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By Richard Holbrooke

NEW YORK --The attack that destroyed the United Nations compound in Baghdad was not just an attack on the agency, but on the United States, as well. In Iraq, under the brilliant leadership of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. was fulfilling an essential part of America's policy objectives -- peace, security, and economic and political development in the country.
Now the U.N. knows it is a target and will be attacked again. Its workers need protection. We therefore need to construct a system that protects the U.N. and improves the general security situation.

U.S. forces, already stretched too thin, are not going to provide security for the U.N. And in any case, the U.N. doesn't want the image of American troops surrounding their compound and personnel.

The Security Council should therefore pass a resolution authorizing a multinational force -- not an ineffective U.N. Blue Helmet peacekeeping operation -- like the one in East Timor, but with the specific and narrowly focused assignment of protecting U.N. personnel and installations.

The best country to lead such a force might be Norway. The Norwegians are a respected NATO ally of the United States with long-standing ties to the U.S. military and a defense minister who is a favorite of the Pentagon. Norway is also a close friend of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and a fervent supporter of the world body.

I would envision a Norwegian battalion at the core of a U.N. self-protection force followed by Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani troops.

After the attack in Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the U.N. that America would oppose any dilution of the hallowed principle of "unity of command," which is a very critical point for the U.S. military. However, unity of command has historically been defined many different ways.

In Afghanistan now, we have two commands -- the American command of Enduring Freedom, outside Kabul, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), inside Kabul. ISAF recently became a NATO responsibility, but that is not how it was originally structured. There is a large international force going into Iraq under Polish command, with more than 20 nations participating.

There are thus varied ways to structure unity of command. One way recently suggested by Thomas Pickering, one of America's most distinguished career diplomats, is to "dual hat" the American commander so he has two chains of command -- one the U.N. self-protection force and the other the U.S. coalition.

The details can be worked out in different ways. The important thing is this: The United States is going to need to reach an agreement with other nations on the Security Council. Otherwise, the situation for the U.N. will be untenable -- and the United States, above all, needs a U.N. presence in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the Americans were not alone in putting forward an unsalable proposition -- that U.S. control must not be diluted -- at the U.N. on Thursday. The French reacted in a way that was equally disastrous, personalizing their attack on the States again.

In this petty and tasteless quarrel between France and the United States -- which has gone on even as bodies are still being dug out of the rubble in Baghdad -- the big loser is the United Nations.

Comments after the Baghdad bombing by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin only served the interests of the hard-liners in Washington who enjoy nothing more than France-bashing. It remains a mystery to me why Villepin continually weakens Colin Powell, who is the most internationalist and most pro-U.N. person in the Bush administration. If France truly cares about the U.N., it will be able to find common ground with Washington.

We should not replay the diplomatic train wreck of last spring. This is a chance for the United States, France and other leading countries to come together to strengthen and save the U.N. Based on what has transpired diplomatically since the terror attack on the U.N. in Baghdad, just the opposite has happened.

In terms of the larger issue of coping with the deteriorating security conditions across Iraq, nobody -- not even the commanders themselves -- really knows how many troops are needed. In fact, astonishing as it may seem, American intelligence does not seem to know who is behind many of the current attacks, including the one on the U.N.

But it is clear that the Bush administration will do everything it can to avoid a significant increase in U.S. troops because of the political implications in an election year and the echoes of a distant conflict in Southeast Asia.

They will do everything, that is, except agree to the kind of resolution from the U.N. Security Council that would create better conditions for international involvement in ending the conflict.

And, yet, the best course for America, and for Iraq itself, is to dilute the American presence with more international forces.

In that respect, it was a mistake for the United States, in the wake of the tragedy in Baghdad, to simply table a virtually identical proposal at the Security Council to the one they put forward a few weeks ago. They should have taken into account the new circumstances that prevail after the U.N. attack. They should accept that fact that the U.N. personnel who died did so while serving American foreign policy objectives.

I hope that in the coming week the United States will return to the U.N. and reach the right kind of agreement, one that leads to a larger international force (with the United States in overall command), and give U.N. personnel enough protection so they can continue their vital mission.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 8/25/03)