West focuses attention on plight of Iraqi Marsh Arabs
After months of inaction, the US and its allies are focusing international attention on the humanitarian situation in southern Iraq and the government's oppression of the area's Shia population. Some diplomatic sources contend this is to put President Saddam Hussein on the defensive and, if possible, humiliate him before the US presidential election.
Mr Eliasson's visit is aimed at renegotiating a memorandum of understanding with Baghdad that would allow UN guards back into the country in strength to protect food, medicines and UN property. Mr Eliasson is also demanding freedom of access to all parts of Iraq where he believes there to be a humanitarian problem.
If, as many expect, Iraq rebuffs Mr Eliasson in the negotiations next week, he will report to the Security Council that it is not possible to mount a humanitarian operation, leaving it to the US and its allies to make the next move.
Although Mr Eliasson's office is raising some dollars 100m ( pounds 52m) to bring aid to Iraqi Kurds and Shia groups, aid deliveries have been hampered by Iraqi grenade and bomb attacks on the UN guards, and by the government's refusal to renew visas for guards and aid agencies. The relief effort in the south, which has always been weak, has been reduced to a tiny office on the fringe of the marshes in the town of Nasiriyah.
The US, Britain and France have suggested they will intervene directly to halt the repression of the Marsh Arabs, which was described to the Security Council on Tuesday by Max van der Stoel, the special human rights envoy for Iraq. By holding out the prospect of creating a protected zone for the Shia, just as was done for the Kurds last year, the West hopes to intimidate Baghdad into giving the UN humanitarian workers the access they need.
Mr Eliasson's efforts are aimed at providing Iraq with a middle way that will save the lives of thousands of Shia and provide continued protection for the Kurds in the north, without risking the creation of 'safe havens' for the Shia. Any success in getting humanitarian aid flowing again will then be credited to President Bush; his new UN ambassador, Edward Perkins, delivered the most ringing denunciation of President Saddam at the Council meeting on Tuesday.
Mr Perkins said that the repression of Kurdish civilians in 1991 had prompted allied military intervention. The warning to Iraq was implicit - renew the UN humanitarian programme or face possible allied intervention to protect the Marsh Arabs.
Revealed: Stunning new images show gold-plated, ultra-luxurious Riyadh metro station that Saudi king has ordered to be built
World news in pictures
Far-right French historian, 78-year-old Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame in protest against gay marriage
Oklahoma tornado latest: Obama pledges support for 'as long as it takes' to rebuild the suburb of Moore
Video emerges of Pope Francis reportedly performing an exorcism
- 1 Gay couple beaten in park urge MPs to moderate language on gay marriage
- 2 Swedes set up 'ultimate Viking movie'
- 3 After woman sells virginity for $780,000, here are the results of our prostitution survey
- 4 China agrees to impose carbon targets by 2016
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.
Excellent Salary Package - £60K to £120K: Austen Lloyd: We have an exciting op...
£200 - £250 per day: Progressive Recruitment: Java Developer - Urgent Requirem...
£70000 - £95000 per annum + Bonus, flexible working hours, remote work: Progre...
£50000 - £56000 per annum + Benefits package, flexible working hours: Progress...