[ OUR OPINION ]
U.N. should take lead
role in rebuilding Iraq
WHETHER Saddam Hussein has gone underground or is buried in rubble, his regime has come to an end. Pockets of resistance remain, but attention has shifted to rebuilding Iraq, providing humanitarian aid and establishing an acceptable economic and political framework for a new Iraq. The U.S. military, by necessity, is in charge of the relief and rebuilding effort now, but in time the United Nations should take the central role.
The Pentagon has been assigned to lead the rebuilding effort in Iraq, while the United Nations' role is in doubt.
U.N. leadership of the rebuilding process would provide assurance that the United States and Britain are indeed Iraq's liberators, not its occupiers. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who retained his integrity throughout the U.N. Security Council dispute over military action, is the ideal person to head the rebuilding effort.
Frustrated by the U.N. Security Council's refusal to approve of military action, the United States and Britain went to war without the broad coalition that many regarded as essential. The military professionalism and exemplary civility of the U.S. and British troops should not preclude the U.N., which set up fair elections in post-Taliban Afghanistan, from assuming leadership in the postwar effort in Iraq.
Initially, the Pentagon has assumed the role as Iraq's rebuilder, with retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner in charge of more than 200 people in Kuwait working to restore order, operate schools and hospitals and feed the people. Garner, who answers directly to Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, reportedly has not been coordinating his efforts with U.N. relief officials.
Leaders of France, Germany and Russia, the main antagonists to the military operation, will begin meeting in St. Petersburg tomorrow to address the issue. French President Jacques Chirac, who forced the Bush administration's hand by threatening to veto any Security Council ultimatum for Hussein to destroy his weapons of mass destruction, now insists that the U.N. supplant the U.S. and British in Iraq: "It is the job of the United Nations, and it alone, to take on the political, economic, humanitarian and administrative construction of Iraq."
Some French business interests have been brazen enough to complain that they are not being considered in the bidding process for contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. If the French, Germans and Russians want to participate in the reconstruction, they should be required to pay much of the cost and provide substantial numbers of peacekeeping troops.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have said the U.N. will have a "vital" role in the rebuilding effort, but they have not elaborated. Concerns that the lack of a broad coalition in the war effort would exacerbate anti-American sentiment in the Arab world are still valid, despite this week's raucous celebrations in the streets of Baghdad.
Leaning on Iraqi exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi, president of the expatriate Iraqi National Congress, for leadership in the new Iraq would give credence to the view that America can be expected to install its puppets to run the new government. Chalabi, a friend of some in the Bush administration, has not set foot in Iraq in 45 years.
But Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, asked in an interview yesterday about who will have final say in Iraq's reconstruction, set the right tone. He said, "Clearly we need to indicate that we're not unilateralists, that we do desire to work in concert with other like-minded nations and that we understand this is a process where one nation doesn't get the entire say."