At U.N., tribute to 22 workers killed a year ago in Iraq

August 20, 2004|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS - A year after the suicide bombing of the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters killed 22 people in Iraq, U.N. staffers around the world paid tribute yesterday to their fallen colleagues. They also complained that the United Nations had yet to adequately protect its workers in dangerous areas.

In solemn ceremonies in New York, Geneva, Baghdad, and Amman, Jordan, U.N. staffers and relatives of the 22 victims lighted candles and shared a moment of silence.

"We are no strangers to violence and intimidation," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the audience in Geneva. The attack was a "unique blow" that traumatized the organization and himself, Annan said in an unusual personal aside.

"You can imagine my agony, discouragement and deep sense of loss - not only as a friend, but also as the individual who is ultimately responsible for the welfare and security of United Nations staff," he said. The events "touched me to the core."

The United Nations withdrew its international staff from Iraq after a second fatal attack last autumn. A small group of permanent employees returned to Baghdad last week.

Senior officials agree that the bombing changed them - and their attitude about how deeply the organization should become involved in Iraq. They didn't want to be seen as supporting the war by staying in the country, nor as abandoning Iraqis by staying out. But the growing security threat has added another dimension of difficulty.

"There is a whole new psychology of concern," said Danilo Turk, an undersecretary for political affairs. The United Nations agreed to take a "leading role" in rebuilding Iraq on the optimistic assumption that the situation would improve, he said. But security has continued to deteriorate and the degree of the body's engagement is still a matter of debate. "It is a different U.N. now," Turk said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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