UN expands mission in Iraq despite violence

Under pressure from the United States to take a bigger role in stabilising Iraq, the United Nations agreed on Friday to expand its mission despite unrelenting violence that could complicate its work.

The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1770, which calls for the UN mission to “advise, support and assist” the Iraqi government on a wide range of issues, but “as circumstances permit”.

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (Unami), whose mandate was extended by one year, will advise Baghdad on political, economic, legal, and human rights, among other issues.

These activities are common for the world body, but usually take place in post-conflict situations. Violence rages on in Iraq more than four years after the US-led invasion.

The UN has allowed a maximum of 65 staffers to reside in Iraq since it ordered most personnel out after its Baghdad office was hit on August 19 2003 by a truck bomb that killed 22 people, most notably special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Currently there are only 55 UN staffers in the country, 50 in Baghdad and five in Basra. More than 230 Unami-affiliated staffers work out of Jordan and Kuwait.

The Security Council expanded the mission despite resistance from UN employees concerned by the persistent security problems.

In a statement on Tuesday, the UN Staff Council called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “not to deploy any additional staff members to Iraq and to remove those currently serving at the duty station in Baghdad until such time as the security situation and environment improves”.

The UN chief said after the council vote that the safety of the UN staff in Iraq “will remain a paramount concern”.

And the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said his country “will do its part to ensure that the UN security and resources needs are met.”

The US-British-drafted resolution also underscores the US-led multinational force in Iraq’s “important role” in supporting the UN’s mission, especially in providing safety for its staff.

“Security is essential for Unami to carry out its work on behalf of the people of Iraq,” it says.

Ban said the world body was “deeply committed” to helping the Iraqis.

“I’m pleased to have the opportunity to now enhance where possible our contributions in crucial areas such as national reconciliation, regional dialogue, humanitarian assistance and human rights,” he told reporters.

“A peaceful and prosperous future is for the Iraqis themselves to create, with the international community lending support to their efforts.”

Ban said the UN would try to facilitate talks among rival parties in Iraq and the region.

“Promoting and encouraging political facilitation and dialogue among different factions and ethnic religious groups—this will be one of the important areas where the UN will be engaged,” said Ban.

US President George Bush praised the passage of the resolution.

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

She said Washington was looking forward to “working with the UN and international partners to support the Iraqi government and promote political dialogue in Iraq”.

Iraq’s ambassador to the UN, Hamid al-Bayati, endorsed the measure before the council vote.

“Our view right from the beginning was that we should have an important role for the UN,” Bayati said.

Washington has for months been pushing for an expanded UN role in Iraq, an idea to which Ban lent his support during a meeting with Bush last month.

Bayati, however, said he did not see US support for the resolution as heralding a move to eventually pass security responsibility for Iraq over to the United Nations.

“The US is having a different role.
The US forces are not going to be replaced by the UN. The UN is not going to send forces,” he said.

“The US is doing a military and security role but the UN will do another role which is political, humanitarian.”—AFP

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