26 February 1998
The Times of India
'UNSCUM' vs 'bunny-huggers' in Iraq
By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service
BAGHDAD: Weapons inspectors from the UN Special Commission in Iraq have a serious public relations problem: Hardly anyone - Iraqi or foreigner - has a kind word for them.
That the Iraqis have problems with UNSCOM staff is well known. But employees of
other UN agencies here are equally critical of them.
``They roam around like cowboys, as if they own the place'', said one observer
for the UN's `Oil-for-food' programme in northern Iraq. ``They are uncouth and
rude''. Another told The Times of India: ``They have no respect for the culture
and sensitivity of the people and are deliberately provocative.''
Diplomats in Baghdad say the Australian head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, is
partly to blame. One ambassador said he was too brusque. It is true his
solecisms tend to offend. After he told The New York Times that he came from a
``Western tradition'' where ``truth-telling was important'' and that it was
``frustrating'' to deal with others where this wasn't the case, the UN
Secretary General ticked him off.
Another ambassador sees a method in his manner, describing Butler as ``a
self-perpetuating bureaucrat shoe-horned from obscurity to the centre of the
world's attention. He is not going to be in a hurry to give up his job''.
Since the UN has a dual role in Iraq - humanitarian assistance and sanctions
enforcement - it is not surprising the two aspects have led to tension within.
The UNSCOM people see the humanitarian workers as softies keen for sanctions to
be eased. They call them ``bunny-huggers'. The latter, in turn, refer to UNSCOM
as `UN-SCUM.' Many feel the inspectors are deliberately dragging their feet to
suit those countries which want sanctions against Iraq to continue.
One `bunny-hugger' from an Asian country said: ``I once saw an UNSCOM guy with
a US flag stuck on his radio. Normally my colleagues avoid them but I told him
he had no right to wear his flag since he was on UN duty and he just brushed
past me. I thought, God, if these guys are like this with us, how must they be
treating the Iraqis?''.
A UN relief worker from a European country provided details. ``There have been
many instances where they turn up at warehouses on a Friday knowing it is a
holiday,'' he said. ``They then demand to be let in but since the guard doesn't
have the keys and they don't wait for the storekeeper to be contacted, they
break the padlock, search the place and go away, leaving the poor guard to
figure out how to lock up the place again.''
Often, they will arrive at a site and demand immediate access. But since the
person in-charge naturally would like the clearance of his superiors, he asks
them to wait, at which point, the UNSCOM experts return to their headquarters
and complain of non-compliance.
And then there is the infamous incident at the Mar Yousif and Saydat Al-Sinabul
monasteries in Zafaraniya in June 1997, which inspectors desecrated. The Papal
Nuncio formally protested and UNSCOM was forced to apologise. There have also
been searches of kindergartens and university offices. Sometimes, the latter
have had their records taken away to help identify potential chemical weapon
On one occasion - captured on film - an UNSCOM inspector demanded access to a
farm. When Irqi official accompanying him said it was private and asked ``How
would you like it if I demanded to enter your house'', the UNSCOM man jabbed a
finger in his chest and bellowed in a thick American accent: ``YOU would never
enter my home.''
``The Iraqis feel really humiliated,'' said one UN employee, ``but their
endless patience and courtesy never fails to impress me and my colleagues.''
She said that if anyone tried to conduct similar searches in her country,
``there would be riots in the streets''.
The problem with UNSCOM, another woman said, is that it is heavily staffed by
nationals of countries which fought the Gulf War. The fact that most are
soldiers doesn't help. ``The UN always had a rule of not sending non-neutral
people into any area. In the case of Iraq, this rule has been broken. It's like
sending Israelis to Lebanon or Pakistanis to the Kashmir border.''