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UN's Secrecy About Past Iraq Security Bodes Badly for Future Expansion, Sources Say

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 20 -- If the UN is withholding three- and four-year old security reports about Iraq, will the current threat assessment before more UN staff are deployed there be transparent?

            Alongside a memorial service held Monday for the 22 UN staff members killed in Baghdad's Canal Hotel on August 19, 2003, questions continued to be raised about the lead-up to that bombing, and the current move to expand UN presence in Iraq.

            In a March 2004 report by the UN's Security in Iraq Accountability Panel, the still-withheld threat assessment report by Bruno Henn and Leo Powell is referenced:

130. A UNSSS assessment mission, led by the Deputy Chief UNSSS, visited Baghdad in late June-early July to ascertain whether the CPT, as then constituted and equipped, was able to assist the SRSG in the discharge of his mission... The Panel felt that there had been no determined or focused effort to address the principal recommendations, especially as some envisaged actions fell to people outside UNSSS. Failure in following up these recommendations is not surprising, as the report remained an internal one and was not shared, including with UNSECOORD, until after the attack on 19 August, at which time an unsigned and undated copy was passed to UNSECOORD by UNSSS.

            That the threat assessment was reportedly turned in only after the bombing, and then only "unsigned and undated," makes it release all the more important. On August 17, Inner City Press directly asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for the report:

Inner City Press: There was the threat assessment report that was done before the bombing took place.  But I think it has never been re[leased], and I'm not sure why, given that it's been outdated.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 about --

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 you.

            But nothing has been provided.

Ban Ki-moon and survivors of 2003 Baghdad bombing, on August 20, 2007

    As it turns out, there is another buried report, a post-bombing audit carried out by Francois Pascal, then of the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services. Reportedly, then-OIOS chief Dileep Nair ordered Pascal to remove from his audit the names of those responsible for various acts. Then the audit was concealed. Separately, Mr. Pascal was accused of leaking information to Corine Lesnes of Le Monde, regarding the "black box" of the shot-down plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in April 1994. That black box from Rwanda was held in an unauthorized way inside the UN; one of the copies of the Bruno Henn threat assessment in Iraq report was held by a UN security staffer, as raised in the May 26, 2006 noon briefing:

Question: When the Hotel was struck in August, either the Secretary-General or the Deputy Secretary-General asked for those reports to be returned.  Nothing has been heard of the report since then.  The Mission didn't see it nor the Security Council.  About a month ago, a security officer told me he had a copy he picked up in the wreckage when he went on a search-and-rescue team in August of 2003.  A commanding officer verified that this officer had the report as personal property for two years.

Stephane Dujarric:  Let me stop you here and answer... the issue of security in the Canal Hotel was examined by two reports, the Ahtisaari report and the Volcker report, and I have nothing to add.  I will just say the security of the staff in Baghdad is at the forefront of the Secretary-General's mind when considering deployment or increase of UN presence. 

      Note -- this is the same thing being said in August 2007, as was said in 2003.

Question:  But this guy had the UN report as personal property.  People have been making inquiries.

Mr. Dujarric:  Iím glad they have and you can keep bringing this up

            The above-quoted UN transcript, when compared to the video of the briefing, is inaccurate. The video shows, for example, that the questioner said, and quite clearly, the name of the commanding officer ("Michael Pysarenko" -- click here to see the video, at Minute 18:38) and also said that the copy of the report was found during a search and rescue ordered by "Mike McCann," Bruno Henn's predecessor. Why did the UN leave these names, which were clearly enunciated, out of their transcript of the briefing? Whatever the reasoning, the Henn Report, and the Pascal Audit, should be released.

            Monday's "Service of Remembrance and Healing" was held at the Church Center across from the UN. On the wall were emails from around the world: from Jorge Ramos-Horta in Timor L'Este, from William Shawcross, from Western Sahara. It was a dignified service. A sample Santayana reading: "With you a part of me has passed away / For in the peopled forest of my mind / A tree made leafless by this wintry wind / Shall never done again its green array."  Rest in Peace.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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

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