IRAQ'S decision to challenge the terms of an agreement on visas and travel permits for United Nations workers is part of a pattern of defiance against UN efforts to intervene in what Baghdad terms issues of sovereignty.
Publicly, UN officials say they still hope that Iraq will renew the expired agreement that undergirds the UN humanitarian aid program there.
Privately, UN sources admit that renewal is unlikely. They say Iraq is setting the stage for further confrontations with the UN Security Council.
It is the UN's dual role in Iraq that is also being challenged in this case. The world body wields a punitive stick while offering a carrot to some of those - a selective few in Iraq's view - who have been hurt in the process.
Security for UN personnel in Iraq, from weapons inspectors to guards, has been a growing problem. A few weeks ago three UN guards discovered a bomb under their car, apparently attached at an Iraqi government checkpoint.
Baghdad disclaims responsibility for all such incidents but says its citizens resent the UN's "double standard" and its "iniquitous" resolutions. UN officials say most citizen reaction is carefully orchestrated.
"It's not a question of what the public thinks of the UN but of what the government thinks," says one UN source.
Thomas Weiss, associate director of the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University, says such perceptions are important and calls the UN relief action in Iraq "assertive" humanitarianism. In his view the allied coalition and the UN would be in a far stronger position if their relief efforts were spread throughout Iraq rather than just in "pockets" that coincide with government opposition forces. Baghdad charges bias
"The Iraqi government's point of view is that humanitarian relief looks distinctly like the coalition's definition of it when Kurds and Shiites receive a lot more attention than people in the rest of Iraq under government control," Mr. Weiss says.
The UN Security Council approved economic sanctions against Iraq two years ago, endorsed military action after the invasion of Kuwait, and set rigorous cease-fire terms, enforceable under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
The humanitarian aid program in Iraq has a much looser base in a separate Council resolution of April 1991 that urges Iraq to stop oppressing its citizens and permit relief efforts. The ensuing agreement, which expired June 30, was reached not by the Council but by Baghdad and an envoy of the UN secretary-general. "At that time Iraq wasn't in a position to argue much," notes one UN source.
Iraqi officials held five sets of talks in Baghdad during mid-August with Jan Eliasson, head of the UN's new Department of Humanitarian Affairs. Iraq wanted to replace UN guards with Baghdad security guarantees and to shut UN field offices and a UN radio communications network. The UN wants to keep the network, the field offices, and 500 guards.
Just as the talks began, newspaper reports surfaced of the plan, later announced by the US, Britain, and France, to bar Iraqi planes from the Shiite marshlands of southern Iraq. Iraqi officials who insist they were ready to negotiate an agreement point to the "no fly" zone and the continuing UN embargo as key reasons for their reluctance to renew the aid accord. Some UN sources say Iraq was ready to ditch the renewal effort anyway.
"They want the UN out," says one UN official.
Iraq ordered the eight UN guards and a relief worker then posted in the South to move back to Baghdad for their own safety. Only 117 UN guards, virtually all in the northern Kurdish region, and 100 relief workers from various agencies remain in Iraq.
Mr. Eliasson insists that the UN relief program there is "grinding to a halt" as visas expire. "It's a very weak program and growing weaker," he says. UN pushes forward
Still, the Security Council, in a Sept. 2 statement read by Council President Jose Ayala Lasso of Ecuador, directed the UN secretary-general to "use all the resources at his disposal" to continue relief efforts. "The Council urges Iraq in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the UN," he said.
Without guarantees of access and safety, few relief workers are expected to stay on. Gualtiero Fulcheri, the Baghdad-based coordinator for Eliasson's office, is on a fact-finding trip in Iraq's northern Kurdish region to see how aid might be delivered in the absence of an agreement.