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UN to Send Team to Iraq Despite Problems Recruiting Protection Force - 2004-08-04

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he plans to send a small U.N. team to Iraq soon, even though he hasn't received any firm commitments from countries, other than the United States and Britain, to provide security for them.

Mr. Annan says he is continuing talks with about six countries, but so far, no one has pledged forces to help protect the international workers who will assist in Iraq's elections and reconstruction.

"We haven't had much success attracting governments to sign up to protect U.N. personnel in Iraq, so for the time being, for practical measures, we have no other choice but to rely on the multinational force," he said.

That means primarily American and British soldiers already in Iraq will be deployed to protect the U.N. team, which has some observers concerned that U.N. workers could be a target for insurgents who view them as allies of the U.S. coalition.

The United Nations pulled its workers out of Iraq last year, after two separate bombings targeted U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and killed 22 staffers, including the head of the U.N. mission in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

In June, the 15-member Security Council passed a resolution calling for U.N. workers to facilitate Iraq's reconstruction and the coming election, and called for a specially dedicated force of international soldiers to protect them.

Mr. Annan says Saudi Arabia has discussed the idea of sending an Islamic force to protect the new U.N. team, but he acknowledged that even if that plan is worked out, it would take some time.

In the meantime, the secretary-general said U.N. officials had encouraged Iraqi leaders to delay the Iraqi National Conference, which was supposed to start earlier this week, because they needed time to get more parties involved.

"We felt it was more important to have a well-organized and inclusive process, rather than organizing it on time. Because you may organize it on time, but get it all wrong," he added.

The Iraqi National Conference is a forum of about 1000 political and community leaders, who will elect an interim national assembly. It is now scheduled to start in mid-August.