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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: U.S. and UN Shift on Iraq

Council on Foreign Relations

August 16, 2007
Author: Greg Bruno

Four years after a suicide bomb ripped through UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 members of his staff, the Security Council is expanding the UN’s role (Guardian) in Iraq in an effort to rein in sectarian violence. The world body has vowed to focus on national reconciliation in the ethnically-splintered nation, increase humanitarian aid, and attend to human rights. The Security Council vote on August 10 marks a symbolic if vague course correction for the UN after years of security concerns forced a low profile. The resolution allows for a modest increase (NYT) in UN personnel—though still considerably less than its presence before the 2003 bombing—and staff members recently complained about the plan’s lack of attention (al-Jazeera) to security.

Yet the renewed UN commitment to Iraq signals more than a staffing increase: It is an about-face for the United States, and some worry, a life boat shot through with holes. The United States and its allies went to war without Security Council backing, and some question whether the UN’s legitimacy will be undermined (Gulf News) by the appearance of a bailout. Jeffrey Laurenti, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, warned weeks before the vote that a UN rescue mission would be doomed, or even targeted by insurgents, without a promise from the United States to draw down troops. Others question how the UN can bolster its mission (Newsday) with a unionized staff that clearly wants out.

The discussion wasn’t even on the table in 2003, when the United States appeared uninterested in UN help. Then last month, almost four years to the day, the Bush administration made its most public appeal for course correction.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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