UN: On the side of the occupiers


Standing beside the President at the White House on 16 April, the Prime Minister was asked if it was an error not to involve the UN in Iraq much earlier in the post-invasion process.  He replied that he and the President “have been involving the UN throughout”.


For once, Blair is absolutely right.  The Security Council has been involved throughout – and disgracefully it has given ex-post facto blessing to the invasion and occupation.  UN involvement has been to assist the US/UK in maintaining their occupation, not in bringing it to an end and transferring power to Iraqis.


Prior to the invasion, the UN was inextricably linked with economic sanctions against Iraq, maintained at the behest of the US/UK.  The UN is now inextricably linked with the US/UK occupation of Iraq and it isn’t surprising that, for the first time in UN history, UN personnel have been specifically targeted for assassination.


The assistance to the occupiers began with Security Council resolution 1483 passed on 22 May 2003, which authorised the US/UK to sell Iraqi oil and spend the proceeds.  Under Article 23(g) of the 1907 Hague Regulations, occupying powers are forbidden to “seize the enemy’s property”.  In 1483, the Security Council gave them legal cover to seize and sell Iraqi oil.  The resolution was presented as a generous act, which ended economic sanctions after more than 12 years: it did; it had to, so that the occupying powers could sell the Iraqi oil they had seized.


Ultimate example

The ultimate example of UN assistance is in Security Council resolution 1511, passed on 16 October 2003.  This changed the occupying forces into UN forces under US command and mandated their use to put down resistance to occupation.  Resolution 1511 was passed unanimously: the chief opponents of the invasion – France, Germany and Russia – voted for these measures, and so did Syria and Pakistan.


US Marines were acting with the full authority of the Security Council when they killed upwards of a thousand people, most of them non-combatants, many of them children, in Falluja in April.


You don’t believe it?  Then, read paragraph 13 of resolution 1511, which says:


“[The Security Council] Determines that the provision of security and stability is essential to the successful completion of the political process as outlined in paragraph 7 above and to the ability of the United Nations to contribute effectively to that process and the implementation of resolution 1483 (2003), and authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq”.


Lest there be any doubt that “the multinational force under unified command” refers to the occupation forces, here is what John Negroponte, the US Ambassador to the UN, said after 1511 was passed:


“… the resolution establishes a United Nations authorized multinational force under unified United States command.”


Resolution 1511 gave the US a free hand to use “all necessary measures”, that is, up to and including lethal force, to put down resistance to the occupation.  Of course, it isn’t couched in that language: it is couched in the language the US/UK like to employ about bringing “security and stability” to Iraq.  There is no recognition that what it going on in Iraq is armed resistance to occupation, and that the most effective way of ending armed resistance to occupation is to end occupation.


It is the ultimate in twisted reasoning that the Security Council should authorise the US to use lethal force against Iraqis to bring “security and stability” to Iraq so that the UN can operate there.  But that’s what the resolution says.  The process has been so successful that the US is now trying to get states to volunteer to supply troops for a blue-helmeted force to protect UN personnel in Iraq.


It is extraordinary that the powers led by France, who refused to back the US/UK invasion of Iraq in March last year, backed the use of force to maintain the US/UK occupation six months later, and called for other member states to send troops to help maintain it (see paragraph 14 of 1511).


IGC recognised

Not only that, in the same resolution they recognised the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and its ministers as the sovereign government of Iraq.  See paragraph 4, which says:


“[The Security Council] Determines that the Governing Council and its ministers are the principal bodies of the Iraqi interim administration, which, without prejudice to its further evolution, embodies the sovereignty of the State of Iraq during the transitional period until an internationally recognized, representative government is established and assumes the responsibilities of the Authority;”

This is not a trivial matter: it provides cover for the US/UK to alter Iraqi law.   As occupying powers, they are forbidden to alter Iraqi law under Article 43 of the Hague Regulations.  But, 1511 enabled them to say that it was the sovereign government of Iraq recognised by the UN that altered the law, not them as occupying powers.  Thus when, contrary to existing Iraqi law, Paul Bremer signed Order 39 to allow non-Arab foreign ownership of Iraqi companies, it was, they said, the work of the Iraqi finance minister, on behalf of the sovereign government of Iraq, recognised by the UN.  As Hilary Benn explained in a letter to the Guardian on 30 October:

“The measures on foreign investment in Iraq were introduced by the finance minister, Kamel al-Keilami, with the support of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and were supported by the governing council – which is recognised by the UN in the resolution approved unanimously last Thursday as embodying the sovereignty of the state of Iraq during the transition to representative government.”


New “sovereign” government

The UN is now involved in the creation of a new “sovereign” government of Iraq.  Like the present one, it is not going to be elected by the Iraqi people, but this time it appears that the US is going to allow Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan’s Special Advisor on Iraq, to select it.  Like the present one, it will exist in the shadow of the occupying powers and their 150,000 troops.  It is supposed to be an interim government lasting six or seven months only, by which time elections are due to be held to a National Assembly, out of which a new government is supposed to be formed.


One could be forgiven for asking: why bother?  Why not leave the present arrangements in place until elections are held?  What’s the point of replacing one powerless unelected government by another powerless unelected government, which will last for a mere six months?


There is a point to it: it is that George Bush is running for re-election next November and, in order to improve his chances, he needs to give the impression to the American people that there is light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq.  Hence, 30 June – before the presidential election campaign gets under way in earnest – was chosen as the date for the “handover of sovereignty” to Iraqis.  No matter what happens, the 30 June date is immoveable – because the date of the presidential election is immoveable.


This date was set in an “agreement” between the US and its appointees on the Iraqi Governing Council on 15 November last year.  The detail of the “agreement” has been radically changed since, chiefly due to pressure from Ayatollah Sistani, but the 30 June handover date remains intact, since it is vital to George Bush’s re-election.


The Ayatollah objected most strenuously to the proposal to create a National Assembly, out of which the new government was supposed to be formed, by holding “caucuses” in each of Iraq's 18 governorates.  The Ayatollah demanded direct elections to the Assembly.  The US said it couldn’t be done in time.  Eventually, the UN was brought in to mediate, and Kofi Annan sent a fact-finding mission to Iraq led by Lakhdar Brahimi.  It reported on 23 February, and agreed with the US that elections couldn’t be held before 30 June but recommended that the “handover” go ahead anyway – which leaves unanswered the fundamental question of how the new “government” is to be created.


Brahimi to choose

It is a measure of the desperation of George Bush that he appears to be willing to allow Brahimi to choose it.  However, it does mean that Iraqis will have less say in the choice than they would have had under the original US proposal to hold local caucuses.


Brahimi is talking about having a government of “technocrats”, who would not participate further in Iraqi politics.  This is to avoid the accusation that the selected members of the interim government would have an unfair advantage over others in subsequent elections.  He is also talking about appointing a presidential head of state plus 2 deputies (a Shia president plus Sunni and Kurd deputies).  All this is supposed to be done before the end of May.


In addition, he is proposing to hold a large national conference, similar to an Afghan loya jirga, to elect a "consultative assembly" to serve alongside the interim government.  Strangely, he proposes that this be done in July, rather than prior to 30 June when it could conceivably have had a role in the creation of the interim government.


Whether Brahimi will succeed in selecting a “government” remains to be seen.  Whether that “government” will be accepted by Ayatollah Sistani, who has pressed for direct elections from the outset, also remains to be seen.  Without that, the new “government” is a non-starter.


Hand back sovereignty

George Bush’s plan to have a carefully choreographed “handover" of sovereignty to Iraqis, as a prelude to his re-election campaign, has been severely damaged.  He used to talk about it as the “end of occupation”.  He doesn’t any longer.  As time has gone by, it has become increasingly apparent that the “handover” is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, with John Negroponte, the soon to be US ambassador to Iraq, rather than Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, running Iraq.


George Bush is still talking up the “handover”, understandably so since he has an election to win.  “On June 30th, Iraqi sovereignty will be placed in Iraqi hands”, he told the American people in a nationwide television address on 13 April.  But the rest of the administration is talking it down.  In an interview with Reuters on 26 April, Colin Powell, was asked:


“You've said that Iraqi sovereignty will be limited after June 30th, at least, for example, to the extent that Iraqi armed forces will be under US control, so you have unity of command. Why should Iraqis view their new government as legitimate if its sovereignty is limited in any way, and if they don't actually choose its members?”


A good question.  He replied that the Iraqis would be given full sovereignty, but they would have to give some of it back to the US:


I think we can make the case to the Iraqi people that they are getting full sovereignty; I hope that'll be accompanied by a UN resolution that also makes that case. And I hope they will understand that in order for this government to get up and running and to be effective, some of its sovereignty will have to be given back, if I can put it that way, or limited by them, an understanding by them that it's important to let the multi-national force be able to operate under its own command, US command, with the Coalition forces under US direction.”


Iraqi armed forces will be under UN command after 30 June, whether the new “government” likes it or not.  That is written into the Transitional Law signed by the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council last March.  The new “government” will not be allowed to change that law (nor any of the Orders made by Paul Bremer).  Article 59(B) of the Transitional Law says:


“Consistent with Iraq’s status as a sovereign state, and with its desire to join other nations in helping to maintain peace and security and fight terrorism during the transitional period, the Iraqi Armed Forces will be a principal partner in the multi-national force operating in Iraq under unified command pursuant to the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511 (2003) and any subsequent relevant resolutions.  This arrangement shall last until the ratification of a permanent constitution and the election of a new government pursuant to that new constitution.”


This may be largely a theoretical matter given the recent refusal of the Iraqi Army to put down resistance to the occupation at the behest of the occupier.  But it is indicative of the amount of sovereignty to be exercised after 30 June by the new “government” that it has been decided in advance that the Iraqi Armed Forces be under the command of the occupier.

The constant speculation in the media about whether the “handover” on 30 June might be aborted because of the “security situation” shows a complete lack of understanding of what is going to happen on 30 June.  Nothing is going to change as regards the occupying forces – they are still going to be there, they are still going to be under US command and they are still going to be authorised by the Security Council to use lethal force to put down resistance to the occupation.


UN resolution

If all goes as the US wants, and an Iraqi “government” of some sort is installed by 30 June, the Security Council will no doubt pass a resolution recognising it as yet another embodiment of Iraqi sovereignty.  That is what Powell was talking about in the Reuters interview quoted above.  That is the kind of UN involvement the US/UK want at the moment.


It cannot be said that the backing the occupying powers have received from the Security Council has done them much good on the ground in Iraq.  The prize they hoped for was substantial contributions to the occupying forces from powers that didn’t back the invasion.  That hasn’t happened and, to make matters worse, Spain is about to withdraw its troops (and the other Spanish speaking troops from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador are going too).  Others may follow.


The main effect of UN involvement so far has been to disable it for playing a role in ending the occupation, and re-establishing an Iraqi state.  It has been on the side of the occupiers, supporting them in suppressing resistance to the occupation.


From the outset, the powers that opposed the invasion should have vetoed UN involvement until the occupiers set an early date for ending their occupation.  Their position towards the US/UK should have been: we’re willing to help, but only when you make a commitment to withdraw.  If that had happened, the UN would now be in a position to assist in a real handover of power from the occupiers to the occupied, instead of the sham that is scheduled for 30 June.



Labour & Trade Union Review

May 2004