Warren Hoge reports,

Secretary General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that he had ruled out a swift renewal of a substantial UN presence in Iraq because of the danger there.

“I cannot compromise the security of our international and national staff,” he said in a 26-page report to the Security Council that found the UN to be “a high-value, high-impact target for terrorist activity in Iraq for the foreseeable future.” Annan withdrew all international staff members from the country in October after a series of attacks on relief officials and diplomats and the bombing of the UN compound in August, which killed 22 people. Fifteen of the dead were UN employees, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the mission.

Annan said the UN’s Iraq operation would now establish temporary headquarters in Nicosia, with 40 people based there and in an annex in Amman, Jordan. Before the bombings, the UN envisioned having 400 workers in Iraq. He also announced the appointment of Ross Mountain, a New Zealander who currently heads the Geneva-based UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as his interim envoy to Iraq until the naming of a permanent replacement for Vieira de Mello next year.

The report said the United Nations was concerned that to Iraqis, it might have become indistinguishable from the U.S.-led coalition, and therefore subject to the same high threat.

European nations and others have been calling on Annan to deepen the organization’s involvement in Iraq, but the report Wednesday indicated that uppermost in his mind at the moment was the security situation.

Ah, yes. Certainly the chief goal of the world’s foremost (putative) collective security institution should be its own security, avoiding all risk.

Annan appeared to rule out any political role for the United Nations in Iraq until after the coalition relinquishes power to an interim national government in July. In remarks that appeared aimed at the widespread skepticism in the world body over the war in Iraq, Annan acknowledged “very real progress” in areas like free speech and political activity, the creation of local police services and the provision of basic services.

So, the UN won’t do anything until it is no longer needed. Which pretty much, in a nutshell, explains why it falls to the great powers to act outside the UN for anything to get done. The UN is excellent for distributing humanitarian assistance; it has never been of much use as a security regime.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Danielle says:

    Does the UN have troops under its command that it can count on to put its personnel’s security first? No? Then they’d be pretty damn stupid to go in and hope for the best, wouldn’t they?

  2. James Joyner says:


    That’s really the point. The UN is a sham organization for this kind of mission–it depends on consensus, which means it’s at the mercy of its most timid member. As a result, the UN can only act when action is unnecessary.

  3. Paul says:

    …which is why having people like Danielle whine the U.N. should do it is oh so moronic.

    UN is excellent for distributing humanitarian assistance

    Ya know James. I’m not even sure this is true anymore.

  4. James Joyner says:

    The UN’s humanitarian agencies like UNESCO and UNICEF still do a bang-up job. I just think it’s time to give up the notion that it’s ever going to be some sort of world enforcer.