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Probe Criticizes UN Security Measures in Iraq - 2003-10-22

A panel investigating the bomb attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad has issued a sweeping indictment of the entire U.N. security system. The panel's report describes U.N. security management as dysfunctional. The August 19 blast killed 22 people, including the secretary general's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The panel is recommending a total security overhaul before U.N. staffers are sent back to Iraq.

In a scathing 40-page report, the independent panel charges the U.N. security system was incapable of providing adequate protection to staff in Iraq. The report outlines a system in which implementation of regulations was sloppy, and security rules were routinely ignored.

The panel also confirmed word from U.S. officials that U.N. authorities in Baghdad had refused protection from coalition forces because they did not want to be identified with the occupation.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who headed the panel, says the U.N. security system is broken, and must be completely revamped.

"The U.N. security management system is dysfunctional. It provides little guarantee of security to U.N. staff in Iraq or other high-risk environments, and needs to be reformed," he said.

Mr. Ahtisaari says the failures his panel turned up point to the need for a new approach to ensure staff safety. Recalling his earlier experience as head of U.N. perations in Namibia, he says a new understanding is needed within the world body of the dangers it is facing.

"I think there is a dramatic shift," he said. "Earlier we all thought the U.N. flag would protect us, and I speak as a former head of a U.N. operation in [19]89-{19]90. Despite all the difficulties we had in Namibia, it was like a Sunday school picnic compared to the present operations."

Mr. Ahtisaari was careful not to blame anyone for the security failures, saying his report was not a name calling exercise. But he did point to Secretary General Kofi Annan, and suggested changes will have to be made at the top levels of the U.N.'s security organization.

"The buck stops always with the secretary general, but obviously there are layers and clear messages to those who are actually in charge of the U.N. security coordination," he said.

Panelists say it is likely to take many months to revamp the entire security system, suggesting there will be an indefinite delay in redeploying U.N. staff to Iraq. Before the August 19 attack, there were as many as 500 foreign U.N. staffers in the country. Most of those have since been pulled out, leaving only a crew of fewer than 50 people.