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Security Council OKs wider U.N. role in Iraq

The Security Council voted Friday to expand the United Nations’ role in Iraq in a move aimed at promoting talks among ethnic and religious rivals and winning support from the country’s neighbors.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Security Council voted Friday to expand the United Nations’ role in Iraq in a move aimed at promoting talks among ethnic and religious rivals and winning support from the country’s neighbors.

The resolution, approved unanimously, authorizes the U.N., at the request of the Iraqi government, to promote political talks among Iraqis and a regional dialogue on issues including border security, energy and refugees.

The United Nations pulled out of Iraq in October 2003 after 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 top U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others. The U.N. allowed 35 staffers to return in August 2004, but the numbers remain small because of security concerns.

The United States and Britain, cosponsors of the resolution, believe the world body, which is viewed by many as a more neutral party, can facilitate talks among feuding parties.

“This vote sends an important signal of the United Nations’ commitment to support stability and security in Iraq,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Strategic implications for world?
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hopes to host a meeting of foreign ministers from the region at U.N. headquarters in late September as a follow up to regional meetings in Baghdad in March and in Egypt in May.

“This resolution underscores the widespread belief that what happens in Iraq has strategic implications not only for the region but for the entire world,” said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad said the resolution expands the U.N.’s involvement in Iraq in three ways: by providing assistance and expertise to the Iraqi people and government on domestic reconciliation leading to a national compact, by promoting regional understanding that supports Iraqi reconciliation, and by marshaling resources to help Iraqis affected by the humanitarian crisis.

Ban welcomed the council’s decision to renew the U.N. mandate for a year and strengthen its mission, saying it would bolster “crucial areas such as national reconciliation, regional dialogue, humanitarian assistance and human rights.”

In a letter to the council, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said “Iraq’s interests” require an expansion of the U.N. role “on both the humanitarian and the political tracks, domestically and regionally.”

This is essential, he said, “particularly in respect to facilitating the return to Iraq of U.N. specialized agencies, funds and programs ... to rebuild and stabilize Iraq ... and to begin a comprehensive effort to reverse the deterioration of Iraq’s infrastructure.”

Advisory role
The U.N. mission has helped organize elections, draft Iraq’s constitution and develop institutions for representative government, but its operations have been severely restricted because of security concerns and attacks on its Baghdad headquarters.

The resolution authorizes it to “advise, support and assist the government and people of Iraq on advancing their inclusive, political dialogue and national reconciliation.”

It also authorizes the U.N. to facilitate “regional dialogue, including on issues of border security, energy and refugees.” It asks the U.N. to help develop ways “to resolve disputed internal boundaries” that are acceptable to the government.

The initial text was revised to focus more on human rights, humanitarian issues, protecting civilians, and promoting the safety of humanitarian personnel.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan had complained that the original text was completely “silent on the gross human rights abuses taking place on a daily basis in Iraq, and on the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country,” a view echoed by other rights groups.

U.S. pledges to 'do our part'
Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynne Pascoe said Tuesday the United Nations expects to raise the ceiling for international staff in Iraq from 65 to 95 by October. Hours later, however, the U.N. Staff Council called on the secretary-general to pull all U.N. personnel out of the country until security improves.

Pascoe stressed that there are two constraints to an expanded U.N. role: Iraqi political leaders must decide what they want the U.N. to do, and security conditions must be sufficient for U.N. staffers to work.

Khalilzad pledged that the United States would “do our part to help the U.N. with security, with logistics.”