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UN security accused of risking lives in Iraq
( 2003-10-23 16:11) (Agencies)

A chilling report on Wednesday accused the United Nations of a catalog of severe security breaches that probably cost lives in the Aug. 19 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Iraq.

Calling for drastic changes, the probe said U.N. security officials ignored warning signs and dismissed protection from the U.S. military in Iraq without finding a substitute.

The report, by an independent U.N.-appointed panel, blames security officials in New York and in Iraq as well as top management for lapses before the August attack in Baghdad that killed 22 people, including chief of the U.N. mission Sergio Vieira de Mello, and injured 150.

But it faults no specific individuals, a point noted by the U.N. Staff Union, which called on the U.N. General Assembly to take up the issue.

"The main conclusion of the panel is that the current security management system is dysfunctional," said the 40-page report by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to lead the probe.

Uneasy about a heavy U.S. military presence, U.N. officials asked coalition authorities to withdraw heavy equipment from the compound in the Canal Hotel, dismantle an observation post on the roof and remove obstacles from the access road where an orange flatbed truck approached, exploded.

"Adequate security arrangements may not have been able to prevent the attack against the Canal Hotel perimeter, but would certainly have minimized the vulnerability of the staff and premises and reduced the number of casualties caused by the attack," the report said.


Annan will study the report closely and will take steps "to ensure early implementation of its main recommendations," U.N. spokeswoman Hua Jiang said.

Like the U.N. system itself, Ahtisaari said security was scattered among semi-independent U.N. relief agencies and political staff. There was little accountability, no clear chain of command, a stifling bureaucracy, too little money, and too few professional staff to evaluate intelligence.

The deficiencies cited by Ahtisaari's team ran the gamut of abuses -- from not knowing the number of foreign staff in Baghdad, to delaying until this day installing shatter-proof glass, to not reacting to reports shortly before Aug. 19 that the U.N. offices were a target.

The security personnel, however, did make recommendations. They were ignored -- even by Annan who was under pressure to keep staff in Iraq and reduced them only gradually until only a handful remain.

The report also points to a Steering Group on Iraq, headed by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, saying the body did not have a proper chain of command needed for security.

At the same time, Ahtisaari told a news conference that Iraq was symbolic of a changing security environment around the world where humanitarian workers and civilians become targets.

"The United Nations could in theory be the target of similar attacks anywhere at any time, from Baghdad to Kabul, Nairobi, Jakarta, Geneva and New York," he said.

In Iraq, he said, the United Nations failed to recognize that it was associated with a decade of drastic sanctions and the world's most intrusive arms inspections.

Recalling his days as head of the U.N. mission in Namibia in 1989-90, Ahtisaari said that venture was "like a Sunday school picnic compared to present operations."

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