Boutros-Ghali condemns US role over Iraq

The former UN chief tells Robert Fisk in Paris that he fears the worst as the allies prepare for yet more bombing
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Boutros Boutros-Ghali looked at us with something between world- weariness and despair, his old hound-dog face registering astonishment at the West's folly in the Middle East. "What is certain in any kind of strike against Iraq is that it will reinforce the position of the fundamentalists," he said. "There is no doubt about this. Fundamentalism is a basic anti- Western attitude. So here again, the Westerners are preparing to bomb an Arab country - and it is the Iraqi people who will be killed."

Vain, arrogant, haughty; the descriptions of the former United Nations secretary-general and Egyptian ex-foreign minister have made Mr Boutros- Ghali as famous as his old job. Vanity there is but in Paris yesterday, it was weighed down with a sense of cynicism and fear. It was he, after all, who ran the UN in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War when thousands - perhaps a million - Iraqi civilians died under UN sanctions, originally imposed when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

"I cannot say I am against sanctions, no - because sanctions exist in the UN Charter, and I was a member of the UN Cabinet in 1990. We had had an invasion of a member country [Kuwait]. It was an `Anschluss'."

It was obvious, however, that Mr Boutros-Ghali's scorn was reserved for a UN Security Council which allowed the Americans to use its resolutions in any way they saw fit. "What nobody mentions today is what happened in August 1996," he said. "The Americans bombed Iraq when their Kurdish operation collapsed. Why? Because it was August? No, the American point of view was exactly the same as it is going to be today: that their interpretation [of staging air strikes] was according to the terms of the UN resolutions [on non-compliance with arms destruction]. But what are the points of view of the other members of the Security Council? Why cannot 15 member states give their own interpretation - after all, they participated in the adoption of these resolutions."

He continued: "I am astonished that with the exception of just one newspaper, nobody today has mentioned the principal actors who are suffering - the Iraqi people. And the UN, remember, was an institution created to protect the people." Of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright - the nemesis which destroyed Mr Boutros-Ghali's hopes of a further term as UN Secretary General - there was studied discretion. "Gentlemen don't talk," Mr Boutros- Ghali muttered. But this did not apply to the United States.

"You have had a drastic change in American public opinion in the last three years. They were looking at the UN in 1992 as the new super-organisation that will manage the world. Mrs Albright was talking about `active multi- lateralism'. Then suddenly you have a fundamental change. It followed the accident [sic] of Somalia."

If America lost its trust in Mr Boutros-Ghali's UN when its dead soldiers were dragged naked through the streets of an African city, why has the UN nevertheless imposed sanctions against America's enemies rather than its friends? Mr Boutros-Ghali wished us to understand what happened when UN Secretary Generals tried to implement UN resolutions against Israel.

"After the Israelis put hundreds of [Palestinian] religious leaders [sic] on a Lebanese mountain in the early 1990s, they were ordered by the UN to take them back. I sent a report to the Security Council, saying that Israel had not complied with the Security Council. One week later began the attacks on me, saying I was arrogant, that I was a bad manager, that there were scandals in the UN's financial administration."

We should have no illusions, Mr Boutros-Ghali insisted. "The UN will act according to pressure from the major actors. Why was resolution 242 [calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land] never implemented? And why are resolutions concerning Libya and Iraq always implemented? Because the UN is a political body; it's not a kind of tribunal. It is not a council of wise men trying to solve problems according to equity or natural law. It's a purely political order."

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