15 June 2005

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has written off the U.N. Special Representative for Iraq Ashraf Qazi. Since he received him last year as a courtesy and to hear what he had to say, he has refused to see him again. Shiite sources leaked to certain reporters that Qazi, who holds the rank of Under-Secretary General, not come back to Najaf, indicating that he, that is the Ayatollah, had "to devote his time to more useful matters." Qazi told a curious reporter for Agence France Presse after his one and only visit that he did not carry any specific message from the Secretary General and -- indicatively -- the Grand Shiite told him that he was only "a man of religion." Interpreted locally, he meant something like "If you've got nothing to say then go say it elsewhere!"

Asked about the U.N. role or presence to support the Iraqi people, Qazi reportedly said they had an office in Baghdad with limited annexes in Basra and Erbil. However, a team was very busy helping Iraq from Amman (Jordan) and Kuwait. He also mentioned something about helping to draft the constitution.

Except for occasional forays into the Secretariat building in New York or the Green Zone in Baghdad, Qazi has not been visible anywhere. Local journalists hungry for any story have given up on him. Even his official spokesman, a solid Jordanian media personality -- Ayman Safadi -- has returned to Amman. In addition to his salary as Under-Secretary General, he is costing extensive per diem and travel. The claim that his expenses are not paid from the U.N. regular budget but from original Iraqi oil funds is even more embarrassing. Iraqi politicians who would normally encourage any U.N. role are now joking about his futile movements, pointing out that since the new President of Iraq, Jalal Talbani, did not bother to receive him except once -- for 14 minutes. When he saw him again recently, it was in a futile effort to find out whether he had anything worthwhile to prepare for a European summit on Iraq to be attended by the Secretary General in Brussels. In a recent article in Asharq Al Awsat, a widely circulated Arab international daily, the head of its New York bureau, Ghida Fakhri, wondered why does the Secretary General keep him in that post.

Not only is he being kept at a high expense to the Iraqi people and to U.N. credibility, but he is officially "assisted" (to do what?!) by TWO Assistant-Secretaries General. When it was time to get Steffan Demistura out of Beirut, he was given a job as Deputy Special Representative in Iraq - operating, of course, from Amman, Beirut and Nicosia. As if that was not blatant enough, another official -- former UNDP Teheran Representative Michael Von der Schulenberg was also appointed Deputy Special Representative. When asked about the difference between the two, a somewhat embarrassed New York colleague tried to put on a straight face while explaining that, presumably, one was for political and the other was for humanitarian efforts.

In fact, the only clear political and humanitarian affair seems to dole out such plum jobs to benefit an ineffective Special Representative as Under-Secretary General and two Assistant-Secretaries General doing little to earn their salaries or gain the appreciation of the Iraqi people. The outcome is further discredit to the already beleaguered United Nations.