Another U.N. loss in Baghdad


Rick Hooper died as he lived — trying to bring peace in the Middle East. (Photo by Robert Zash)

I have already written about the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello in the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Iraq. From the NY Blade comes the story of the death of Rick Hooper, an openly gay U.N. employee who was fluent in Arabic and had worked on missions in the Gaza Strip and Iraq.

Rick Hooper, a New Yorker who worked on peacekeeping missions for the United Nations, died on Tuesday, August 19, in the explosion of the U.N.’s headquarters in Baghdad.

Hooper, 40, lived in Spanish Harlem, where he had moved three years ago with his then-lover, photographer Robert Zash. The two were together for nearly five years before breaking up last December.


Once he began working for the U.N., he was quickly promoted as chief of staff to the undersecretary general for political affairs. Hooper, who spoke and wrote Arabic fluently (in addition to a working knowledge of French, German, Norwegian and Czech), became a confidant of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, whom he advised on Mideast issues and for whom he wrote several speeches on the issue.

He was in Baghdad to replace temporarily the assistant to Annan’s envoy to Iraq, Vieira de Mello. Hooper had planned on being there for two weeks before heading to Palestine for a long-delayed vacation.


He attended the University of California at Santa Cruz and graduated from Stevenson College (part of California’s public university system) in 1985. He spent a semester at Birzeit University on the West Bank, where he learned Arabic, and Nimes, France.

He received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Damascus. He also studied at the Center for American Studies Abroad at the American University in Cairo. He received a master’s degree in international diplomacy from Georgetown University. During his last semester at Georgetown he also worked in New York for the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights on Palestinian issues.

He immediately started working for the U.N. in the Gaza Strip. “He was such an incredible supporter of peace,” Zash said. “In the Gaza Strip during Desert Storm, he refused to wear a gas mask. During curfews, he would drive around in a U.N. vehicle so people knew there was a U.N. presence.”

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