First Particular person: ‘Immense psychological accidents’ following 2003 assault on UN Baghdad

Khaled Mansour, now a author and journalist, was the WFP spokesperson in Iraq on the time and narrowly missed the huge explosion which killed 22 of his UN colleagues.

On World Humanitarian Day which was established to mark the 19 August assault, he displays on his life since and what he has learnt.

Former WFP staff member, Khaled Mansour, is a writer and journalist

UN Photograph/Jean-Marc Ferré

Former WFP workers member, Khaled Mansour, is a author and journalist

“The terrorist assault towards the UN headquarters in Baghdad devastated me on the one hand, but it surely additionally radically reconfigured the best way I consider my life and of the humanitarian help effort. 

I used to be in my automotive, heading again to the workplace, and just some hundred metres away from the constructing when it was bombed and shortly collapsed. I used to be not bodily harmed, however the psychological accidents had been immense. 

Colleagues whom I labored with only some hours earlier had been both pulverized, or the stays of their our bodies lay below sheets within the parking zone. I’m nonetheless typically haunted by the blood and physique elements I touched as I groped my approach alongside darkened corridors shrouded in mud. 

I spent the remainder of the afternoon and the night driving with an Iraqi colleague round Baghdad to test on the wounded, put them in contact with their households and luxury them. 

Khaled Mansour's office was destroyed in the blast at the Canal Hotel.

Khaled Mansour’s workplace was destroyed within the blast on the Canal Resort.

I used to be very offended on the UN, on the silly, murderous terrorists, and possibly finally at myself for having survived whereas 22 others didn’t. That is what I came upon by way of months and years of psychotherapy and self-reflection.

Trying again at what occurred, I nonetheless really feel unhappy on the enormous lack of lives and potential, however I’ve additionally discovered an important deal, and I used to be ready to return to work in battle areas and assume extra critically of why this occurred and whether or not it may have been averted in any respect. 

Mourning loss

After taking a number of months off, mourning this enormous loss, I slowly went again to work. Two years later I even served because the UN Spokesperson in Beirut, through the Israeli 33-day bombardment of Lebanon in 2006. 

This doesn’t imply I returned to what I used to be on the morning of 19 August 2003, earlier than the assault occurred. I wish to assume that I had turn out to be a extra delicate and thoughtful particular person, additionally extra reflective concerning the limitations of humanitarian work and the necessity for large reforms within the worldwide system of governance. 

I assumed quite a bit concerning the politicization of humanitarian help to the extent that, 10 years later, I developed a graduate course on this situation and taught it on the Division of Legislation on the American College in Cairo. 


This politicization acquired extra institutionalized in Afghanistan in 2001 and moved to deeper ranges of integration in 2002 within the months of preparation for the conflict on Iraq. This has not modified, as we now have seen in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Myanmar and different catastrophes over the previous 20 years. 

It ought to have been no shock to see public opinion within the Center East and South Asia turning towards the UN and different help companies, which stood accused of getting turn out to be a partial software of the West.

None of that is to excuse, a lot much less justify, a vicious technique by terrorist teams. It’s to attempt to perceive the surroundings during which these teams recruit and function. 

Additionally it is to point out the damaging influence on the harmless people who find themselves crushed between the political machinations of the worldwide neighborhood on the one hand, and the armed teams (or States), which management their lives, alternatively.  

Idealists and realists

Support staff are not any idealists, and lots of of them perceive how politicized their work and the way instrumentalized their very own lives have turn out to be. Nonetheless, lots of the most realist amongst help staff discover their place in varied battle areas untenable. 

United Nations staff members march around the Secretariat in New York to express their distress over the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August. In the background are the flags of the United Nations members. (26 August 2003)

United Nations workers members march across the Secretariat in New York to precise their misery over the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August. Within the background are the flags of the United Nations members. (26 August 2003)

There may be an pressing have to reinstate the humanitarian ideas by way of sensible measures to remodel funding mechanisms and governance techniques, and to work for extra transparency within the help trade. 

We have to save this noble mission from turning into only a … [ceremonial] software … as a result of failing this, this software will quickly turn out to be ineffective, and the deaths of help staff in Baghdad, and in lots of different locations afterwards, will quantity to nothing greater than collateral harm. 

We have to unshackle help staff and help companies. This would really honour the reminiscence of my fallen colleagues, as a substitute of all of the ceremonies that may happen all over the world to commemorate the passing of 20 years since this carnage.”

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