By Steven Ehrenberg

The UN Security Council listens to the weapons inspectors' report on Iraq on January 27.
(Photo: Richard Drew/AP Wide World)

Alphabet Soup

If you're trying to follow the events in Iraq, you might find yourself paddling in a sea of letters. NATO, IAEA, UNMOVIC, the EU—what organizations do these letters stand for? What do they do? Why should you care?

Here's a quick run-down to bring you up to speed.

  • NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It's a military alliance between the U.S. and most of Europe. It was formed in 1949 to keep countries from becoming communist. But when the communist Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO had to find another purpose. It found one: to promote peace.

  • The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is part of the UN, and promotes peaceful uses of nuclear energy. When the world asks the UN to stop a country from building nuclear weapons, it's the IAEA that does the work. The director of the IAEA is Mohamed ElBaradei, who is part of the UN weapons inspections team currently in Iraq.

  • UNMOVIC is the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission. It works to prevent countries from building chemical and biological weapons, which can cause terrible and widespread damage. The chairman of UNMOVIC is Hans Blix, who is also part of the UN weapons inspector team in Iraq.

  • The EU is the European Union, an organization of 15 European countries that promotes cooperation with each other. Recently, the EU adopted the same currency, or system of money, to encourage trade with each other. Together, the total population of countries in the EU is bigger than the population in the U.S.

  • The United Nations is an international organization with the highest goals: world peace and the betterment of humanity. Its main headquarters are in New York City, but it has branches all over the world.

    The UN is made up of many different sub-organizations, each with a goal relating to world peace or improving lives. The most powerful body of the UN is the Security Council. It decides how the UN resolves conflicts, and it commands an international army of peacekeeping soldiers to enforce its decisions.

    The Security Council is made up of representatives from 15 countries. Five countries are always represented: France, Russia, China, England, and the United States. The remaining 10 representatives rotate among different countries, with each member serving a two-year term. The presidency of the council also rotates, with a different member assuming these duties every month.

    Right now, the 10 non-permanent countries represented on the Security Council are Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Germany, Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, and Syria.

    The Security Council makes its decisions by taking a vote. To pass an important resolution, 9 of the 15 members must vote for it—including all five permanent members. If only one of the permanent members votes against a measure, it will not pass.

    The UN and Iraq

    In 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait. In response, a coalition of troops organized by the UN and the U.S. drove Iraq from Kuwait. When Iraq surrendered, the UN Security Council passed a resolution outlining how Iraq must behave in the future. One of the demands was that Iraq tell weapons inspectors what weapons it had, and to let them destroy its most-powerful weapons.

    Saddam Hussein didn't want the weapons inspectors in his country, and in 1998, he kicked them out. President Bush believes that this was not only a violation of the UN Security Council resolution, but that Hussein will never really disarm his country. For this and several other reasons, President Bush believes that the UN should use force against Iraq.

    Other members of the Security Council, especially France and Germany, disagree with President Bush. They argue that inspectors did a great job disarming Iraq while they were there, and they should be given another chance to do the job.

    In March, the U.S. and its allies thought about proposing a resolution before the UN that supported a war with Iraq. But France and Russia threatened to veto it, and the resolution was never brought up. Soon after, the U.S. declared that it had the right to use force anyway, and war began.