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UN marks year since deadly bombing of Iraq headquarters

Mission continues, Annan tells staff

GENEVA -- The bombing that wrecked UN offices in Baghdad and killed 22 colleagues a year ago was agony for the United Nations, but terrorist threats won't deter it from helping the victims of conflict, Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday at a memorial.

"I lost 22 wonderful, talented friends and colleagues whom I had sent to Iraq," Annan said of the Aug. 19, 2003, attack that stunned UN employees and set off wrangling within the United Nations over its security failings.

"We will long feel the pain of the trauma we have all been through," he said. "But our belief in the cause of peace is undiminished, our sense of mission is intact, and our work goes on."

Speaking to about 800 people, including black-clad survivors and relatives of the victims, Annan said the bombing made clear that the United Nations has become a target for groups that want to undermine its efforts to help those in need and to rebuild nations ruined by conflict.

"We are now wrestling with wrenching, fundamental questions," Annan said. "How do we improve security without unduly impeding our work and effectiveness? Our work is with people. We must be able to get to them, and they must be able to get to us."

His words were telecast to commemorations at UN headquarters in New York and UN offices in Amman, Jordan, where the body's Iraq mission is based. Annan chose to mark the day at the UN headquarters for human rights and relief operations, which was headed by Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died in the Baghdad bombing while serving temporarily as chief UN envoy in Iraq.

After Annan spoke, candles were lit at the three venues for each of the 22 victims by a family member, friend, or colleague as their photographs were flashed on a screen one by one.

Laura Dolci-Kanaan, wife of Jean-Selim Kanaan, a 33-year-old member of Vieira de Mello's team, held their infant son while lighting her candle. The toddler was born three weeks before the blast killed his father.

In New York, the elderly mother of Reza Hosseini, a 43-year-old Iranian who worked for the UN humanitarian office, was near tears as she lit a candle in his memory. She then paused for a long look at the smiling photo of her late son. UN officials said she flew to New York from Tehran for the ceremony.

A top UN official in Amman, Ross Mountain, unveiled a black plaque with the names of the 22 victims written in gold ink that will soon be placed at the UN offices in Baghdad, where the UN mission reestablished a formal presence a week ago.

Speaking on behalf of Jordan's government, Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told the mourners that the bomb victims were doing noble work and "they perished at the hands of sinister fanatics who stand against our values."

The United Nations withdrew its non-Iraqi employees from Iraq last October, after a second attack on its offices and a bombing at the international Red Cross offices, leaving Iraqi staff to continue aid operations.

But the mission has resumed a broader role, with Annan's new envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, taking on the primary task of helping Iraq's interim government prepare for elections by January. Still, most of the mission will stay at the Amman base until security improves in Iraq.

Not everyone at the United Nations is happy about the resumption. The UN Staff Union, which represents more than 5,000 employees around the globe, maintains it is still too risky for any staff to go back.

The union says Annan has failed to keep the promise he made in October to ensure there is no repeat of the security and other UN management failures revealed by the bombing in Baghdad.

A UN-appointed investigative panel last year criticized what it found to be "dysfunctional" UN security before the Aug. 19 blast. It also criticized the United Nations for shunning protection from US-led forces and for ignoring credible warnings of bomb plots.

More than 500 UN staff marched silently in a memorial outside UN headquarters in New York yesterday. Several carried signs saying "Never Let It Happen Again -- No Security, No Deployment," "How Many More Must Die?" and "Senior Officials Must Answer."

Among those marching was Jason Pronyk, 24, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, whose head is scarred from the bombing. He returned to work at the UN Development Program just two months ago.

"I think it's a very important day for the entire world to unite in solidarity with humanitarian workers, with the United Nations, so that we realize there needs to be a multicountry approach to peace-building and security matters in the future," Pronyk said. "And the importance of the UN as a backbone to this is vital."

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