String of bombings may hurt willingness of other nations to lend U.S. a hand

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq This time it was just 50 pounds of explosives, but Baghdad's car bombings, one by one, are reverberating around the world, sending an unmistakable message from America's enemies in Iraq that its friends should stay away.

Monday morning's blast outside the U.N. compound came some 24 hours before President Bush, seeking help in postwar Iraq, addresses the United Nations in New York, and mere days after a tape believed to be from Saddam Hussein warned U.N. members to avoid falling into ''traps of America's foreign policy.''

Last month's devastating bombing at the same site killed 23 and marked what U.N. chief Kofi Annan called a ''loss of innocence'' for the world body. Only last Friday did the shaken, grieving Baghdad staff finally raise their blue U.N. flag again from half-staff, in hopes of a return to some normality. The second blast blew away even that slim hope.

This time the suicide bomber got no farther than the fringe of the U.N. complex; the dead numbered only the bomber and a luckless Iraqi policeman. Tightened security seems to have worked. But the repeated attacks may chip away nonetheless at global willingness to come to Iraq and to Washington's aid with troops, money, international civil servants.

Inside U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Monday's blast left staff members nervous and wondering why there was yet another attack on an organization whose work in Iraq is civilian and humanitarian.

The answer seems clear: Whoever is hammering at the bomb-scarred compound on Baghdad's northeastern edge wants to deny U.N. legitimacy to the American military occupation of Iraq.

''If there are plans to involve the U.N. further in the reconstruction of Iraq, attacking the U.N. constantly, or its people, will give it pause. This is one thing the insurgents want to prevent,'' said Ahmed S. Hashim, a Middle East specialist at the U.S. Naval War College.

That U.N. involvement is under debate behind closed doors in New York, where diplomats primarily the Americans and French are trying to fashion a Security Council resolution authorizing international troop contributions to the Iraq security force, in exchange for a greater U.N. say over a speedier political transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.

Many governments, however, are already reluctant to order soldiers into the Iraqi turmoil. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, for example, whose Muslim troops would diversify the U.S.-led Western force here, said Sunday he couldn't send any unless the Pakistani people end their staunch opposition to the idea.

On the American side, Bush expressed his own reluctance Sunday to surrender much of the current U.S. political control over Iraq. ''I'm not so sure we have to,'' he said in a television interview.

The fugitive ex-president Saddam and his supporters would cheer a breakdown in the U.N. negotiations. In the tape broadcast last Wednesday, the voice said to be Saddam's addressed wavering U.N. states.

''We hope that none of the Security Council members fall prey in the traps of America's foreign policy,'' the voice said.

Iraq's anti-American forces aren't targeting the United Nations alone in their campaign to isolate the U.S. occupiers. Car bombs have also killed U.S.-trained Iraqi policemen and the leading Shiite Muslim clergyman dealing with the Americans.

But, aside from the Americans themselves, the global organization starting with its traumatized and reduced staff in Baghdad is the biggest target, its compound now a battered symbol of a test of wills.

As he lay trapped and dying in the ruins of his office after the Aug. 19 bombing, the chief U.N. representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, told would-be rescuers, ''Don't let them pull the mission out.''

Whether his last words are heeded, whether Iraq moves toward an internationally supervised rebirth, or sinks deeper into an anti-American guerrilla war, remains an open question, as the world watches the debate in New York and waits to hear the sound of the next Baghdad bomb.

AP Special Correspondent Charles J. Hanley has reported frequently from Baghdad since the Iraqi crisis began last year.



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