Iraq Invasion Left Kofi Annan Emotionally Stressed, Says Former Spokesman

May 15, 2009 - 12:52 AM
Kofi Annan lost his voice, looked vacant at meetings and even sought medical help after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a new biography by his former spokesman.~~
Kofi Annan and Fred Eckhard

Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan and former spokesman Fred Eckhard, at U.N. headquarters in New York.on January 17 2006. (UN Photo by Mark Garten)

Geneva (AP) – Kofi Annan lost his voice, looked vacant at meetings and even sought medical help after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a new biography by his former spokesman.

The former U.N. chief was deeply troubled by the divisions in the world brought on by the war and the Bush administration's criticism of those like him who objected, Fred Eckhard told reporters Thursday as he unveiled the 313-page "Kofi Annan" at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva.

Things became worse for Annan after a 2003 bombing of the U.N.'s Baghdad offices killed 22 staff, including its top Iraq envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, whom Annan had asked to go to Baghdad.

"Many people close to him say that he became depressed, particularly in that year you had the bombing of [U.N. headquarters in] Baghdad," Eckhard said.

After Vieira de Mello's death it was unclear if Annan was suffering from depression, said Eckhard, an American who was Annan's spokesman for eight years.

"He certainly went to see doctors about his throat, but he may also have had other help coping with the emotional stress," he said. "I was worried, and I think those closest to him were worried."

He said Annan saw the invasion of Iraq as a profound challenge to the concept of collective security in the 1945 U.N. charter. The new approach of the U.S. was that it could pre-emptive military action against a threat.

"The charter was kind of torn up in front of his eyes. And the world was split badly down the middle," Eckhard said.
Sergio Vieira de Mello coffin

Pallbearers in Baghdad carry the U.N. flag-draped coffin of Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed in the 19 August 19 2003 bombing of the U.N. office in the Iraqi capital. (UN Photo by Timothy Sopp)

Eckhard said Annan had good personal relations with President George W. Bush, but that he angered the United States when he labeled the American-led war in Iraq "illegal."

Eckhard recalls that the secretary-general asked what he thought of that and "I told him, 'I think you're going to have trouble for having used the term illegal.'"

"'Oh well, it's what I think,' Annan replied with a note of sadness rather than worry in his voice," Eckhard wrote.

Eckhard said he thought Annan was retreating into himself to try to find the answers. U.N. officials less close to him said they noticed little distraction and were impressed that he continued to function despite the crisis.

Annan, who retired from the U.N. at the end of 2006, lives in Geneva and continues to play an important role as a mediator and advocate for Africa.

He has spoken little of his personal reaction to the turmoil he faced a few years ago.

In his book, Eckhard wrote, "During a period of stress, even though his face and his posture appeared calm and dignified, you could see he was nervous by the movements of his hands and above all by his legs and his feet, hidden under the conference table."

After the invasion "he gave the impression of withdrawing because he was overwhelmed with worries," Eckhard wrote. "During meetings he appeared absent, as if his spirit was somewhere else. And he even lost his voice."

The volume is appearing in French and negotiations are under way with other publishers in the United States and elsewhere, Eckhard said. Marie Heuze, the U.N. spokeswoman in Geneva who introduced the news conference, told The Associated Press that although the biography wasn't the authorized version, Annan was familiar with it and was "satisfied" with its contents. Attempts to reach Annan through his Geneva-based foundation were unsuccessful.

Eckhard also said he felt his boss was falsely accused of corruption in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal by neoconservatives in the Bush administration and the news media, even though the secretary-general was essentially cleared by the investigations led by former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.

Eckhard said the neoconservatives sought to focus blame on Annan and the United Nations when the security situation in Iraq "was on a downward spiral" in 2004 and Annan stuck his neck out by expressing his concern.

"I began writing this book in 2006 because I was angry," Eckhard said

He said neither Annan nor his wife, Nane, had a politician's thick skin.

"So when they were attacked – and in this case in oil-for-food unfairly – it hurt," he said.

--- Annan has been named a Columbia University Global Fellow and is expected to give lectures, host conferences and moderate events at the Ivy League school.