Bush fails to build bridges at UN as critics mass

26 September 2003
US appeals for help as security problems continue

US President Bush's attempts to rally the international community round the outcome of regime change, rather than the method, were dealt a blow in New York on 23 September. Making a difficult speech to the UN general assembly, Bush received a distinctly chilly response. Far better received were the world leaders queuing up to denounce the US-led invasion.

The White House was circumspect in its appeal for military and financial assistance with the reconstruction effort, apparently sensitive to the mood of the gathering. 'Now the nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid and all nations of goodwill should step forward and provide that support,' Bush said. The president is determined to spread the financial burden amid mounting domestic criticism of the cost of occupation and reconstruction. However, the Pentagon is understood to be pessimistic about securing large-scale international military support.

Bush played down the damage done to the UN by the coalition's decision to go to war without the organisation's backing. 'There was, and there remains, unity among us [the international community] on the fundamental principles and objectives of the UN,' he said. His optimism was not shared. US unilateralism and the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes were both roundly condemned. In an unusually strongly-worded address, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the UN's very existence was threatened by such behaviour. 'My concern is that if it [the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes] were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification,' Annan told the assembly. 'This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years.'

Bush pointed to the presence of an Iraqi governing council delegation in New York as a positive sign. 'Today we are joined by representatives of a liberated country,' he said.

Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and a member of the delegation, was not singing from the White House hymn sheet. In a number of interviews Chalabi has begun calling for a swift transfer of sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the governing council. His proposals are close to those of French President Chirac. However, other members of the governing council have been reluctant to endorse Chalabi's remarks. His assertiveness towards his US backers is widely regarded as a bid for popular support and an attempt to dispel the image that he has risen to leadership on the back of US tanks.

The governing council was permitted only observer status at the UN but its profile is rising. A delegation attended the 24 September OPEC meeting as a full voting member. On 23 September, the council issued a two-week ban on the Arab television stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. The two stations have repeatedly broadcast tapes purporting to be from Saddam Hussein and his supporters urging attacks on coalition forces and condemning council members as US puppets.

The fears expressed by the governing council that such broadcasts were threatening Iraq's stability appear to be borne out by the continuing attacks against the coalition and its supporters. A roadside bomb hit two buses in central Baghdad on 24 September, killing at least one person. A second explosion struck the UN compound in the capital on 22 September, killing one Iraqi and the bomber. Two days earlier, Aquila al-Hashimi, one of three female members of the council, was shot as she was being driven from her Baghdad home.

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