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Western Press Review: The Bombing Of UN Headquarters In Baghdad And 50 Years After Iran's Coup

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 20 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Press coverage today is dominated by discussion of the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad yesterday, which killed at least 17 people including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN's top envoy to Iraq. A few hours later, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem left at least 20 people dead and wounded over 100 others, prompting Israel to suspend all talks with the Palestinian leadership.

We also take a look today at attempts to raise awareness in Central Asia of the dangers posed by the sex-trafficking industry and America's long history of pursuing regime change, on the 50th anniversary today of the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran.


A "Washington Post" editorial today looks at yesterday's truck-bomb attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad, which killed at least 17 Iraqis and foreign workers, including the UN's top official in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, whom the paper calls "one of the most talented and dedicated United Nations diplomats of his generation."

Within hours, the editorial continues, "a bus bomb in Jerusalem killed at least 18 people and injured many more." The "Post" says both attacks were the work "of terrorists who saw nothing wrong with taking innocent life to make a political or propaganda point. Both were designed to "thwart the will of majorities," whether Palestinian, Israeli, or Iraqi.

The paper goes on to say the targeting of UN headquarters -- a "soft," or nonmilitary, target -- suggests that an internationalization of the U.S.-led occupation will not put a stop to attacks. This was not just an attack on the Anglo-American occupation. The UN headquarters in Baghdad housed hundreds of civilian workers from all over the globe who were dedicated to the humanitarian and reconstruction needs of Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

The paper says it has at times joined the chorus of international voices criticizing Washington "for its reluctance to involve UN or NATO forces more fully in Iraq." But "just as the terrorists will attack the United States wherever possible, [so] will they attack anyone who promotes peace and pluralism, whether under the flag of the United States or the United Nations."


A "Los Angeles Times" report by Maura Reynolds and Paul Richter discusses some of the possible long-term effects of the double bombings yesterday in Baghdad and Jerusalem. The bombing of UN headquarters in Iraq, they say, may further "dishearten Americans whose support is crucial for the reconstruction effort."

Moreover, such a high-profile attack might dissuade some nations from providing peacekeeping troops. The U.S. administration would soon like to rotate out tens of thousands of battle-weary U.S. troops and replace them with international forces. Nongovernmental organizations might now also prove less willing to take on new responsibilities in Iraq.

Reynolds and Richter say, "On a practical level, the bombing may increase the distance between Iraqis and those foreigners who are trying to rebuild the country by forcing the United Nations and nongovernmental groups to increase security. Until now, UN officials and others involved in the reconstruction had sought to distinguish themselves from U.S. military forces by interacting with Iraqis without bulletproof vests, weapons, or armored vehicles." Now this is likely to change, even as some are speculating that UN personnel may be relocated to Jordan.

But the authors say the Baghdad bombing could also ultimately help Washington -- "if it makes UN members feel that they are united in the same cause with the Americans" working in Iraq. While many countries did not support the invasion of Iraq, none really wants to see the reconstruction effort fail."


Yesterday's UN blast is also the subject of an editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." The German daily calls it "one of the deadliest attacks ever directed at a UN facility," and says this development is "an explosive sign." The attack demonstrates how far the United States is from controlling the land it conquered. Moreover, the commentary predicts that such chaos will continue in the coming weeks.

The news of the latest attack overshadowed reports yesterday that Kurdish militiamen captured Iraq's feared former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan. But developments such as Ramadan's capture still do not promise the establishment of a long-term calm in the country or the assurance of basic needs such as electricity and the supply of fresh water.

The "FAZ" editorial says, given the current atmosphere in Iraq, there is little hope of meaningful progress in stabilizing the country -- if anything, it says, it is a sign "to the contrary."


Several items in today's "New York Times" comment on the Baghdad bombing yesterday. Staff correspondent Tom Shanker says although it is unclear whether the sabotaging of oil and water pipelines are in any way connected to attacks on the Jordanian Embassy and the United Nations, anti-occupation forces appear to be attempting "to depict the United States as unable to guarantee public order, as well as frighten away relief organizations rebuilding Iraq."

Following yesterday's UN bombing, "there is a growing belief that anti-American fighters, whatever their origin and inspiration, have adopted a coherent strategy not only to kill members of allied forces when possible, but also to spread fear by destroying public offices and utilities."

Shanker says attacks "on foreign embassies and the headquarters of international organizations, as well as water and oil pipelines, appear specifically devised to halt improvements in the quality of life for average Iraqis." And this poses an "acute" problem for U.S. forces in Iraq: "if Iraqis are afraid and unconvinced that their situation is improving, their hostility to the United States may grow."

Columnist Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times" says global and U.S. calls for international assistance in Iraq are misguided. In fact, he says, there are only two things that are needed: more American backup and more Iraqi representation. First, the U.S. occupation under L. Paul Bremer must be given more resources to get basic services functioning as quickly as possible. And then, he says, Iraqis must be put in charge.

Iraqi citizens "need to be seen to be solving their own problems," says Friedman. "They need to be manning the checkpoints because only they know who the good guys and bad guys are, and they need to be increasingly running the show so attacks on Iraq's infrastructure are seen and understood as attacks on Iraqis, not on [the U.S.]."

But most importantly, Friedman says, Iraqis must take charge because Iraq's "silent majority" is the "only potential friend" of the United States in the entire region. "Everyone else wants America to fail," he says. But the U.S. "[has] not empowered that Iraqi silent majority enough, and it has been too timid and divided to step forward yet." Their vocal support will only come "if America gets the basics right -- water, jobs, and electricity -- and lets Iraqis run things faster." Then the credit -- and the blame -- will be Iraq's alone.


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke eulogizes his friend and colleague, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed yesterday in the attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad.

Often described as "widely respected" and "charming," the Brazilian diplomat served over 30 years at the international body in various capacities worldwide.

Holbrooke calls Vieira de Mello's track record "remarkable." Since 1971 he served in Bangladesh following its war for independence, Sudan, postwar Cyprus, war-torn Mozambique, Peru, Lebanon, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo, Kosovo, and East Timor.

Vieira de Mello "always carried out his mission with charisma, charm and courage -- [and] sartorial perfection, no matter how difficult the terrain," Holbrooke says. He was reportedly "instrumental in convincing the American authorities in Baghdad that the Iraqi Governing Council needed to be more than just an advisory group" -- a foresight Holbrooke says was "a wise and far-reaching decision based in large part on Vieira de Mello's experience in Kosovo and East Timor."

He adds that Vieira de Mello at times could not understand why Washington so often sought to undermine the UN "instead of strengthening it."

Holbrooke writes: "As Americans learn -- too late -- about this great man, I hope they will recognize that he and the others who died or were wounded in Baghdad were part of a vast army of UN civilian personnel serving in often hellish conditions around the world."


Anneliese Rohrer writes in Austria's "Die Presse" that Iraqi resistance to the UN and U.S. is taking on different dimensions. "Attacks on financial sources and the infrastructure should make the life of Iraqis intolerable," and so "stimulate hatred for the occupying forces," she says.

Attacks on international facilities could serve as a deterrent for countries preparing to help the United States in rebuilding Iraq. It should make them aware of the risks they run, she says. Thus every attack indicates the weakness of American policy in Iraq and the lack of vision for a time when Iraqi fears and apprehensions have subsided.


Stefan Kornelius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad yesterday demonstrated the sheer anarchy of life in Iraq -- now no less than on the day American troops marched into Baghdad, he says. Kornelius goes on to question what institution might succeed in stabilizing the country if not even the UN is immune to such murderous attacks.

Yesterday's assault has had a double effect, he says. The U.S. can no longer claim that it is exclusively responsible for the future of Iraq. The UN has been drawn into the violence, it is taking the same risks and its role is no longer confined to bringing aid.

The UN will now have to realize that "its presence has failed to have a stabilizing effect." The attack shows clearly that the Iraqi people will not accept the UN automatically, even in the event the U.S. gives it a more decisive role. Moreover, Kornelius suggests that even those countries that originally opposed the war in Iraq might now support a peace mission, since an attack on Sergio Vieiro de Mello, the UN special representative, could be perceived as a direct appeal.

It is apparent that neither the U.S. nor the UN alone can bring an end to anarchy in Iraq. And so, says Kornelius, it is high time for them to unite, for both need each other to serve their common interest in stabilizing and bringing peace to the country.


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," columnist George Will discusses the 50th anniversary today of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and his replacement by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. The Shah ruled until he was in turn overthrown by the Ayatolllah Khomeini in 1979.

"This anniversary reminds us that America is not new to the business of regime change," says Will. "Fifty years ago U.S. and British intelligence services [had] a remarkably easy time overthrowing Iran's government." According to later comments by the main U.S. operative in the project, Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt), the 1953 coup in Iran succeeded "because the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] had accurately concluded that the Iranians, including most of the military, 'wanted exactly' the result the U.S. sought" -- the overthrow of Mossadegh. If the United States were to undertake a similar operation ever again, Roosevelt said, the U.S. government and intelligence services "must be absolutely sure that [the] people and army want what we want."

Will says on this anniversary, it is important to remember "that U.S. involvement in regime change deeply implicates the United States in the future of the affected country."

He writes: "The reason for remembering such U.S. undertakings is not to reopen arguments about their wisdom, but to underscore the point that the U.S. has been practicing the craft of regime change for a long time. Such changes inevitably are the beginnings of long and sometimes melancholy entanglements."


Writing in the regional "Eurasia View," Alfred Kueppers and Artur Samari discuss raising awareness of the dangers of sex trafficking. They authors cite a report by the U.S. State Department as saying in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey, trafficking takes place "with virtual impunity."

According to regional anti-trafficking activists, they say, "it is relatively easy and cheap for traffickers to ship young Central Asian women to rich nations as human cargo." Israel, Malaysia, and Western Europe have been cited as "major centers of sex slavery," and women often "find themselves held [hostage]. A few small non-governmental organizations are beginning to warn young women of the dangers of the sex industry, and assist others trapped abroad."

In some areas of Central Asia and elsewhere, local activists are attempting to raise awareness among those most at risk, including orphans and the poor -- especially in rural areas where there may be a lack of information about the industry. But in places such as Uzbekistan and elsewhere, many "consider the topic of female trafficking too shameful to discuss openly."

As between 40 percent to 80 percent of Uzbek citizens survive on less than one dollar a day, some "rural mothers are so desperate they are willing to consign their children to traffickers without understanding the consequences."

But groups like the Future Generation Center, located near Tashkent's red-light district, offer a trafficking hotline and are working to uncover trafficking operations advertising in newspapers and elsewhere. The center and similar groups also work to repatriate girls being held by traffickers and often help the girls find counseling.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)