UNITED NATIONS, New York Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, on Tuesday accused the UN Security Council of having failed to help rescue his country from Saddam Hussein, and he chided member states for bickering over his beleaguered country’s future.
“Settling scores with the United States-led coalition should not be at the cost of helping to bring stability to the Iraqi people,” Zebari said in unusually scolding language for an occupant of the guest seat at the Security Council panel.
“Squabbling over political differences takes a back seat to the daily struggle for security, jobs, basic freedoms and all the rights the UN is chartered to uphold,” he said.
Taking a harsh view of the inability of quarreling members of the Security Council to endorse military action in Iraq, Zebari said, “One year ago, the Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable.”
“The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure.”
He declared, “The UN must not fail the Iraqi people again.”
It was not immediately clear how the accusatory tone of Zebari’s speech affected the closed-door discussion that followed over the UN’s role in Iraq, but Secretary General Kofi Annan, the first to emerge from the hall, appeared taken aback.
“Now is not the time to pin blame and point fingers,” he told reporters. Saying Zebari was “obviously entitled to his opinion,” he said the UN had done as much for Iraq as it could under the circumstances and was prepared to do more. “Quite honestly,” Annan reiterated, “now is not the time to hurl accusations and counteraccusations.”
Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of Britain, the United States’ principal ally in Iraq, said there had been pointed questioning by colleagues but that he detected their “strong support” for the timetable for moving to an Iraqi transitional authority by July and for drawing up a constitution and holding elections in the years following that Zebari had laid out.
The session of the 15-member Council was called to discuss the speeded-up plan for the U.S.-led coalition to hand over power to Iraqis by the end of June under an agreement reached a month ago between the coalition and the U.S.-$ appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
Annan led off the open session of the Council with a speech drawing from his report last week that ruled out a swift return of the UN to Iraq because of the bombing of its Baghdad headquarters in August and continuing attacks on diplomats and relief workers.
He also said the United Nations needed more “clarity” over what it would be asked to do in Iraq before he could fully recommit the organization and its international staff. He has assigned 40 people to staff Iraq aid offices in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Amman, Jordan, and an estimated 2,000 Iraqi workers of the United Nations are still at their posts in the country.
Zebari took issue with these steps, saying that Iraq could guarantee the United Nations whatever security it needed to return sooner and noting the importance of having the organization back in Baghdad.
“Your help and expertise cannot be effectively delivered from Cyprus or Amman,” he said.
He also took on countries like France that have questioned the legitimacy of the current governing group.
“The Governing Council is the most representative and democratic governing body in the region,” he said.
“The members of the Security Council should be reaching out and encouraging this nascent democracy in a region well known for its authoritarian rule.”
Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière of France, a critic of the war, turned aside the criticism of the Security Council dissenters, saying, “I don’t want to comment on the past.”
Sablière said he had questioned Zebari about France’s interest in seeing Iraq increase the “inclusiveness” of the government so it would be one that would be viewed as “totally legitimate.”
The request was formally filed at a meeting of the UN Compensation Commission set up after the 1991 Gulf war to allot money from UN-controlled sales of Iraqi oil to victims of the Iraqi invasion.
Over the past decade, the commission has awarded billions of dollars to the Kuwaiti government, companies and citizens for lost jobs, savings, investments and property.
Kuwait says hundreds of its nationals disappeared when a U.S.-led coalition forced Iraq to withdraw, and efforts over subsequent years to negotiate their return, or to learn their fate, failed.
In a statement to the commission, a Kuwaiti envoy said many bodies had recently been exhumed and identified in unmarked mass graves across Iraq.