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Kofi Annan to Push for Improved Security in Iraq - 2003-09-12

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he will push for better security for humanitarian operations in Iraq when he meets with foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council Saturday.

Kofi Annan met with the agency's key humanitarian coordinators and Red Cross representatives Friday to hear what safety measures they believe are needed to continue their relief operations in Iraq. "We need to find a way to maximize the contribution we are making to the people of Iraq, while minimizing the risk to our staff," he said. "It is also important that any humanitarian assistance must be seen as being independent, impartial from military or political processes."

Mr. Annan says the United Nations has been reassessing its security needs, not only in Iraq, but worldwide, following the suicide bombing at its Baghdad headquarters on August 19. The powerful blast killed at least 22 people, including the U.N.'s top envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Following the blast, the United Nations reduced its international staff in Baghdad from 400 to about 70, and some aid agencies, like Oxfam, have pulled out of Iraq altogether, until they believe the security situation has improved.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland says the United Nations is committed to staying in Iraq to provide needed services, but adequate protection is required. He says this is the message Kofi Annan will deliver to the foreign ministers of Britain, the United States, France, Russia and China on Saturday.

"I think it is important that we now are able to convey through the secretary-general that we are in a way hanging on with our fingernails now in Iraq," said Jan Egeland.

Mr. Annan says he hopes to reach a compromise among the council members on a U.S. draft resolution on Iraq that would authorize a multinational military force for the country.

Security Council members France, Germany and Russia rule out committing troops, without such authorization. They say they want to see the U.S. political role in Iraq diminish and the United Nations take more responsibility in organizing elections and restoring Iraqi sovereignty.

But the United States and Britain argue that, while the United Nations has a vital role to play in Iraq, it is not practical to turn over political authority immediately to the world body.