Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lakhdar Brahimi, Washington's Friend-in-Need, Gains Credibility in Iraq

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lakhdar Brahimi, Washington's Friend-in-Need, Gains Credibility in Iraq

Article excerpt

At the end of April Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan's special representative in Iraq, arrived in New York to report to the U.N. Security Council-almost at the same time as Washington's ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, who is about to go Iraq and replace Paul Bremer as U.S. ambassador/viceroy, was defending Brahimi before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Not only was the U.N. basking in the unusual and unexpected approbation of the Bush administration, but at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Negroponte defended the former Algerian foreign minister in the teeth of indignant attacks by Israel's U.N. ambassador, who was, of course, leading the usual choir in Washington.

Ironically, that probably gave a big boost to Brahimi's credibility in Iraq. He had been quoted in a French radio interview from Baghdad as saying that Israeli policies toward Palestinians, and Washington's support for those policies, hindered his search for a transition government. "The problems are linked, there is no doubt about it," he said. "The big poison in the region is the Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians."

Brahimi complained of the difficulty of dealing with Iraqis in the face of "Israel's completely violent and repressive security policy and determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory."

In the face of Israeli complaints, Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard said that "the official position of the United Nations on such matters is that set out by the secretary-general in the many statements he has issued over the last seven years," and that "The secretary-general's views, as expressed over the last seven years, do not contain the word 'poison,'"

In diplomatic speak, this meant that, at most, the secretary-general may have disagreed with Brahimi's choice of words, but it was certainly no repudiation of the diagnosis. Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman, who does not do subtlety, may have missed that point. Nevertheless, he dashed off a letter demanding of Annan "that you alert Mr. Brahimi of his misconduct, and ensure that in the future U.N. officials meet the requirements of professionalism and impartiality expected of them by the U.N. Charter and the international community."

Somehow, repeating what most members regard as a truism left Brahimi's reputation unscathed in New York-and considerably enhanced in Iraq. Indeed, on his arrival in New York, he was told that Gillerman had been telling delegates that Brahimi had boasted in Baghdad that he had never shaken an Israeli's hand. Brahimi is reported to have quipped that he did not say it, and it was not true, he had shaken hands with Israelis-but was unlikely to repeat the experience with the Israeli ambassador.

Brahimi's plan for Iraq-still very much a work in progress-so far seems very much like an Iraqi version of the Loya Jirga he resurrected in Afghanistan: a National Council of a thousand Iraqis, with a president and two vice presidents to steer the country to elections. Its members would be "technical," and excluded from running for office in the elections, the organization of which is the interim government's main purpose. Washington seems to be backing Brahimi in disbanding the Iraqi Governing Council, which would mean the sidelining of Ahmed Chalabi-which is why the latter is one of the major noisemakers about the Oil-For-Food problems, which Chalabi supporters in Washington have been using to attack the U.N. and its possible role in Iraq.

However, the Oil-For-Food accusations are not the only rearguard action being fought in the U.S. administration. Although work has not yet begun on drafting a new resolution, the American versions mentioned so far fall into all the traps of previous resolutions. For example, although the administration withdrew the phrase "limited sovereignty" after it had leaked on the Hill, that is precisely what they are envisaging.

It is unlikely that the Security Council will accept a "sovereign" Iraqi regime that does not have control over its own troops-let alone the foreign forces stationed there-and does not even control its own finances. …

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