U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that Iraq has become an even greater “center for terrorist activities” than Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Annan, speaking to British Broadcasting Corp., said many young Muslims are angry, and their anger has been exacerbated by what is happening in Iraq.
“They feel victimized in their own society; they feel victimized in the West. And they feel there’s profiling against them,” he said. “And the Iraqi situation has not helped matters.”
The United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was bombed by militants on Aug. 19, 2003, and 22 people died, including the top U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The U.N.’s international staff withdrew from Iraq in October 2003 following a second attack on its offices in Baghdad and a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. A small staff has gradually been allowed to return since August 2004.
Annan did not refer directly to the bombing, but expressed concern about terrorism in Iraq.
“One used to be worried about Afghanistan being the center of terrorist activities. My sense is that Iraq has become a major problem and in fact is worse than Afghanistan,” he said.
Oil-for-food findings due
Annan also said Monday he was prepared for further criticism when findings of a probe into the Iraq oil-for-food program are published this week.
The program, launched to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, is under investigation over accusations of corruption and waste.
“When it comes to Iraq, on this issue, no one is entirely covered in glory,” Annan said.
“Honestly I wish we had never been given that program, and I wish the U.N. will never be asked to undertake that kind of program again. There were failures; there were inadequacies; there were situations that we couldn’t deal with,” Annan said.
The Independent Inquiry Committee, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, has been investigating how much Annan knew about an oil-for-food contract awarded to a Swiss company that employed his son.
In a March interim report, Volcker said there was not enough evidence to show that Annan knew of a contract bid by his son’s Swiss employer but faulted him for failing to properly investigate possible conflicts of interest.
Volcker’s team reopened its inquiry in June after a 1998 e-mail came to light suggesting Annan may have known more about the contract than he had claimed.
Annan said it would be unfair for the world to view criticism of the oil-for-food program as a symbol of U.N. incompetence and corruption.
“I don’t think any institution can go through the scrutiny, the scrubbing we’ve gone through and come out squeaky clean,” Annan said.