U.N. workers seek end to Iraq postings

Debate pits organization's credibility against its employees' security

October 07, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS - A debate is simmering within the United Nations about whether efforts to minimize risks for staffers are also jeopardizing the organization's credibility.

On Wednesday, staff union representatives released a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging that no more staff members be sent to Iraq and that the 32 people recently deployed there to help prepare for January elections be withdrawn as soon as possible.

"Last year, we witnessed the tragic death of 22 colleagues in Baghdad. We do not wish to witness the same again," said the letter from two unions representing 60,000 U.N. employees. "While [we] are cognizant of the extreme political pressures that you face ... and while we understand that the people of Iraq deserve the support and assistance of the international community, we cannot condone the deployment of U.N. staff to Iraq in view of the unprecedented high level of risk."

The letter asked why the U.N. was sending staffers when countries that were asked to send troops to protect the U.N. workers deemed the environment too risky for their soldiers.

The suicide bombing of the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in August 2003, which killed 22 people, including the U.N. chief there, Sergio Vieira de Mello, shattered the organization's sense of immunity from terrorist attacks and drove home the new reality that the world body's workers had become targets.

After a second fatal attack a month later, the United Nations in October withdrew its international staff members from Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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