Organizations representing 60,000 United Nations employees are urging Secretary-General Kofi Annan to pull all U.N. staff out of Iraq. The world body currently has 35 personnel stationed in the country, most of them helping with election preparations.
In a joint letter to Secretary-General Annan, U.N. staff associations say Iraq is too dangerous to justify the world body's presence there. Arguing that "just one staff member is one too many in Iraq," the groups are urging Mr. Annan to withdraw the three dozen workers now there and not send in any more until security conditions improve.
The secretary general ordered all foreign staff out of Iraq after last year's bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. In the face of intense international pressure, he has sent back a small contingent, most of them elections workers and security personnel.
Spokesman Fred Eckhard Wednesday said Mr. Annan had taken note of the staff letter, but that his security advisers did not share their danger assessment.
"We keep this matter continually under review on a daily basis," he said. "Thirty-five are not enough to do what we would like to do in terms of supporting the elections? As for the recommendation that 35 be brought home, this is not the view of the security coordinator."
Several U.S. politicians have criticized the small size of the U.N. staff in Iraq. In the nationally televised vice presidential debate Tuesday, Democratic candidate John Edwards noted that while the UN has only 35 workers in Iraq, it had more than 200 staff members in much smaller East Timor when elections were held there. Speaking from the debate site in the Midwest city of Cleveland, Senator Edwards said 'you need more than 35 people to hold an election in Cleveland, much less Iraq'.
Spokesman Fred Eckhard says the United Nations has developed a contingency plan for sending additional staff to Iraq if security conditions improve. He refused to speculate on how many extra workers might be needed.
In June, the Security Council authorized a separate force to protect U.N. staff in Iraq, but there have been no firm offers from potential troop contributing countries. The U.S.-led coalition provides protection for the 35 U.N. workers in the country.