UN’s Man: Elections in Iraq Impossible Now

If you keep tabs with the major American press outlets – in this case I’m talking specifically about the New York Times, although the usual line-up of blogs have thoroughly linked to it already – you will have already seen this article on the latest pessimistic assessments from in-country CIA personnel in Iraq. Ultimately though, as President Bush has already pointed out in this context, these folks are just guessing, and their guesses are pretty much as good or as bad as anyone else’s.

But another “guess” you likely haven’t seen, unless you regularly read the Dutch-language NRC Handelsblad, is that of UN special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, given in the course of a recent exclusive interview (UN Top Man: Elections in Iraq Not Doable Now) to that newspaper’s editor Robert van de Roer.

The article’s lead clarifies that Brahimi spoke to the NRC in the first place op persoonlijke titel, i.e. just speaking for himself and not officially for the United Nations. That turns out to make plenty of sense. Even as his basic message was that the elections planned for 30 January would be impossible to hold in Iraq with today’s security situation, he otherwise didn’t hold much back. “Iraq is in ruins,” he declares. And: “The Americans attacked Iraq without any reason at all and installed an occupation that the Iraqis did not want. How can you speak of a liberation, if you send an army of 140,000 and devastate the cities, and the electricity and water installations.”

OK, standard stuff so far; and he admits straight-out that President Bush and Secretary of State Powell and all their minions know very well that he cannot approve of either the war or the current occupation. But remember that Brahimi is not only the UN’s man in Iraq, but he’s of Algerian nationality himself, and so provides some interesting Arab perspective. For one thing, he maintains that Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi is much too close to the CIA, that that has substantially tainted any degree of impartiality that his countrymen or fellow Arabs outside the country are willing to assume from him. Then there is America’s current support for Israel (“total and uncritical,” according to Brahimi), and specifically for what he calls the “repression, aggression, and injustice” Israel perpetrates in the Occupied Territories. For Arabs, he says, that is just a mirror-image of what they see the Americans themselves doing to native Iraqis in Iraq.

He might be speaking only his personal opinions, but plainly it still is important to have the UN’s man on board with you. In his “Informed Comment” weblog, Juan Cole brings up what can happen when the UN starts to half-step, especially when extensive UN participation in setting up those January elections is assumed. Right now there are only 35 UN election-experts in-country (a fact which Van de Roer’s interview-article also mentions, but does not comment upon), as compared to the 600 that were in Afghanistan preparing the elections there. This could give them another reason to fail: not due to violence, just due to insufficient organization and resources! Prof. Cole also discusses a new wrinkle that has arisen about how to run those elections, namely staggered over the course of three weeks. The idea here is, since even 140,000 American troops plus British and other more minor allies seemingly cannot guarantee security everywhere in the country, to shift them from place to place during those three weeks to provide security at least to where voting is supposed to happen on any given day within that period.

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