The United States and its European allies in northern Iraq wanted to be replaced by a military or police force of the United Nations. Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, said no. No it is.
After a minuet of negotiations, ten U.N. personnel went into Dohuk, with sidearms for self-protection, handcuffs and no authority to investigate. They provided a presence while U.S. military personnel came for the day to fix water, sewers and electricity to receive most of the 300,000 Kurds who formerly lived there. Iraqi troops moved three miles south of town. Iraqi security police reportedly stayed in town, out-numbering and out-gunning any U.N. personnel.
The U.N. executive has not in this security apparatus compromised the sovereignty of Iraq. The Security Council did do that earlier by authorizing the U.S.-led war in southern Iraq. But after the victory, U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar does not do as President Bush instructs. Every arrangement is negotiated in Baghdad and approved by the host government.
Saddam Hussein is seemingly moderate in allowing so much, and in proclaiming a semblance of democracy such as the ending of revolutionary courts, because he wants economic sanctions against Iraq lifted. He wants to sell oil again. But President Bush said as recently as yesterday that the United States will maintain all possible sanctions until Saddam Hussein is gone from power in Baghdad. Either President Hussein isn't listening, or President Bush isn't, or both.
The real role of some 50 or 60 blue-helmeted but powerless guards in the refugee camps of northern Iraq will be to instill enough confidence into Iraqi Kurds to return home from Turkey and Iran, which don't want them. The blue helmets are meant to be seen as a tripwire: The Iraqis wouldn't overpower them for fear the Americans would come back, and the Kurds know that and should therefore feel safe. The U.S. wanted a heavier U.N. presence, but that would take a Security Council resolution, which the Soviet Union and China reportedly would veto.
The U.N. presence cannot work by itself. It is meant to complement the negotiations for Kurdish autonomy taking place in Baghdad between Saddam Hussein's government and the Kurdish leadership under Massoud Barzani.
The Kurds don't trust Saddam Hussein, but they don't rely on the United States or other temporary champions to stay much longer. The Kurds know they have to live with the Iraqis and vice versa. The Kurdish leaders are getting the most autonomy and land they can. The U.N. is not much of a long-range protection for the Kurds but neither -- it must be said -- are we.