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Things Kofi Annan can do now

About the author
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC

The American-led coalition has said that the United Nations should play a ‘vital role’ in the future of Iraq. What this will mean in practice remains to be seen, and will depend on a process of negotiation in the coming weeks.

But the UN is not a passive player in this debate. In the short term, United Nations Organisations are constrained as to what they can do by the terms of earlier UN Security Council Resolutions. The World Bank, which is also part of the UN ‘family’, cannot make funds available for reconstruction until the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq under Resolution 661 is lifted.

Nevertheless, there are at least five initiatives that Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, could take more or less immediately – both to help alleviate Iraq’s immense humanitarian problems, and to re-establish the UN as an essential actor.

  1. UN volunteers can be used by other governments in support of reconstruction, a precedent used in Rwanda and Haiti as an immediate civilian rapid response team.

  2. Unmovic, the UN inspection team for weapons of mass destruction, could certify any weapons found by coalition forces, thus providing greater legitimacy to any announcements that such weapons have been found.

  3. The Secretary General can appoint a special advisor to represent him as a liaison with the American-led coalition to coordinate UN activities in post-conflict Iraq. A recent precedent was the appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as UN Special Representative to Afghanistan in October 2001, on the eve of the change of regime in the country.

  4. The Secretary General can request a donor conference to support the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Such a move would have to guarantee that resources go to the UN, but a special appeal was launched on 28 March for the post-war period, so this would only reinforce the request.

  5. The Secretary General may use his good offices to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which he deems important to international peace and security. (Appointees of the Secretary General have been sent to the Middle East, using Article 99 of the Charter.)

The Secretary General is indeed acting swiftly on a number of fronts. On 16 April, Kofi Annan joined European Union leaders at a summit in Athens to hold private talks with British, German, French and other leaders to map out the next steps for the UN. On the same day, the United Nations requested a fresh report from its chief weapons inspector Hans Blix as it considers sending teams back to Iraq.

The US is now requesting that the sanctions imposed on Iraq by the Security Council be ended. But, in the absence of any Iraqi interim authority, lifting the sanctions will transfer the resources derived from the Oil-for-Food programme from the UN to the US and its allies. Such an act would essential relieve the UN of any potential leverage it has to play a central role, although it will allow it to be a player in the game through support of recovery and relief efforts.

The next few weeks will revive the drama we saw before the war over whether the UN remains a diplomatic player on the world stage, a moderating force between a the US as singular world power and Europe, or whether it will be side-lined in activities which it does best: humanitarian and development assistance.

More than a dozen UN agencies were active in Iraq between the end of the 1991 Gulf war and the start of hostilities in its 2003 sequel. These agencies have accumulated enormous expertise during this period. It is hard to see how any US-led reconstruction effort can be successful or sustainable without them, both because of their technical resources and the political legitimacy they can bring.

Appendix: UN Agencies working in Iraq 1991-2003

Food and Agriculture Organisation – FAO
The FAO is tasked with promoting collective and individual state efforts to raise the levels of nutrition and standards of living of peoples through securing improvements in the efficiency of the production and distribution of food and agricultural products, as well as bettering the conditions of rural populations.

International Telecommunications Union – ITU
The ITU is an intergovernmental body, which brings together governments and industry to coordinate the establishment and operation of global telecommunication networks and services. The ITU consists of Member States and Sector Members representing public and private companies and organisations with an interest in telecommunications.

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – OCHA
OCHA is the office tasked with the coordination and oversight of all UN agency operations in a country or region.

United Nations Center for Human Settlements – UNCHS
UNCHS, also known as HABITAT, is charged with coordinating human settlement activities within the UN system. UNCHS is also responsible for facilitating the global exchange of information on shelter and sustainable human settlement development and assisting countries with policy and technical advice in solving their human settlement problems.

United Nations Development Program – UNDP
UNDP administers and coordinates most of the technical assistance through the UN system. The UNDP works to help countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable human development by assisting them to build their capacity to carry out development programs in poverty eradication, employment creation and sustainable livelihoods, the empowerment of women and the protection and regeneration of the environment.

United Nations Development Fund for Women – UNIFEM
Unifem provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programs and strategies that promote women’s human rights, political participation and economic security.

United Nations Environment Program – UNEP
Unep acts to provide leadership and encourage partnerships in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and people to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation – UNESCO
Unesco was established to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and human culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms.

United Nations Office of the Iraq Program – Oil for Food Programme
The Office of the Iraq Programme administers the program as an operation separate and distinct from all other United Nations activities within the context of the sanctions regime, which fall within the purview of Unmovic, IAEA and the United Nations Compensation Commission. The programme, established in 1991, is funded exclusively with proceeds from Iraqi oil exports, authorised by the Security Council. In the initial stages of the programme, Iraq was permitted to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months, with two-thirds of that amount to be used to meet Iraq’s humanitarian needs. In 1998, the limit on the level of Iraqi oil exports under the program was raised to $5.26 billion every six months, again with two-thirds of the oil proceeds to be earmarked to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. In December 1999, the ceiling on Iraqi oil exports under the programme was completely removed by the Security Council.

United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA
UNFPA provides assistance to developing countries, countries with economies in transition and other countries at their request, to help them address reproductive health and population issues, and would raise awareness of these issues in all countries.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR
The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated to provide international protection to refugees, seek durable solutions to their plights, and furnish them with material assistance.

United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF
Unicef provides emergency assistance to children in war-ravaged countries, as well as it provides for the long-term needs of children and mothers in developing countries. Unicef also serves as an advocate for the protection of children’s rights.

United Nations Office for Project Services – UNOPS
UNOPS provides management and other support services for projects and programs undertaken by UN organisations and member states. Services include project management, implementation and execution of UN components, project supervision, and financial management services.

World Food Program – WFP
The WFP provides food aid primarily to low-income, food-deficit countries, to assist in the implementation of economic and social development projects, and to meet the relief needs of victims of natural and other disasters.

World Health Organisation – WHO
The paramount objective of the WHO is to provide for the attainment by all peoples for the highest possible level of health. The WHO undertakes preventative and reactive missions to secure their objective in nearly every member state, over the past 55 years.

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