After the ouster of Saddam, America and its allies hoped United Nations involvement would blunt the hostility of those opposed to the enterprise of Middle East change. Turtle Bay, however, was a different place then.
Only few dared to snicker back in 2003 when Mr. Annan and other officials habitually used terms like "international legitimacy" and "moral authority" to describe their organization. Those descriptions have now been replaced by desperate calls for healing a bankrupt and corrupt United Nations.
Either way, any hope for a significant U.N. role in Iraq was lost in August 2003, when a terrorist blew up the U.N. Baghdad headquarters, killing 21 in the process, including Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil. A traumatized United Nations withdrew from the country, only to return with a tiny staff and less ambitious hopes for influence.
A Pakistani diplomat named by Mr. Annan a year after the bombing to be his point man in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, headed a small group of officials who huddled inside Baghdad's Green Zone, paralyzed by security concerns. As Iraqi citizens and American troops put their lives on the line, and as the country marked significant political successes such as last winter's parliamentary elections, many in the mission were busy watching the historic India—Pakistan cricket match on satellite television in the U.N. compound's basement.
Mr. Qazi made political blunders initially, as when he arrived for a crucial meeting with the Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al—Sistani, with an Urdu to Farsi interpreter at his side. Slighted by being considered more Farsi than Arab, the Iraqi religious icon signaled he would decline to see Mr. Qazi in the future.
Mr. Qazi has conferred with top Iraqi politicians since, and U.N. election experts played a minor role in advising about some technical aspects of running national polls. The organization's involvement was nevertheless seen as marginal.
"We have been here all along," Mr. Annan said Saturday after meeting with Prime Minister Al—Jafari, answering a reporter who described the U.N. involvement in the country as "rather late." The United Nations also plans to be even more involved now, the secretary—general protested.
Last week, however, Mr. Annan wrote Secretary of State Rice and the British foreign minister, Jack Straw, that the United Nations could not extend its presence beyond Baghdad unless Britain or America dedicated aircraft for the travel needs of Mr. Qazi's mission. Washington wants the United Nations to be more involved, and it urged Mr. Annan to visit Iraq. Mr. Annan, meanwhile, continues to raise the stakes by asking for more assets in return.