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Veton Surroi is the editor of Koha Ditore in Pristina, Kosovo.

By Veton Surroi

PRISTINA, Kosovo -- The rapid military success of the United States and Great Britain in Iraq has accelerated the debate over the role of the United Nations in a post-Saddam Iraq. Since the war in Kosovo, we have lived under U.N. administration and thus have some lessons to offer.

If the United Nations takes over the administration of the post-Saddam Iraq it will probably spend most of the first year organizing itself. I first saw them in the streets of Kosovo four years ago: After the successful NATO air campaign, as the forces of Slobodan Milosevic were leaving and the first white four-wheel drives with U.N. signs arrived, so did the enormous administrative vacuum. Suddenly, we all realized that there was no one in charge of the power supply, water, let alone the everyday policing. The only capable force present was that of NATO, but as the commander of the U.N.'s KFOR (Kosovo Force) told me rather early in July, 1999, "we are not a police force," nor would they run civilian affairs. Four years later, we live -- in these administrative terms -- almost as we did in June, 1999: I can't really tell who is in charge in Kosovo. When the daily power cuts occur, despite more than a half-billion dollars of donor money invested in the local electricity plant, the U.N. administration blames the Kosovars for mismanagement, and the Kosovars quickly remind everybody that the United Nations is actually the manager of all the public enterprises, including the power plant.

Of course, Iraq doesn't have the unresolved status issue that Kosovo has because it remains under the temporary sovereignty of the United Nations. But, on the other hand, Kosovo's 2 million inhabitants and relative homogeneity are a far easier administrative task. Even so, Kosovo is still today a place without the rule of law.

What I have learned from our own experience is that the order -- or, in the Kosovar case, disorder -- established in the first days of an international administration is what will remain in place for a long time.

If not filled in the first days, the vacuum of the rule of law will take many years to fill. Then, later on, the consequences of that vacuum make the task even harder. A whole new culture of corruption, organized crime and its political connection has been established here in the postwar years. Political power, based on physical strength, has also taken hold under U.N. rule, along with a Socialist economy combined with wild capitalist features.

Today, we Kosovars derisively call our country UNMIKISTAN, based on the acronym of U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Post-Saddam Iraq should avoid the mistakes of U.N. rule we have suffered. From the perspective of our experience the American position of keeping the United Nations away from running post-war Iraq is thoroughly understandable. Nevertheless, such a position brings problems in itself. First, it does not help bridge the present transatlantic divide nor alleviate the devaluation of the U.N.'s role. Second, it will not help the United States itself in the eyes of the Iraqis, or the ordinary Arab, for whom an international presence without U.N. legitimacy will be seen increasingly as an occupation.

How can the present American position and its inherent need for U.N. legitimacy and support be reconciled?

With U.N. endorsement, it is hoped, the American and British forces should establish the basic rules for the day after. This involves three basic stages of transition in Iraq: rule, delegation and consensus.

The rule stage means that the coalition forces assume full responsibility for security and initial public administration. This need is already apparent as they assume responsibility in Basra, for example. For the ordinary Iraqi, it means waking up in the morning and knowing who is responsible for his security, electricity and water supply.

For the coalition forces, it means micro-managing daily affairs, from the establishment of martial law to actually naming Iraqi engineers to handle the power supply. If conditions allow, it also means naming Iraqi interim councils of administration in various cities and regions that will gradually take over this new authoritative administration.

Once the coalition forces establish full control of Iraq, the full delegation process enters as well. This means a national interim council composed of appointed Iraqis, responsible for filling the administrative vacuum until a democratic order is established.

Since this is more or less what the coalition forces have proposed, where does the United Nations fit in?

The United Nations should be part of this endeavor in the three areas where it has proven itself to be successful. First, its agencies need to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the population. Military uniforms handing out food today are not the best of messages to project to a population that was fed by military uniforms yesterday, albeit of a tyrannical Baathist army.

Second, the United Nations should establish a special tribunal for crimes against humanity committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. There will be not only a need to address justice but also provide a bridge to align the main powers of the West into a common human rights position regarding crimes against humanity that was overlooked in the prewar debate over the second Security Council resolution.

Third, the United Nations should be the organizer of a constitutional conference of the democratic Iraq. Whatever happens the day after hostilities cease, it is clear that Iraq cannot be ruled in the way it was before. A new balance of decentralization and federalism is needed to accommodate the heterogeneity of the country. The Iraqi society will not be prepared to deal with this issue in the present balance of forces, especially when the focus is on everyday affairs.

The United Nations should be involved in the whole democratization process, including the very important constitutional debate, where it can bring to bear the broad global experience of different kinds of representational government.

In this sense, the United Nations together with the coalition forces could play an important role also in the third stage of the Iraqi post-war intervention, that of building consensus within the society that has just come out of tyranny and war -- and, indeed, of building consensus within the United Nations of a joint effort to have a democratic and peaceful Iraq.

The response in some segments of the U.S. administration to all this may well be: Why do we need to go through the more elaborate U.N. system when we can set up an interim administration for six months, hand over to the Iraqis and get out? Well, that is as easy an option as it is to leave the whole business to the United Nations. Claiming victory and getting out will leave Iraq where Afghanistan is now: You cannot leave a society that has just come out of tyranny and a war on its own.

The United Nations cannot run Iraq, but neither can the coalition forces successfully build a long-term future for Iraq without the United Nations.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 4/8/03)