1 August 2003

After wavering between an important and/or effective U.N. role in postwar Iraq, the thrust of new statements focus on "discreet." True, Paul Bremmer is making the decision, the approach to media reporters went, but U.N. representatives worked "very discreetly" on him to shift certain positions, particularly on establishing a Governing Council. True again that the U.N. had no say in selecting members of that Council, nor figuring out what else specifically -- as opposed to generally -- will U.N. agencies participate, collaborate or communicate (other than discreetly) with that Council, but U.N. representatives helped (discreetly again) on elaborating the main functions of that Council. Even that claim was ignored by mainstream media in main capitals which searched for a U.N. presence only after a series of frustrating casualties and setbacks by the "allied forces." However, some third world newspapers tried to help, mainly out of perceived sympathy for the U.N. or as a courtesy to a compatriot. In a fairly optimistic interview published by Arab daily "Al-Hayat," Adviser Ghassan Salame, a Lebanese professor and once Minister of Culture, expounded to a Parisian correspondent on a conceptual program. He indicated that despite apparent complications matters will be in hand by next year.

Maybe he hopes that by then he would have replaced Sergio Vieira de Mello who by the way gave an excellent interview to Al-Jazeera television, but is undercut by the four month short mandate. Although the self confident professor with trademark thick eyebrows and thin skin was attacked by new Iraqi media as a proponent of the previous regime, he is counting on the presumed influence of Saudi Lebanese dealer Rafic Hariri who happens to be the current Prime Minister of Lebanon. Hariri had brought him into his previous government and placed him in charge of the Francophone Summit (where he met the Deputy Secretary-General), and the Arab Summit in Beirut (where Hariri placed a private jet to fly back Kofi Annan on his way to New York). An accomplished intellectual, the professor is reportedly busy giving lectures to some U.N. neophytes on the philosophical nuances between Sunni and Shia and the underlying cross-currents of common cultural diversity. As Secretary-General Annan is a very good listener, Salami may be convinced that his tactics are working. The French will welcome the appointment of a professor at their Paris "Science Po" as Special Representative in Iraq. So will the Emirate of Dubai. However, an American media-related source described that candidate as "self propelled." As the guessing game is open on who will replace Sergio Vieira de Mello, several names are mentioned. Arabs include Tunisian Kamel Mourjane, now in Geneva with the High Commissioner of Refugees (so was Sergio and several appointees of Annan who started his international work there). His performance in the Congo maybe a handicap. His familiarity with the eastern Arab world is fairly limited. An Egyptian former U.N. official is pushing very hard, not through his government by via the United Arab Emirates which is gaining influence in the new regime as a former, current, and future host country to some influential personalities. Iraqi new prominent player Adnan Pachachi was a long-time adviser to its ruler. So was Algerian President Bouteflika, as is now former Iraqi Foreign and Information Minister Al-Sahhaf. Some again mention the Special Rep in Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi who is unlikely to accept. Incidentally his brilliant daughter Rym is displaying outstanding media credentials reporting for CNN from Baghdad. Two new names are seriously considered. Giandominico Picco, former U.N. official who dealt with Iraq-Iran and handled the case of Western hostages, is enjoying his private business but may be called upon to serve. The most seriously considered name lately is that of Antonio Guiterrez, former Prime Minister of Portugal. It makes political sense, not only due to his stature, European connection, and U.S.-Portuguese relations, but also because he is close to Britain's Tony Blair. As Sir Jeremy Greenstock, U.K. Perm Rep at U.N. will become U.K. envoy to Baghdad soon, the two can certainly work closely together as well as with Ambassador Bremmer. That would also help Sergio get out nicely, leaving behind an influential constituent -- someone who would consolidate support by Portuguese speaking countries for any future endeavors. Unless, of course, Sergio ends up succeeding himself in September.

Where does the Secretary-General stand on such speculation? More to the point, what will he do? It may be that he already has someone in mind and will produce the name at the right moment. Yet above and beyond all nominations the main question is: what precisely is the U.N. role? Any idea -- or is it too discreet to mention?