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Experts Begin to Assess UN Security Lapses in Iraq - 2003-11-12

A team of experts has begun studying the question of who was to blame for security lapses that left United Nations offices in Baghdad vulnerable to attack. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered the probe after an independent panel investigating the attacks concluded that the entire U.N. security system was dysfunctional.

The four-member team, headed by former Deputy U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Gerald Walzer, held its first meeting Tuesday. It is expected to issue recommendations in mid-January.

Secretary-General Annan named the expert team last week. He ordered them to determine accountability, both at headquarters and in the field, for security decisions prior to August 19, when a bomb tore apart the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

That blast killed 22 people, including the Secretary-General's Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Last month, an independent panel investigating that blast issued a scathing report, charging the U.N. security management system with failing to provide adequate security to staff in Iraq. The panel, headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, concluded that officials in charge of security were unqualified for their jobs, and should be replaced.

After the Ahtisaari report, all international U.N. staff in Baghdad were ordered out, and two senior U.N. officials responsible for security were relieved of duty. U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard says further actions can be expected.

"The Secretary General now wants to take specific administrative actions in response to the Ahtisaari report," he said. "To help him do that, he's asked these four experts to take a more focused look at the accountability issues."

The expert panel's report is being eagerly awaited, partly because its recommendations will form part of the basis for deciding when U.N. staff might be able to return to Baghdad, and when the world body might be able to take a more active role in the reconstruction effort.

With the lack of international staff in the Baghdad offices, the world body has only a few dozen foreigners currently in Iraq. Most of them are in the north, working on the hand-over of Oil for Food Program assets to coalition forces. The U.N. administered program's mandate expires later this month.