UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The United Nations will see its role in Iraq expanded to include seeking reconciliation between warring factions and dialogue with neighboring countries under a Security Council resolution planned for Friday.
A new mandate for the 4-year-old U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI, will add to its past functions of helping with elections and monitoring human rights and require a boost to its modest staffing in Baghdad.
The resolution was drafted by the United States and Britain, which invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein. Despite deep divisions in the Security Council at the time over the invasion, the new measure is set to pass unopposed.
Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said this week the United Nations was uniquely placed to smooth over conflicts between Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds that have bedeviled Iraqi politics and fueled rampant violence.
Some major Iraqi players, such as top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, were willing to talk to the United Nations but not the United States or Britain, said Khalilzad, formerly U.S. envoy to Baghdad. By coincidence the new mandate will come amid a fresh political crisis in Iraq, with nearly half the cabinet having quit, or boycotting meetings. There are currently only some 50 UNAMI international staff in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone government and diplomatic complex, and a ceiling of 65. Security improvements are due to raise that ceiling to 95, U.N. officials say.
U.S. and British officials have denied that their aim is to offload Iraq’s political problems onto the United Nations, then pull their forces out.
But while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon endorsed the U.N. role expansion at a meeting last month with U.S. President George W. Bush, some U.N. rank-and-file staff are concerned that safety issues have not been fully addressed.
Still fresh in their minds is the explosion that destroyed the U.N. office in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 22 people including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello. The blast led to the temporary withdrawal of U.N. staff.
On Tuesday, the U.N. Staff Union called on Ban not to deploy any more people to Iraq and to withdraw those now there. But U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Wednesday: “We intend to continue with the work that is needed to fulfill our mandate.” The new resolution was originally slated to be passed on Thursday but was delayed because the text still needed Iraqi government approval, U.N. diplomats said. It must go through on Friday, the day UNAMI’s current mandate expires. The new mandate requires UNAMI to “advise, support and assist” Iraqis on “advancing an inclusive, national dialogue and political reconciliation,” reviewing the constitution, fixing internal boundaries and staging a census. The mission would promote dialogue between Iraq and its neighbors on border security, energy and refugees, assist the return of millions who have fled the violence, coordinate reconstruction and aid, and help promote economic reform.