Baghdad Bombing Reports Withheld, As Ban Wants Expansion in Iraq, Transparency
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
August 19 -- Twenty two UN staffers were killed by a truck bomb four years ago
today in Iraq. In the aftermath, the UN conducted its own inquiries. But earlier
in 2003, there was a threat assessment report, compiled by Bruno Henn and Leo
Powell. Despite the fact that there can be no accountability without
transparency, this report has never been made public.
17, 2007 at UN headquarters,
Inner City Press asked for
it was and told that "if it contains information that can jeopardize the lives
of our own people right now in Iraq -- no, it will not be released."
General Ban Ki-moon has proposed increasing again the number of UN staffers in
Iraq. Is the security situation better in 2007 than in 2003? Certainly, as
witnessed by the recent coordinated truck-bombing killing hundreds of people,
the sophistication of the attacks has increased.
UN's protection of its staff improved since 2003? One way to know would be do
see the still-withheld Iraq threat assessment report from just before the
bombing. Similarly, there was a report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight
Service that never saw the light of day, that was "buried as if it had never
existed," Inner City Press is told by a well-placed source who still works for
the UN and requests anonymity due to threats of retaliation.
spokesperson, alongside saying that "a threat assessment, I don't think will be
released as such," read out a statement at Friday's noon briefing, that
"I know you will understand that we would
not wish to provide a list of lessons learned, which would assist terrorists,
but this process has been exhaustive and has led to significant developments in
UN security. The creation of a new Department of Safety and Security has been
one of these steps."
steps the UN took was to convene a "Security in Iraq Accountability Panel,"
chaired by Gerard Walzer, formerly a UN refugee official. The Walzer Report was
issued on March 29, 2004. It findings, summarized by the UN itself, included
"The Chief Administrative Officer of the
UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (UNOHCI), and the Building
Manager of that Office, did not demonstrate any serious intention to procure and
install blast-resistant film for the entire Canal Hotel. These two officers
displayed profound lack of responsibility and ineptitude in the manner they
sought to implement the request for installation of the film."
focus on the two officials -- Boulos Paul Aghadjanian of Jordan and Pa Momodou
Sinyan of Gambia -- for sticking to the UN procurement process led to
disciplinary proceedings against them. (Also, UN Security Coordinator Tun Myat
of Myanmar resigned, and Ramiro Lopes da Silva of Portugal returned to his
previous job at the World Food Program -- only at the UN.)
reference to the "entire" Canal Hotel is telling. A portion of the hotel,
occupied by a UN agency, had the blast-resistant film, based on their own threat
assessment, separate from that carried out by Messrs. Henn and Powell, Inner
City Press is told by sources who are well-placed, i.e. who were in the
Canal Hotel on the day of the bombing. See below.
HQ in Baghdad, one year after the bombing
30, 2004, the UN Staff Union -- which is now opposing sending more personnel to
Iraq -- issued their own press release, criticizing the UN for not going "far
enough to fully hold those responsible and address the role and actions of other
senior UN officials." Under the heading "Where is the Accountability," it also
"The Staff Union also believes that if the
UN is really interested in a thorough and transparent investigative process, it
should agree to release all relevant reports and documents related to the
security situation in Iraq and the attack."
years and four months later, the Threat Assessment report has still not been
released. One report that was put
former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's "Report of the Independent Panel on
the Safety and Security of the UN Personnel in Iraq," which on Page 10 refers
obliquely to the still-withheld threat assessment report:
"On 2 June, Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello
with his staff and close security detail arrived in Baghdad. The SRSG moved into
a second-floor office that overlooked the access road to the catering college on
the south west corner of the building. Prior to his arrival, a team from the
S&SS in New York had carried out a security assessment, including a risk
analysis. Their terms of reference were strictly limited to assessing the
potential threats to the SRSG and not to the United Nations in general.
The report concluded that the risk of
the SRSG being a direct target of attack was low."
this conclusion was wrong. But what was it based on? This is still unknown, as
the security assessment has never been released. The Martti Ahtisarri report
also says, of the blast-resistant film offered by other UN agency -- the World
"WFP offered to provide the funding and
material for fitting the windows of the Canal Hotel. The offer was rejected by
the UN administration because it had commenced a tendering process to purchase
the material. On 19 August, the windows of the Canal Hotel were still not fitted
with the necessary material, and the fragmentation and dispersion of glass
resulting from the explosion contributed greatly to the number of casualties."
attack itself is described:
"At approximately 1630 hours local time on
Tuesday, 19 August, a flatbed truck carrying an estimated 1,000 Kilograms of
high explosives was detonated on the service road to the catering college
adjacent to the south-west corner of the Canal Hotel. The blast spread of
shrapnel, falling masonry and flying glass took a devastating toll on the
occupants of the Canal Hotel and resulted in the death of 22 persons, with over
150 sustaining injuries, some extremely serious. SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello was
among those killed as a result of the explosion. The bomb had exploded
immediately below his office, which was almost totally demolished in the blast."
well-placed source tells Inner City Press that a compact disk containing the
threat assessment report was fished out of the rubble, was held for a time by
Andrew Cameron, a target of enmity by high-placed DSS officials involved in the
report, which has still not been released.
the UN were not shielded in immunity -- some say, impunity -- there would be
litigation, in which safety steps and improvements could be known, and
implemented in the future. It is in this context that, even beyond the recent
Staff Council vote urging Ban not to keep or increase UN staff in Iraq until he
can "certify" their safety, rank and file staff are questioning Ban's expansion
Ban is reportedly proposing a $130 million new UN Baghdad headquarters, an
expenditure and process already criticized by the UN's Advisory Committee on
Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Additionally, an engineering staff
member in Iraq emphasizes daily that it is highly unlikely that any construction
company would work on such a building, even at that price, given the lack of
security in Baghdad. "Dream on," another staff member said, referring to Ban's
plan, which the staff member sees as little more than an attempt to try to
please the United States.
Ahtisarri's 2003 Iraq report recommended:
Nations needs a new culture of accountability in security management.
Personal accountability of those entrusted with the safety of personnel as well
as all staff in the field for their compliance with security rules should be
paramount. In the case of Iraq, the Panel is of the view that the seriousness of
the breaches in the UN security rules and procedures in the field and at
Headquarters warrants a separate and independent audit process."
appears to refer to the subsequently-buried OIOS audit report. What
accountability has there been? And why is the UN still withholding these
reports? There can be no accountability without transparency. At the
August 17, 2007 UN noon briefing:
Inner City Press: I understand what you're
saying about this future report, that it should be shown to the families
of the victims first. But there're some issues around a previous report. There
was the threat assessment report that was done before the bombing took place.
But I think it has never been realized, and I'm not sure why, given that it's
been outdated. Even some Member States complained that they haven't seen it.
So I guess I'm requesting if that document can be released. It was called the
threat assessment. It was done in 2003 prior to the bombing.
Spokesperson: Well, I think if it
contains information that can jeopardize the lives of our own people right now
in Iraq -- no, it will not be released.
Inner City Press: But I think it was all
Spokesperson: If it was about what
happened at the building, I would be surprised if it hasn't been released. I
know a number of things were released in 2004. I can check for you what was
released but a threat assessment, I don't think will be released as such.
Inner City Press: But it was an assessment
done before the bombing, you see what I mean? It's all about the building.
Some people have said that the problem was that it had assessed the threat as
low. I donít know if that's true or not. That's why I'm asking. That's why I
would like to see the report.
Spokesperson: I'll try to find out for
nothing was provided. Nor were answers provided to
other questions asked:
Inner City Press: And also, at today's
event, I think that -- this is unrelated, but it's connected in this way -- that
the head of the Ethics Office, Mr. [Robert] Benson, was there and is back in
town. There have been various questions.. I had asked you, for example,
It was supposed to be done in 45 days, now it's like 80 days. There were a
couple questions that weren't answered, maybe because he was traveling.
Spokesperson: He was traveling, so we'll
try to get him now for you.
Inner City Press: And also it's on Ban Ki-moon's
schedule that he met with Kemal Dervis of UNDP at 11. Is there a readout? Do
you know what the topic of that meeting was?
Spokesperson: I don't have the readout,
but, you know, there are so many issues to discuss about UNDP's work.
Inner City Press: I guess there are two
things I would like to know, you could either find out if they were on it or
not. One would be the whistle-blower and that whole situation of the UNDP
whistle-blower. And the second would be North Korea and UNDP not being in the
country, given the UN's new commitment to provide all this aid.
Spokesperson: I will try to get a readout
for you, but, essentially there are so many issues concerning UNDP programs
across the world. I don't think that specific issue will take center stage...
-- Monday Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet with survivors and, some say,
families of the victims and these issues will be center stage. Developing.
* * *
here for a
AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.
for an earlier
piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's
$200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund. Video
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