17 March 2003 Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced today he will withdraw United Nations staff from Iraq following the failure of efforts to achieve united action in the Security Council in ridding the country of weapons of mass destruction.
“I have just informed the Council that we will withdraw the UNMOVIC and atomic agency inspectors, we will withdraw the UN humanitarian workers, we will withdraw the UNIKOM troops on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border who are also not able to operate,” Mr. Annan said in a statement to reporters after he informed a closed-door meeting of the Security Council of his plans.
The Secretary-General said US authorities had informed him, as well as the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), yesterday “that it would be prudent not to leave our staff in the region.”
Mr. Annan said the implication of these withdrawals meant that several UN mandates like the humanitarian oil-for-food programme would be suspended because there would no inspectors to monitor the selling of oil and the distribution of food required by such programmes.
But he stressed: “This does not mean that should war come to Iraq that the UN will sit back and not do anything to help the Iraqi population. We will find a way of resuming our humanitarian activities to help the Iraqi people who have suffered for so long and do whatever we can to give them assistance and support and as you know we have undertaken major contingency planning to be able to move forward as soon as we can.”
“Obviously we seem to be at the end of the road here,” Mr. Annan said, referring to the disappointment and frustration of Council members who hoped that it would be possible to disarm Iraq peacefully and to come up with a common position.
In reply to questions Mr. Annan repeated his view that if action against Iraq were to take place without the support of the Council “its legitimacy will be questioned and the support of it diminished.”
Asked whether today was a very sad day for the UN and the world, he said: “In the sense that we are not able to do it peacefully, obviously it is a disappointment and a sad day for everybody. War is always a catastrophe. It leads to major human tragedy, lots of people are going to be uprooted, displaced from their homes and nobody wanted that and this is why we had hoped that the Iraqi leadership would have cooperated fully and would have been able to do this without resort to use of force. But the little window that we seem to have seems to be closing very, very fast. I’m not sure at this stage the Council can do anything in the next couple of hours.”
Mr. Annan said regardless of how the issue is resolved the Security Council is going to have a role to play in post-conflict Iraq. “The Council will have to give me a mandate for some of the activities that we will need to undertake. This does not mean the end of the involvement of the UN in the Iraqi situation.”