Magazine article Newsweek

A Failed-State Mr. Fix-It; the Bush Administration Didn't Have Much Time for the United Nations. Then Iraq Unraveled, and Lakhdar Brahimi Got a Call

Magazine article Newsweek

A Failed-State Mr. Fix-It; the Bush Administration Didn't Have Much Time for the United Nations. Then Iraq Unraveled, and Lakhdar Brahimi Got a Call

Article excerpt

Byline: Rod Nordland in Baghdad and Christopher Dickey in Paris with Tamara Lipper in Washington

Lakhdar Brahimi seemed weary just talking about his 10 days in Iraq. As the U.N. envoy relaxed for a stopover at his Paris apartment last weekend, he recalled that security problems in Baghdad had often kept him confined in the Green Zone, the heavily guarded Coalition headquarters. A lot of Iraqis "refuse on principle to go into the Green Zone," he told NEWSWEEK. Those coming to see him often had to wait three hours to be searched. At night, mortars exploded in the zone as he slept in a makeshift dormitory in one of Saddam's former palaces. His few trips around Iraq were nerve-racking, too. "With these rockets falling all over the place, or when you are in a helicopter and you know a helicopter was shot down the day before, it's hard not to feel that you are in harm's way." The obstacles didn't stop him from brainstorming with hundreds of Iraqis, and then announcing what he called a "simple formula" for creating a government to which the Americans could transfer sovereignty. "The situation in Iraq is not good," he said at the time, "but there's hope."

Soft-spoken and blunt, Brahimi has made a career as an envoy to failed states. "I take on such cases because I'm foolish enough to accept them," he remarked when appointed as the United Nation's peace envoy to Afghanistan during the Taliban's regime in 1997. "No one else will." He quit with frank disgust with all sides, but was sent back after the American invasion and successfully negotiated a national conference that managed to agree on an Afghan constitution. He also crafted the Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's 17-year civil war, and headed the U.N. observer mission to South Africa when Nelson Mandela was elected.

According to Brahimi's "sketch" for Iraq's future, the United Nations--in consultation with Iraqis and Coalition authorities--would choose a caretaker government. …

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