Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Bloody Attacks On 'Soft Targets' Spread Fear In Iraq

by Ferry Biedermann

The Most Dangerous Days Lie Ahead (April 2003)
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- "We are partners with the Iraqi people in this exercise," United Nations special representative for Iraq Sergio de Vieira de Mello said just last week in his spacious office at the Canal Hotel, the UN headquarters in Iraq.

He was talking about helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country.

On Tuesday night De Mello died in the rubble of his office in the most serious attack ever on a UN facility. At least another 16 people, Iraqi and international staff, died with De Mello.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Wednesday the UN would stay in Iraq despite the attack, but the world body may very well reduce its presence here, allowing staffers who want to leave to depart.

Before the U.S.-led war, the UN's international staff was moved to neighboring Jordan and returned only recently. Any reduction in staff would seriously affect the organization's operations and be a heavy blow to U.S. efforts to normalize the situation in the war-battered country.

The attack, a likely suicide bombing using a cement truck, fits in a pattern that has emerged lately with attackers increasingly picking non-military targets.

Just ten days ago the Jordanian embassy was blown up. Sixteen people died in that attack. In the meantime water mains and oil pipelines have been attacked. Earlier this week even a prison holding opponents of the occupation was attacked. Six people died.

Such attacks seem intended to create chaos and instability, and increase dissatisfaction among the population with American rule.

A member of the U.S.-appointed governing council blamed supporters of the former regime and the Baath party for much of the violence.

Some Iraqis agree. Outside the partly collapsed UN headquarters, a distraught Iraqi woman whose niece was still trapped in the building after nightfall screamed her rage. "The Baathists are dogs," she kept repeating.

But no one immediately claimed responsibility. Suspects are legion.

Another Iraqi woman with family members inside the building said that the attackers picked that building because "they knew there would be a lot of foreigners there."

The comment indicates an inclination to identify foreigners and international organizations with the occupation. Even the Red Cross has not been spared. Last month two employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross were killed.

The UN is identified in the minds of many with U.S.-sponsored international sanctions and weapons inspections of the past. Neither measure was popular inside the country, with many people believing the UN does the bidding of the U.S., as it did when it backed the devastating war of 1991.

Ahead of the war earlier this year, UN international staff, like that of other NGO's, was evacuated from Iraq. The organizations set up office in the Jordanian capital Amman to keep operations running long distance.

The UN waited several weeks after the war before giving its people the green light to re-enter Iraq. But Sergio Vieira de Mello himself, in a speech to the UN in June, spoke of the continuing danger to UN personnel in the country.

De Mello had hoped to create a new bond between the UN and the Iraqi people. While the Coalition Provisional Administration (CPA) is supposed to govern and run Iraq, the UN has had to take on more and more responsibilities. UNICEF, the children's fund, has for example taken on garbage collection.

This intensive involvement came despite U.S. wariness of an increased role for the UN in Iraq.

On the morning of the bombing CPA administrator Paul Bremer dismissed talk of a UN Security Council resolution to give the UN a more active role. Such a resolution would have opened the door to participation of more countries in the coalition forces that maintain security in Iraq.

The CPA may now be hard pressed to provide the services that will suffer when the UN international staff leaves. It has still not been able to restore utilities and other essentials to the pre-war level.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor August 20, 2003 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.