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Devastating strike in Baghdad

THE SUICIDE ATTACK on the headquarters of the United Nations in Baghdad is a big blow to the attempts of the United States to induct the U.N. in some kind of legitimising role for the occupation. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack that tragically killed at least 24 people, including the Secretary-General's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and injured more than 100 by ramming an explosive-laden truck into the building from which the U.N. functioned. The complex modalities of the attack appear to rule out the possibility that it was the handiwork of a lone marauder who had a real or imagined grievance with the U.N. Suspicion centres on two possible sources of inspiration: the remnants of the toppled Ba'ath party regime and fundamentalist groups that have flocked into Iraq. A U.N. facility, which was not seriously guarded by troops or armour, was a more vulnerable target than the heavily armed elements of the occupying forces. The Ba'ath regime worked with the U.N. till the end and it is unlikely that those who now lead the party have forgotten the utility of that relationship. If an extremist group inspired by religion scripted the suicide bomb attack, then the challenge posed by fundamentalist terrorism is even greater than has been suggested thus far.

Although the U.N. is far from perfect, either in its efficacy or impartiality, it does retain the role of an arbitrator of last resort on the international stage. Even the Al-Qaeda has thus far refrained from targeting the U.N. By according a measure of protection to a soft target until now, the forces of global terror seemed to leave open the possibility that they could pull back from the brink. With this attack in Baghdad, the bombers have conveyed the message that they will wage war against the most powerful adversaries, come what may, until their millennial dreams are realised. While adequate protection must be extended to the U.N. and other supposedly non-partisan multilateral institutions so that they can perform their humanitarian and — eventually — reconstruction tasks, these institutions must also realise that there are high risks involved in having any kind of truck with international lawlessness and gross violations of national independence and sovereignty of the kind that have taken place in Iraq.

Even as the international community persists with its campaign against global terror, it must not gloss over the character and ground realities of the situation in Iraq. The Bush administration, which finds itself in a quagmire, is only too eager to blur the distinction between Iraqi nationalists and transnational terrorists, with George Bush simultaneously blaming "terrorists and the remnants of the brutal regime." Washington tried to enlist support for its invasion of Iraq by portraying the enterprise as part of a new campaign against global terror. The attack in Baghdad provides the U.S. with another opportunity to re-fabricate the connection and woo allies on this basis. India, like other countries pressured to contribute troops in support of the occupation, must not fall into the trap. It is unjust as well as dangerous to participate, even under some kind of U.N. umbrella, in any kind of `peace-keeping' role in occupied Iraq. The Iraqi people have every right to resist the military occupation and neo-colonialist exploitation of their country. They have not forfeited this right because some fundamentalist groups see opportunities to strike in a volatile situation. Terrorism is not nationalism but, as the Baghdad attack has demonstrated, fundamentalism thrives where national honour and feelings are trampled on.

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