As the U.N. Honors Sergio Vieira de Mello, Attacks Sweep Across Iraq

By: Daniel Jasper

As the United Nations honors the loss of one of its most skilled diplomats, Sergio Vieira de Mello, attacks sweep across Iraq killing more than 90 people.  Nearing a decade since Vieira de Mello’s untimely death from a car explosion in Baghdad, things remain much the same in the war torn country.

Vieira de Mello made a name for himself by his unique ability to synthesize humanitarian relief efforts and peacekeeping.  The two seemingly parallel operations are often at odds with each other.  Humanitarian relief can often exacerbate conflict by inadvertently supplying militant groups with food and medicine.  Today, the current Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler, could attempt to use a similar approach while he tries to negotiate the resettlement of refuges from Camp New Iraq (formerly, Camp Ashraf).  However, Kobler faces an uphill battle as al-Qaeda’s forces enjoy the absence of U.S. troops.  Now, nine years after the death of Vieira de Mello and the 2003 disbandment of the Iraqi forces, Kobler finds himself dealing with the aftermath of those vital mistakes in the first years of the war.

While we remember Vieira de Mello’s unprecedented career and endless accomplishments in such places as Cambodia, Serbia, and Kosovo, it is important we remember what made him such an effective U.N. diplomat – his uncanny ability to charm both sides of virtually any conflict while maintaining the support of member nations.  Vieira de Mello had a long history of undertaking the unsavory task of negotiating with war criminals in the name of peace and for the ultimate protection of refugees and everyday citizens.  His mantra seemed to be “the United Nations must remain neutral”.  Although in hindsight many criticize his approach in certain circumstances, it is clear that in order to bring peace to Iraq the United Nations cannot be held to the domestic agendas of its largest donors--a task which Vieira de Mello’s successors have found terribly difficult.

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