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Thursday, August 21, 2003

NYT demonstrates that it's marginally less brain-dead than the UN, which vows to remain a "soft target"

After having gone out of its way yesterday to blame the Bush Administration repeatedly for failing to prevent Tuesday's truck-bomb terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad — instead largely ignoring and burying the key evidence that the UN itself is to blame for the security lapse — the New York Times was comparatively responsible and realistic today.  It finally floated a mid-section (page A13) below-the-fold article, poignantly entitled "Questions Haunt a Saddened Annan."  The Times doesn't quite get around to saying who did the asking — one would rather doubt that it was a NYT reporter — but nonetheless reports that the question of "[w]ho should take responsibility for the security breach that enabled the bombing to happen" was one that "dogged a haggard Secretary General Kofi Annan from Stockholm to the doors of the United Nations headquarters building in New York," and that "[t]he report that officials of the Baghdad mission had rejected an offer of increased security from allied forces before the bombing caused great concern here."

Key UN officials, however, appear not only to still be in a state of denial, but a state of deliberate recklessness that makes Dubya's "bring 'em on" remark of a few weeks ago seem hyperprudent by contrast.  Dubya was baiting the honeytrap because he'd rather that radical terrorists, with AK-47s blazing furiously but impotently, mostly continue to hurl themselves in their pickup trucks at our M1A2 Abrams tanks in Iraq instead of patiently plotting to destroy civilian targets in the US. 

The UN, by contrast, seems to be insisting that it will remain an easy target in Iraq just because that's just what kind of fools they really want to be.  It's the international equivalent of taping a "Kick Me, I'm Stupid!" sign to your own back.

As more details have emerged, it became increasingly clear today that the vulnerability of the Baghdad UN headquarters compound can be traced directly to conscious decisions made by the UN itself — rather than to any specific failings of the Bush administration or the US-led forces occupying Iraq.  In today's WaPo, in an article entitled "U.S., U.N. Differ on Issue of Protection: Responsibility Over Site of Blast Disputed," we read that

[a] spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, Lt. Cmdr. Steven Franzoni, said a U.S. Army platoon was present inside the U.N. compound and was guarding the front entrance at the time of the attack. A platoon typically consists of about 40 infantry soldiers. But there were no U.S. troops along the roadway on the other side of the building, where the truck bomb exploded.

"At some level, the United States offered to do more but was told by U.N. officials that they'd prefer to remain separate and distinct," a defense official said. "So the U.N. contracted with a private firm to provide additional security."

As this article goes on to explain, however, the refusal by Annan and other top UN officials to concede that the UN itself was responsible for the security failure rests on the incredible notion that the US should have overridden the UN's wishes and provided more security anyway:

"I don't know if the United Nations did turn down an offer of protection, but if it did, it was not correct, and they should not have been allowed to turn it down," [UN Secretary General Kofi] Annan told reporters after returning to U.N. headquarters in New York.

(Emphasis added.)  "They?"  Who's this "they," Kemosabe?  (He means, "we, the UN.")  Continued the Secretary General of International Rationalizations and Denial:

"We all live in this city, and nobody tells you if you want police to patrol your neighborhood. They make the assessment that patrol and protection is needed, and it is done. And that's what should be done in Iraq."

Hrmpf.  Well, was the security breach the result of a lack of "patrolling" by US occupation forces?  That hypothesis is, if you'll forgive the phrase, exploded in another article in today's WaPo, this one entitled "U.N. Will Cut Staff, Up Security In Baghdad: Bomb Attack Shatters Workers' Sense of Safety."  This article contains more specific — and frankly, damning — concessions made by one who appears to have actually been on the scene in a position to know, Baghdad-based UN spokesman Salim Lone (who was also quoted in my blog yesterday):

Lone said U.N. workers wanted to appear close to the people they had come here to serve and hoped those people would provide a shield of goodwill.

As a result, many U.N. offices here are protected by little more than metal barriers and armed guards, a sharp — and intentional — contrast to the sandbags, barbed wire, armored vehicles and heavily armed troops that surround facilities occupied by U.S. and allied forces.

"We tried to be as accessible as possible," Lone said. "You always thought your best protection was the people, not the security measures. We did not want to be behind barbed wire and tanks. We would move freely without protection, without armored cars."

At U.N. headquarters, for example, the road on which the truck bomber traveled paralleled a new wall built around the compound. The road was unguarded and at one point passed no more than 20 feet from Vieira de Mello's corner office. It was there that the truck driver detonated the bomb that caused the huge explosion.

To a security specialist, this approach seemed pure folly. "There were no checkpoints, no guards at all. This was an open driveway. No security whatsoever," said Thomas Fuentes, the special agent who heads FBI operations in Iraq and is investigating the blast.

So have any lessons been learned yet?  There are mixed signals on that question.  The "U.S., U.N. Differ" article from the WaPo linked above concludes by quoting "Fred Eckhard, the chief U.N. spokesman," thusly: 

"We did not harden our headquarters location from a security point of view, because we didn't think it was necessary," Eckhard said. "As a result of the attack of yesterday, obviously, we're going to have to rethink."

But from the AP, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in an article headlined U.N. says will not increase Iraq security after bomb attack, death toll rises to 23":

Even as Washington showed reluctance to give the United Nations a stronger role in Iraq, the world body made it clear it wanted to keep its distance from the U.S.-led occupation.

Despite the bombing, the United Nations will not increase the number of U.S. soldiers standing guard outside its facilities from the dozen or so it had before the attack, said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Iraq coordinator for U.N. humanitarian programs.

"It's not that we have anything against the Coalition forces, but you do realize the presence of Coalition forces does intimidate some of the people we need to speak to and work with," he told reporters at the blast site.

"We will always remain a soft target," he said. "We are conscious of that, but that is the way we operate. We are an open organization."

And an uncommonly sad and silly one.  A declaration like "[w]e will always remain a soft target" can't help but put one in mind of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  But he at least talked a good game.

UPDATE (Fri Aug 22):  Today's NYT shows some welcome investigative snap, given their incredibly poor start in reporting on this bombing, in a story entitled "Inquiry of U.N. Bombing Focuses on Possible Ties to Iraqi Guards."  The security lapses which led to this tragedy — far from being the fault of the American occupying forces, as first reflexively insinuated by the NYT and Kofi Annan — now appear to be even more tightly connected to the UN itself, and were very possibly the result of betrayal by the Iraqi "security forces" that the UN decided to use instead of accepting American offers for better compound security.  A "senior American official" in Baghdad is reported as saying that

all of the guards at the compound were agents of the Iraqi secret services, to whom they reported on United Nations activities before the war. The United Nations continued to employ them after the war was over, the official said.

The official said that when investigators began questioning the guards, two of them asserted that they were entitled to "diplomatic immunity" and refused to cooperate....

"We believe the U.N.'s security was seriously compromised," the official said, adding that "we have serious concerns about the placement of the vehicle" and the timing of the attack. The bomb exploded directly under the third-floor office of the United Nations coordinator for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, while he was meeting with a prominent American human rights advocate, Arthur C. Helton. Both men were killed, along with several top aides to Mr. Vieira de Mello.

(Link via InstaPundit.)

UPDATE (Mon Aug 25):  Ralph Peters in the NY Post nailed this topic shut on Saturday.  Not only did the UN turn down repeated US offers for security, but it was a retired US special forces officer working for the UN — whose pleas had been mostly overruled — who was responsible for construction of the wall that absorbed most of the blast.  Another American officer, recognizing the UN's vulnerability and obstinacy, managed to arrange for two full-blown medevac rehearsal drills at the compound in the weeks before the bombing, so that when the tragedy struck, we were at least prepared for how to handle the aftermath:  "[W]hen the U.N.'s own people lay bleeding, they were glad enough for our help. As one U.N. employee, speaking from inside the Baghdad compound, put it to me, 'It was a proud day for the U.S. Army.'" 

Yet the NYT, and pretty much everyone else in the world who sees through those same sort of spite-colored lenses, reflexively blamed the US first.  Our forces probably know that as a rule, no good deed goes unpunished; and these particular good deeds will likely go unnoticed or be quickly forgotten by much of the American public and most of the world.  But not by those of us whose admiration for our forces serving abroad continues to swell day after day.  (Hat tip to Andrew Olmstead at Winds of Change and Prof. Reynolds at InstaPundit.)

Posted by Beldar at 05:30 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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