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AN ASIAN "NON-ARAB MUSLIM" FOR IRAQ. COULD IT BE SOMEONE'S CANDIDATE FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL?

5/1/2003

Heads of State may argue about the precise role of the United Nations in post-war Iraq, but a small, very small, group within the U.N. Secretariat already made up their mind as to who should be performing that role. It doesn't matter what it is. What matters is to have their man to do whatever is required -- the horse behind the cart or the cart (the "U.N.") behind the horse (a non-Arabian one!).

As the saying goes, Iraq has its own God to look after it. That group seeks to look after itself by pushing its own candidate which they are trying to sell discreetly to Arab delegates in the hope that they would adopt him as one of their own.

Using the theory that it should be a "non-Arab Muslim," the cause is further narrowed by adding that he should be an Arabic speaking man (not woman of course) from Asia with some former governmental experience, preferably as a minister of foreign affairs who had dealt with U.N. issues. That narrows it down to a former Foreign minister of Thailand. Earlier reports about other names like former General Assembly President Razali Ismail of Malaysia were brushed aside -- he is too independent-minded and outspoken. Chef de Cabinet Iqbal Riza who fancies himself as a behind-the-scenes negotiator is a non-starter; he is vulnerable to potential exposure to at least two U.N. investigations. One prominent Arab internationalist, outside of headquarters, has ruled himself out. So why not our friend from Thailand? An added purpose may have to do with the unspoken campaign to succeed Kofi Annan. Assuming, of course, that he may not seek a third, the turn will be claimed by Asia. Bangkok is the regional site of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific where the decent and outstanding international civil servant Rafeeuddin Ahmed once was Executive Secretary. Mr. Ahmed is now an adviser on handling Iraq and is beyond doubt doing his best as usual. The former Chef de Cabinet of Dr. Waldheim, Deputy Administrator of UNDP, Secretary of the Economic and Social Council had followed closely the Middle East situation throughout his spectacular long career. His friendship with the late Ismat Kittani, one of the most distinguished Iraqi internationalists, certainly gave him a human insight into the country's predicament. It would have been more effective if he was given a more substantial role. The candidature of the former Thai official may be a positive step despite his lack of practical knowledge of an already intricate situation. The main concern is that handling Iraq could make or break the U.N. credibility, reputation, and effectiveness. Questions are already being asked. It will be tragic if any agenda is advanced other than the clear interest of the U.N. and the welfare of the Iraqi people.