UN better than Bush

Your back page opinion piece last week claimed that the UN is incapable of helping run Iraq ["Billions to buddies: Why the UN can't run Iraq" Essay, May 27, 2004]

Consider these few points about the UN's oil for food program. Was there corruption? You bet– as there is in every bureaucracy.

Take the current US-led program in Iraq which has enriched Bush's campaign supporters and put $18 billion in the pockets of Cheney's folks at Halliburton (which was found guilty of making $8 million in kickbacks and over-billing US taxpayers nearly $1 billion for fuel and troop meals) without providing adequate infrastructure or security for the Iraqi people). But what exactly did the UN provide for Iraqis?

Well, aside from being the sole source of food for 14 million Iraqis, its scope covered 34 sectors of infrastructure rehabilitation including health, electricity, agriculture and irrigation, education, transport and telecommunications, water and sanitation, housing, settlement rehabilitation (internally displaced persons– IDPs), special allocation for especially vulnerable groups, mining and oil industry spare parts and equipment... as well as construction, industry, labor and social affairs, Board of Youth and Sports, information, culture, religious affairs, justice, finance, and Central Bank of Iraq.

So the UN was essentially providing all the things the US-led CPA has proven utterly incapable of.

Thanks to the UN, 19,051 dwelling units were constructed for IDPs, as well as residential construction totaling about 140 million square feet. Plus, it provided the construction or repair of 685 schools (and distribution of 1.2 million school desks), 127 health centers, 99 agricultural and veterinary facilities, 49 social and civic buildings, 853 kilometers of water systems and 2,800 kilometers of roads and bridges.

There were nine United Nations agencies and organizations involved in the program: FAO, UNESCO, WHO, ITU, UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, UNOPS, UN-Habitat, employing 1,000 international workers and 3,000 Iraqis (note the ratio, which today is lopsided the other way toward US contractors).

Think of it this way: The UN spent $64 billion (of the world's money) over eight years, helping a nation survive under sanctions. The US spent $115 billion (of our tax dollars) in one year bombing it into turmoil. You do the math and decide who's better at helping Iraqis help themselves.

Brian Wimer