The last briefing on the second day of the Study Tour was devoted to Iraq. Thanks to our eminent speaker, Mr. Hamid Abdeljaber of the United Nations Department of Public Information, the event will undoubtedly remain in our memory of for a long time.
Mr. Abdeljaber commenced his briefing with a reference to the attack on the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad on August 19th 2003. Mr. Abdeljaber showed us large colour photographs of his colleagues, Ms. Reham Al-Farra, Ms. Nadia Younes and Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, victims of the attack. He honoured the memory of his colleagues and emphasised the fact that the personnel of the United Nations was made up of exceptional people – men and women ready to pay the highest price in striving to realise the goals of the United Nations.
After this impressive introduction, Mr. Abdeljaber, with the help of a large map of Iraq, went on to talk about the country’s history. He stressed the importance of Iraq’s rich and varied cultural heritage and told us about the development of the first calendar, of mathematics, and of writing, all of which had represented Iraq’s important contribution to human civilisation at large. Mr. Abdeljaber also remarked that as early as by the year A.D. 750 Baghdad had already become one of the world’s most important cities. Nonetheless, Mr. Abdeljaber observed, Iraq had had a history of violence and brutal dictatorship as well. Due to those reasons the Iraqi Governments had never enjoyed great esteem. He underlined this with an example from the second Gulf war in which nearly all Government institutions and agencies, except for the Oil Ministry and the Iraqi Oil Company, had been destroyed. Even the country’s museums and libraries were not guarded from the start by the American troops.
Our speaker continued by referring to the sanctions imposed in 1990 by the Security Council. They remained in force in the course of the subsequent thirteen years and had had practically no influence on the country’s Government The disarmament regime introduced in 1991 by the Security Council had not been successful as well, on the contrary the country’s weapon-building potential further continued its growth. At this stage our speaker stressed the many State scholarships placed at the disposal of young scientists.
The civilian population had, however, been greatly affected by the Security Council resolutions. By 1995 five hundred thousand children had died due to malnutrition, at the same time Iraq had possessed the second largest oil reserves in the world. Due to this situation it had then been decided to adopt the “Oil for Food” Resolution, which had come into force a year later. It had proposed the so-called food basket to be distributed monthly among Iraq’s civilians. That measure, however, had also proved inadequate. The failure to alleviate the hardships of life in Iraq had, on the other hand, enabled the country’s Government to use it as convenient propaganda material against the sanction imposers.
Mr. Abdeljaber explained further, that in November 2002, the question of disarming Iraq had been re-addressed by the United Nations. In its Resolution 1411 the Security Council had given the inspectors of the United Nations full mandate to investigate and monitor the weapon situation in Iraq. On 5 February 2003, United Nations Inspector Hans Blix had appealed to the Security Council of the United Nations: “Give me more time.” His request, however, had not been granted. The second Gulf war had begun – without the mandate of the Security Council of the United Nations.
Our speaker noted that the majority of the Iraqis had indeed been happy to see Saddam Hussein’s regime toppled. The military aspect of the operation had proved the easiest issue to handle, but many other vitally important matters had emerged and were to cause a variety of virtually insurmountable problems. For example the Iraqi army had been dissolved without much active resistance, but due to that move two million people had lost the material basis for further existence. Mr. Abdeljaber also spoke of the current situation in Iraq. He made it clear that the form of democracy adopted in Iraq and the empowerment of its population had to come from and be determined by the indigenous society itself. The entire Iraqi society, all its important social groups and political orientations, had to be involved in drawing-up and adopting the country’s new constitution. Every reasonable endeavour had to be made, Mr. Abdeljaber insisted, to ensure the success of Iraq’s transition from an oppressive and authoritarian State to a fully acceptable member of the international community. He added that Iraq’s stability was, naturally enough, a matter of crucial importance both to its neighbouring countries and to the whole world.
Answering the question about the future of US-Iraq relations, Mr. Abdeljaber expressed his hope that there would eventually be a form of rationalised relationship between the two countries. He ventured an opinion that the situation in that respect would gradually improve (supposedly, however, with a continuing US military presence in Iraq).
Mr. Abdeljaber’s briefing was an instructive and interesting experience to the entire Delegation. Both the observations and remarks he offered and his committed approach to the issues discussed left a lasting impression of a dedicated, experienced United Nations diplomat.