Outside editorial: In Iraq, a United Nations role

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2007

The United Nations set up an office in Baghdad soon after the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein. It was the right move, given the international concern over the Bush administration's go-it-nearly-alone attitude. But that was the United Nations under Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which was cautious to a fault when it came to taking definitive actions. It was facing the unraveling of scandals ranging from sexual assaults by U.N. peacekeepers to the deal-making with Saddam's henchmen in the U.N. oil-for-food program. And it was under constant attack from the Bush White House.

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So it was hardly surprising that the weakened organization shuttered its Baghdad operations after insurgents killed several employees, including a popular and effective envoy, Sergio Viera de Mello, in two attacks during 2003. It has run a skeleton staff since then, but the U.N. Security Council voted last week to expand the agency's presence. The fact that sectarian and insurgent violence remains a daily occurrence in Iraq - despite President Bush's troop surge - is evidence that post-war Iraq has needed a stronger U.N. hand all along.

U.N.-bashers should give the current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, a chance to help war-weary Iraq. He clearly has shown a willingness to do what the United Nations was created to do: intervene where diplomacy is desperately needed. Iraq is a tall order - arguably the tallest on the globe at the moment. But it's where a resurgent United Nations ought to be.

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