27 March 2001
By DERK KINNANE ROELOFSMA
WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- Saddam Hussein is pressuring United
humanitarian operations to do his bidding in Northern Iraq. Kurds in the region complain
that he is being helped in this by other Arab U.N. personnel working there.
The aim of the Iraqi dictator, according to analysts Tuesday , is to
restore his control over
what for the past decade has been a self-governing Iraqi Kurdistan.
In his campaign to make officials of the world body bend to his will,
he has launched a
vitriolic attack on Benon Sevan, the well-regarded chief of the U.N.'s oil for food program.
On March 18, the Baghdad newspaper, Babel, run by Saddam's son, Uday,
accused Sevan of
wishing to employ expatriate staff in Iraqi Kurdistan who would be spies for the United
States, Britain and Israel.
"Sevan asked the (U.N.) Security Council during a debate on the difficulties
in the northern
provinces (of Iraq) to recruit foreigners," Babel said. "But what Sevan omitted to say is that
the foreigners that he wants to recruit for his program are spies paid by the United States,
Britain and the Zionist entity and have nothing to do with implementing his humanitarian
In fact, non-Iraqis are needed because Kurdish authorities in the north
will not accept
candidates selected from elsewhere in Iraq by Saddam's regime, as Sevan noted in a report to
the Security Council on March 8. The Kurds tell visitors to the region that Iraqi intelligence
would control choice of staff to ensure a readiness to do what they are told to do.
The Babel attack came after Sevan's report in which he spoke of increasingly
statements and allegations by Iraq against the U.N.
Office of the Iraq Program of which Sevan is executive director. OIP
supervises the U.N. oil
for food program under which U.N. controlled sale of Iraqi oil is used to pay for
Sevan's report followed complaints by Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad
Said al-Sahaf to
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Feb. 26 about the U.N. agencies in northern Iraq
working with local Kurdish officials. Al-Sahaf claimed this violated Iraqi sovereignty.
Baghdad lost control over much of Iraqi Kurdistan in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf
War when the United States set up a safe haven, then a no-fly zone over the Kurdish north.
This protection, maintained by U.S. and British air patrols, has enabled the Kurds to set up
two self-governing areas run by rival Kurdish parties. The Bush administration last week
reassured a visiting Kurdish mission that the air protection is to be maintained.
The mission was made up of senior representatives of the Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan and
the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Bitter rivals that have waged war on each other, the two
parties are currently in a process of reconciliation. The PUK, headed by Jalal Talabani,
governs the eastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan that has a frontier with Iran. The KDP, lead by
Mas'ud Barzani, controls the northern part with a border on Turkey.
Baghdad is also stalling on issuing visas to U.N. personnel assigned
to the Kurdish provinces
of Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya in the northeast of Iraq. The result has, among other things,
prevented experts from removing land mines and maintaining plants supplying electricity in
the area, local Kurds report.
Staff working in the field for the U.N. educational agency, UNESCO,
Arab, according to Kurds there. "When UNESCO offers expertise," a local official
complained, "it often brings it in from regional countries -- and the Arab countries'
educational system is no better than ours." When Japanese, German, or American experts are
proposed, Baghdad refuses them visas, he said.
In New York, U.N. officials told United Press International that Arabs
have the advantage of
speaking Arabic, a language widely understood in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Saddam also has sought to get the United Nations to cut off relations
organizations in the Kurdish region that have not been authorized by Baghdad. A Westerner
working in the area reports that among NGOs affected have been British Save the Children,
Help Age International, the Swedish Qandil and Diakonia, Peace Winds of Japan and
Handicapped International of Belgium.
The demand prompted the U.S. mission to the United Nations to tell the
Security Council on
March 2 that it hoped the United Nations would continue to work with the NGOs. The prime
minister of the PUK area, Barham Salih, told UPI, "The NGOs have a vital role to play in
meeting the humanitarian needs of Kurds. To do so requires the NGOs involvement."
OIP says it is continuing to work with NGOs with which it is jointly
in the region.
Saddam's try at determining what NGOs are to be allowed into the north
has been aided by
some of the numerous Arabs employed in U.N. agencies in Iraq.
Thus, Rima al-Azar, an Arab woman in charge of the child protection
program of UNICEF,
the U.N. children's agency, in Irbil, informed NGOs by e-mail on Feb 17 that there would be
no more money for their activities. A request for written confirmation went unanswered,
NGO workers said.
At UNICEF headquarters in New York, a spokesman said a decision to cut
off relations with
NGOs would have to be made at the country level of administration. In Iraq, that authority
lies with the office of the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad. The UNICEF official
rejected any suggestion that UNICEF staff were acting contrary to the principles of the
organization. In Baghdad, a U.N. official said he was unaware of funds to NGOs being cut
off. But, he added, funding had been suspended for some NGOs while certain issues were
sorted out. Asked what the issues were, he said he was not free to say what they were, but
that they might include financial accountability and organizational structure.
Another Arab, a Dr. Anwar who runs the UNICEF education program based
in Irbil, the seat
of the Kurdistan Regional Government, is considered by Kurds to be deferential to Saddam.
So, local Kurds say, are a number of other Arabs from Sudan, Egypt Morocco and elsewhere
Kurdish officials saw the attack on UNICEF in part as retaliation for
the agency's reports
showing that child and maternal health in Northern Iraq, even under U.N. sanctions, was
significantly better than in the rest of Iraq. The finding contradicts Saddam's claims that it is
the sanctions, and not his government, that is harming children in the area under his
Arabs in the employ of the World Health Organization are reported by
workers in the region to have denied Kurdish hospitals essential medical supplies. Hospitals
have been able to carry out only the most urgent surgery. The individuals who took these
decisions acted on their own and beyond their proper authority, Kurds say.
An Arab WHO official told Kurds the cut off of medical supplies might
be due to the United
States or Great Britain holding them up. A check with U.N. headquarters in New York,
Kurds say, determined this was not so.
According to NGO staff, local offices of U.N. agencies have broken off
with bodies doing
such work as educating local physicians and social workers in how to deal with children
traumatized by war, other violence and abuse.
Kurdish officials have complained that U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
undermined projects to improve water resources and irrigation. Kurdish intelligence services
believe many drivers hired by the U.N. come to their jobs from Iraqi intelligence agencies or
the ruling Baath party.
U.N. jobs pay well, and Baghdad can cancel the visas of individuals
in U.N. employ. So
employees from poor countries, such as Egypt, Sudan, or Pakistan, fear losing their jobs
unless they please Baghdad.
U.N. employees who are Arab nationalists also sabotage projects they
think could lead to
greater autonomy for the Kurds from Arab-dominated Baghdad, Kurds have told Western
visitors. An OIP spokeswoman dismissed the accusations as merely opinions.
There has been no change in working with NGOs engaged in implementing
which the U.N. is participating under the food for oil program, she said.
Saddam's attacks on the U.N., its agencies and NGOs comes as he is completing
from the isolation imposed on him by the Untied States and the U.N. for invading and
occupying Kuwait. The U.N. system of economic sanctions has been increasingly
circumvented by Baghdad, and Secretary of State Colin Powell has made adoption of
modified sanctions one basket in the Bush administration's emerging policy on Iraq.
Meanwhile, with the exception of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the Arab governments
others have been busy restoring diplomatic and commercial ties with his regime while his
demand for an end to the no-fly zone is echoed by Russia.
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