25 April 2004

Through astute and discreet effective handiwork, Lakhdar Brahimi brought back the U.N. from political wilderness to centre stage on Iraq. Almost single-handed, he accomplished for the international community in weeks what those around the Secretary General handling Iraq could not do over a year. By mid April, the U.S. President who was skeptical of any useful role referred to Brahimi in his address to a crowd in the Midwest. Similarly, French President Jacque Chirac was singing the praises of the former Algerian Foreign Minister and accomplished internationalist. Leaders in Europe, Asia, Latin America were seriously relying on him for a way out. More to the point, all Iraqi factions expressed welcoming trust in his role. Even when some took public postures about the U.N. approach, there was no question that they highly regarded the Special Envoy.

Concluding a first round of a field visit, Brahimi proposed dissolving the Governing Council and replace it with a technocrat Cabinet -- until elections are held. In a remarkable shift, the U.N. will select members of that government in consultation with the U.S. occupation authorities (which had solely selected the Governing Council) and other key Iraqi groups including members of the Council. A comprehensive involvement of all elements of Iraq society, through a consultative body (along the Loya Jirge model Brahimi initiated in Afghanistan) will help ensure the widest possible participation. It will also provide the transition process a much needed legitimacy, which would be strengthened by a Security Council resolution giving a mandate to the transitional government.

It is a substantive step forward out of a seeming impasse. Everyone has a stake in its success, including, of course, the United Nations. Secretary General Kofi Annan made a point of indicating that while the U.N. remains ready to assist, the Iraqis themselves have to carry the main burden. They have the talent to do it. They need the chance to do it.

What Lakhdar Brahimi did superbly is pull fragmented pieces together into a workable programme of proposed action and facilitate a process which could gain international legitimacy. He played a unique role at a very desperate time in an extremely risky place. A modest, though confident man, he is, typically, not claiming any personal credit. His accomplishment is attributed to the Organization he represents. But he personally deserves a special tribute -- and a special thanks: on behalf of the U.N., on behalf of the Iraqi people and the Arab world, "SHUKRAN."