Sergio Vieira de Mello's bold mission to Iraq ended in tragedy for him and 22 others. The attack on the UN headquarters in August 2003 that caused these deaths raises anew some difficult questions about the relationship between politics and principles in humanitarian interventions. To address these issues, this essay begins by examining how the UN defined its role in Iraq in comparison with the cases of the West Bank/Gaza and East Timor. The essay then considers the arguments that emerged in the 1990s calling for a more robust engagement with the politics surrounding humanitarian crises. From this examination, theauthors conclude that humanitarian intervention policies need to be guided by adherence to strict, clearly delineated criteria and narrow purposes.

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