All roads lead to the UN

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UN HQ

By Paul Eedle

All roads for visiting journalists in Baghdad lead eventually to Canal House, the headquarters of a long list of UN acronyms - UNSCOM (weapons inspectors), UNOHCI (oil for food programme, under which Iraq is allowed to sell crude oil to buy food and medicine), WFP, WHO, FAO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, UNCHS, UNOPS, UNGCI...

The building is an isolated three-storey block on the edge of Baghdad, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded on the outside by Iraqi troops. There's a big car park full of white four-wheel drives and a huge satellite dish - Canal House is the only place in Baghdad where I've found full Internet access.

Inside, it's plain but bright - long corridors of offices decorated with photographs of humanitarian operations around Iraq. On the ground floor, there's a cafeteria with a soft drinks vending machine and cloths on the tables. Next to the entrance, there's a glass fronted case displaying an Iraqi family's standard monthly rations under the oil for food programme.

The main excitement in Canal House for a journalist is the almost open warfare between the weapons inspectors and the humanitarian team.

UNSCOM are weapons scientists and intelligence officers. They have been working for seven years to destroy Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and their conclusion every six months that Iraq is still hiding information and materials has justified the continuation of UN sanctions that ban almost all imports and exports from the country.

UNOHCI are relief experts and development workers. They run a programme created specifically to stop more and more Iraqis dying of hunger and disease because of the sanctions.

The split's not surprising. It reflects the division that now runs right through the Security Council - the United States and Britain determined to keep sanctions in place until Saddam Hussein is removed from power, and almost everyone else from Russia to Qatar arguing that Iraqis have suffered enough and other means must be found to contain any threat from any remaining weapons.

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 UN HQ
 Arabic
 Iraqi drivers
 Press Centre
 Rasheed Hotel