updated 8/12/2004 12:39:29 PM ET 2004-08-12T16:39:29

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday extending the U.N. mission in Iraq for a year, but how significant a role the world body can play remains in question because of continuing insecurity in the country.

The resolution adopted by the 15 council members reaffirms “that the United Nations should play a leading role in assisting the Iraqi people and government in the formation of institutions for representative government.”

But Secretary-General Kofi Annan made clear to the council in a report Friday that the United Nations will remain “a high-value” target for attacks in Iraq for the foreseeable future, which will severely limit the number of U.N. staff allowed in the country.

Gradual return of staff
Annan’s new envoy, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi of Pakistan, is expected to take up his post in Baghdad this week with a small team, giving the United Nations an official presence in Iraq for the first time since October.

The secretary-general ordered all U.N. international staff to leave then following two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. The first bombing on Aug. 19, 2003, killed the last U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.

The Security Council has given the United Nations a major political role in helping Iraq’s new interim government prepare for two rounds of elections and draft a constitution, and it also would like the world body to be a major player in Iraq’s reconstruction.

Annan said Qazi’s primary task will be to assist the Iraqis in political activities leading to the establishment of a constitutionally elected government by Dec. 31, 2005. He said Qazi would arrive in Baghdad before a national conference of political, religious and civic leaders gets under way this month.

A small U.N. team led by Jamal Benomar is already in Iraq helping the Iraqis prepare for the conference.

The resolution says the council will review the mandate of the U.N. mission in a year — or sooner if requested by Iraq’s government.

In his report to the council last week, Annan said the U.N. security chief has assessed the current risks to U.N. personnel “as being in the high to critical category.”

“For the foreseeable future the United Nations will remain a high-value, high-impact target for attack in Iraq,” he said.

Main base still in Jordan
As a result, the U.N. mission in Iraq, which Qazi will head, and U.N. agencies and programs will continue to minimize their presence in Iraq by limiting their activities in the country “to the essential,” Annan said.

The U.N. mission’s main base will remain in Amman, Jordan, until security improves significantly, he said. U.N. humanitarian programs continue operating in Iraq with local staff.

Despite the security constraints, the United Nations has remained “fully engaged in Iraq’s political transition process,” working from U.N. headquarters in New York, from the region and in sporadic trips to the country, Annan said.

But the United Nations is having trouble organizing security in Iraq.

U.N. officials have been trying for nearly two months to find countries to contribute troops for a separate force to protect U.N. staff in Iraq, but the secretary-general said last week that no offers had been made.

As a result, he told the Security Council that the United Nations will have to rely on the interim Iraqi government and the U.S.-led multinational force for security for Qazi and his small international team.

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