by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
United States, which went to battle with Iraq by short-circuiting the United Nations, has magnanimously promised a "vital role" for the world body in post-war Iraq.
But the conciliatory gesture by U.S. President George W. Bush -- with a promise to return to the United Nations for approval of its plans -- is being viewed with a degree of skepticism by UN diplomats and U.S. academics.
"I'll believe when I see it," an Arab diplomat told IPS, expressing cynicism at Bush's promise to consult the world body, which he once described as potentially "an irrelevant debating society".
"If the United States does really come back to the Security Council," the diplomat predicted, "it will be in search of legitimacy for its pre-emptive war on Iraq, which violated all the basic norms of the UN charter and international law."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday that he expects his agency to play "an important role in post-conflict Iraq to bring necessary legitimacy."
But U.S. academics say that the Bush administration is engaged in an imperial quest inside Iraq, and that Washington wants the United Nations to play along -- or stay out of the way.
Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, was more forthright about the UN's political paralysis in the face of U.S. high-handedness.
"The role of the United Nations will be whatever the U.S. government -- with British consultation -- decides to permit," said Solomon, who is also co-author of 'Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You'.
Crudely described, "the division of labor is for the United States to provide the iron fist and for the United Nations to tend to some circumscribed humanitarian tasks as authorized by the White House," Solomon told IPS.
The current regime in Washington is fond of "flowery rhetoric about international cooperation" but in reality it is firmly committed to an actual policy of "might makes right", he added.
Right-wing hawks in the Bush administration, led by vice-president Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, want the United Nations to provide the clean-up crew to tidy up the war-devastated country, feed the hungry, and care for the wounded and the dying.
The United Nations, they say, has no role in reconstruction, governance or in deciding the composition of the Interim Iraqi Authority (IIA), which will be called upon to run the day-to-day administration in post-war Iraq.
Over the last few years, the United Nations has provided humanitarian workers, peacekeepers and administrators in running three key trouble spots: East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
But U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice pointedly says that was different. "Iraq is not East Timor, Kosovo or Afghanistan," she told reporters last week, adding that the U.S.-led coalition, not the United Nations, will play the central role in governing and rebuilding Iraq because it was U.S. and British troops that have "given life and blood to liberate Iraq".
"There is no reason to think that the United States will give the United Nations a meaningful role in post-war Iraq," says Mark Lance, an associate professor of justice and peace at Georgetown University in Washington. DC.
"The United States has made it clear that it will not allow a Shiite government, will not allow Kurdish autonomy, will run the country via the Pentagon for an unspecified time, followed by an unspecified role for Iraqis," he added.
"In short, it is quite clear that the overriding goal is the installation of a government that is supportive of U.S. ruling class interests," Lance said.
"And I see no realistic chance of the United Nations challenging the United States on any of this. The United Nations may be allowed all sorts of roles so long as those are supportive of U.S. strategy, but where could the will come from for a challenge to that strategy?" he asked.
France, Russia and Germany -- three countries that blocked Security Council authorization for the U.S. attack on Iraq last month -- are demanding a more "central role" for the United Nations in post-war Iraq.
"We agree that the United Nations should be given a full role," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters Wednesday. "The more united the international community is, the better the chances of the reconstruction process being successful," he added.
If the three countries persist, the United States may be heading for a renewed political battle in the 15-member Security Council.
Since Iraq is still under a 13-year-old UN embargo, Washington has to eventually return to the Council to ensure the removal of sanctions in order to utilize Iraq's "natural resources" -- primarily oil -- for reconstruction.
All Iraqi oil revenues, under the "oil-for-food programme", are currently held in a UN escrow account. Only the Security Council can change the existing arrangements.
France and Russia, both veto-wielding Council members, have threatened to oppose any moves by Washington to use these oil revenues -- particularly if the country is under a U.S. military occupation or headed by a quisling installed by the United States.
Even British Development Minister Clare Short -- who represents a country that is a Security Council ally of the United States -- says that post-war reconstruction in Iraq would be illegal without a UN mandate.
"I think that the United States and Britain do not have the right -- even as military occupiers -- to determine the use of oil revenues that are subject to UN authority," Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS.
"The United Nations is seized of that matter, has set up the sanctions regime and it is up to the United Nations -- and only the United Nations -- to lift the "oil for food" programme," he added.
But Charles Krauthammer, one of the more vociferous hawks backing the White House, has made a frantic plea to Bush asking him to dump the world body.
"Don't go back, Mr. President. You walked away from the United Nations at great cost, and with great courage. Don't go back," he wrote in his 'Washington Post' column. "The American people are now with you in leaving the United Nations behind," he added.