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UN Staff Union Questions Ban's Rush Into Iraq, Death of a Demographer Reverberates

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 7 -- "We are willing to increase our assistance to the UN," said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday, to provide the means for "the ends for which we want to deploy it."

   Amb. Khalilzad added that "we are well on our way to adopting Thursday" a Security Council resolution which would expand the UN's mandate in Iraq. Following the Security Council consultations, only Amb. Khalilzad and the UN's political chief B. Lynn Pascoe, also an American, spoke at the Council stakeout microphone.

            Less than two hours later and only one room away, in the Trusteeship Council chamber, the UN staff union met. The first item on the agenda was a draft resolution, using the Security Council's own format of "recalling" and "noting," calling on Ban Ki-moon to "not deploy any additional staff members to Iraq... until such time as the security situation and environment improves." The resolution, adopted unanimously, calls on Mr. Ban "to be accountable for certifying that the necessary safety and security arrangements... are met before staff are deployed."

            At the UN's noon briefing on Tuesday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's associate spokesman about the staff union resolution, and how Mr. Ban would go about reviewing and "certifying" security.

            The Associate Spokesman replied that security is constantly reviewed.  So the resolution wouldn't bring about any change? Not that I'm aware of, the Associate Spokesman said. 

            [As confirmed by Inner City Press in Q&A about a report from Barbados, Mr. Ban remains there, ostensibly traveling, see yesterday's story.]

            Ban's political chief Lynn Pascoe sounded the trumpet of increased UN involvement and staffing in Iraq. Some pundits wonder, is it that Ban is doing what he was supported for Secretary-General by the U.S. to do, or is it that he sees that for the UN to be "relevant," is should grateful accept this dangerous and risky task?

UN in Iraq: coming or going?

The Death of Lu'ay Haqqi Rashid

            The level of violence in Iraq can be measured in many ways. One echo even in UN Headquarters was the murder last week of demographer Lu'ay Haqqi Rashid. By Friday, UN staff were talking about two contradictory messages that went out. The first expressed sadness for the deal of "our colleague" Rashid Lu'ay.  The second quickly pointed out that he was never a staff member. 

   Inner City Press inquired; the Associate Spokesman replied, truthfully, that he was not a staff member. He was director of Statistics and Information Technology Department for the Iraqi government -- the UN reference to "our colleague" meant, "our professional colleague... someone we worked with." He was "murdered by unidentified gunmen while on his way to his office in Al-Karradah in eastern Baghdad," according to Dubai's Al-Sharqiyah TV, thus far the only media report on Google (other than this one) of his death.

            It is entry into this environment, for reasons that many question, that led to Tuesday's unanimous staff union resolution against the deployment. But will it matter? Events at the UN on Tuesday make it appear that the (only) place where this question can be answered is in Washington... Developing.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540