UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Security Council voted unanimously to expand the U.N. role in Iraq and opened the door for the world body to promote talks to ease Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the new challenge saying he hopes to organize a meeting of foreign ministers from the region at U.N. headquarters in late September on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting. The United Nations will also be facilitating discussions among different Iraqi factions, ethnic and religious groups, he said.
“A peaceful and prosperous future is for Iraqis themselves to create, with the international community lending support to their efforts,” Ban told the council after the vote Friday. “The United Nations looks forward to working in close partnership with the leaders and people of Iraq to explore how we can further our assistance under the terms of this resolution.”
The resolution 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 as well as help tackle the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis which has spilled into neighboring countries.
The United States and Britain, co-sponsors of the resolution, believe the world body, which is viewed by many as a more neutral party, should be doing more to help Iraq, especially in facilitating talks. For example, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. envoy to Iraq, has said that Iraq’s top Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will not talk to the Americans but he will talk to the U.N. envoy, Ashraf Qazi.
Khalilzad said that despite differences with the international community over Iraq, the unanimous support for the resolution “underscores the widespread belief that what happens in Iraq has strategic implications not only for the region, but for the entire world.” “We hope that this resolution will be a springboard to
greater international support for Iraq’s government and people,” he said.
Khalilzad stressed that the resolution is not a substitute for what the United States is doing in Iraq. “The United States will continue to shoulder all of its responsibilities to assist Iraq’s government and people,” he said. “We are fully dedicated to success in Iraq, and our commitments to Iraq, to the region, to the U.N. and to the rest of the international community remain.”
Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati said his country recognizes that all the challenges should be the government’s responsibility. “We, however, cannot achieve it without the assistance of the international community represented by the United Nations,” he said. Iraq looks forward to “a greater role” for the U.N. outlined in Friday’s resolution, Al Bayati said.
For the United Nations, however, ramping up its presence in Iraq remains a highly sensitive issue.
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. After Friday’s vote, the secretary-general and many council members recalled the upcoming anniversary of the first bombing, on Aug. 19, 2003, which killed top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.
The U.N. allowed 35 international staffers to return in August 2004, but the ceiling is a low 65 because of security concerns. Last week, the U.N.’s top political official said the U.N. expects to raise the ceiling 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. While Ban said Friday that the United Nations “cannot shy away” from its responsibility to help Iraq because of the violence in the country, he said staff security will remain “a paramount concern.” He urged the General Assembly to approve additional funds for secure housing for U.N. staff in Baghdad.
Since he took over on Jan. 1, Ban has expanded the U.N. role in Iraq, especially in launching and promoting the International Compact with Iraq, an initiative of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki which sets ambitious benchmarks to achieve a united, democratic Iraq within five years.
The secretary-general indicated that the compact would play an important part in the U.N.’s new mandate. Khalilzad said he envisioned the U.N. contacting different parties, convening meeting in agreement with the Iraqi government, and proposing formulas to bridge differences if they arise. “The United Nations has a lot of experience dealing with situations in which different groups in a country have not had an agreement with each other,” he said. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution meets Moscow’s call over the last few years for “maximum possible involvement of the United Nations” in settling the Iraq conflict.
Russia wants to see the U.N.’s “independent mediating potential” used “to overcome the profound military and political crisis in Iraq and to push the political process … forward,” he said.
The U.N. mission, established in 2003, has helped organize elections, draft Iraq’s constitution and develop institutions for representative government. The resolution extends its mandate for a year and 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. China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said “history has shown the United Nations has its comparative advantage and abundant experience” to meet these new responsibilities “and it should have a lot to do.” He urged the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led multinational force to provide the U.N. with the necessary security guarantees to do its new job.