Washington, 20 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Both before and after the war in Iraq, the United States and United Nations found little to agree on.

But yesterday's bomb attack on UN offices in Baghdad could change that.

The truck-bomb attack killed at least 17 people, including the UN's top envoy in Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello, and injured 100 others. No one has claimed responsibility and the motive is not yet clear.

Some analysts say the attack could push the U.S. and the UN closer together in Iraq and lead to greater cooperation between them.

Raymond Tanter is an expert on terrorism and the Middle East with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He tells RFE/RL that he believes the bombing will encourage UN critics of the war -- such as France and Russia -- to embrace a new role in Iraq's reconstruction.

He says no UN member will want to see the organization recoil after such a horrific attack. He says he now expects the Security Council to find common ground in passing a new resolution on the reconstruction of post-Hussein Iraq.

"There will be a new mandate and the United Nations will stick to its guns -- I mean literally, guns. You can't kill a man who represents the secretary-general and expect the secretary-general to be soft. He's not soft. He's a very tough cookie. He's not going to back down under fire," Tanter says.

The bomb attack has dramatically underscored the difficulties the U.S.-led coalition is having in establishing security in Iraq. Two weeks ago a similar bomb attack killed at many as 17 people at the Jordanian Embassy in the Iraqi capital. Individual attacks on U.S. troops remain commonplace. The U.S. has lost some 60 soldiers in such attacks since President George W. Bush declared an end to major hostilities in May.

Yesterday's attack appears -- at least initially -- to have heightened frictions between the U.S. and the UN, not lessened it. The U.S.-led coalition was responsible for protecting UN offices and the bomber appears to have outwitted U.S. soldiers in carrying out the attack.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was diplomatic in his remarks but made this point clear in a press briefing today in Stockholm: "[For] Iraq, in the situation that it is in now, the occupying power is responsible for law and order and security of the country. But when you have this kind of terrorist attack, you never know where it's going to come from. And I'm not sure if one can entirely protect against it. But in a broader sense, securing the environment is the responsibility of the [U.S.-led] coalition."

Ruth Wedgwood, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies and an expert in international conflict, agrees that the attack could spur greater international involvement in Iraq. She says it may show countries that have been reluctant to engage themselves that this position hurts the UN.

Nevertheless, she cautions the bombing could also have the opposite effect -- it could scare off potential contributors: "I hope it doesn't cause the contrary, which would be the UN getting skittish. This is a very, very robust mission. This is like conflict. They won't ever say so publicly, but I think there may be some countries who will be even less inclined now to send troops because they're so scared of what would happen to their troops."

Yesterday's attack is likely to place pressure on Bush and his team to rethink their security strategy and possibly engage more with the United Nations -- something the U.S. has been reluctant to do.

Mexico's UN ambassador, Adolfo Zinser, was cited yesterday in "The Wall Street Journal" as saying this level of engagement was badly needed. He indirectly blamed the U.S. for the poor security environment, saying, "there's a great hesitation" by UN members to commit money and troops "under the authority of the occupying powers."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today he sees a need to strengthen the UN mandate in Iraq because of the bomb attack. Speaking in London, Straw said he intends to discuss the issue tomorrow at a meeting of the UN Security Council.

At the U.S. State Department yesterday, spokesman Richard Boucher signaled the U.S. would welcome greater international participation in Iraq.

"Some countries may conclude that the bombing shows that the Iraqi people deserve and need more security and better security, and that they want to participate and help with that. We would hope that the countries would do so," Boucher said.

It's unclear, however, whether that increased cooperation would come under the U.S.-led coalition or some wider role for the United Nations.

(RFE/RL's Mark Baker contributed to this feature)

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