Iraq has appealed to the United Nations for more help in organizing next month's elections. The appeal was laced with biting criticism of the world body's limited role in Iraq.
Briefing the Security Council Monday, U.N. special envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi said there is no alternative to successful elections in Iraq. But he suggested that violence in parts of the country would remain an overriding concern as the U.N. evaluates its role in preparations for the January 30 vote.
"Daily reports of insurgent, terrorist and criminal activity and of military and security operations, graphically illustrate the fragility of the situation," he said.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie, however, countered Mr. Qazi's concern, saying much of the country was relatively peaceful. In a scathing critique of the limited U.N. role, the Iraqi envoy noted that much of the world body's assistance to his country is being provided by long-distance.
"The preferred mode of interaction with Iraqi officials seems too often to be videoconferencing or telephone calls from outside Iraq, or indeed through letters which inevitably find their way into the press," he said. "We believe that, not only elections preparations but vital humanitarian and developmental work can be greatly enhanced through direct contacts in Iraq."
The Security Council, in a resolution adopted earlier this year, called for the United Nations to take a leading role in rebuilding Iraq "as circumstances permit." But Secretary-General Kofi Annan has repeatedly pointed to security concerns in limiting the U.N. presence.
The current maximum is 59 foreigners, including fewer than 20 election workers.
In his comments to the Security Council Monday, Iraqi ambassador Sumaidaie suggested that Secretary-General Annan is using the phrase "as circumstances permit" as as a mantra to justify what he called an "insufficient" U.N. presence in Iraq.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard rejected the Iraqi ambassador's charge.
"The 'as circumstances permit' language was something the secretary-general insisted that the Security Council include in the resolution to give him the freedom to assess the security situation and to commit international staff to Iraq only as the security situation permits, and he continues to insist on that," he said. "And I don't think in fairness we can say that we're hiding behind it."
The Iraqi ambassador Monday suggested more U.N. staff would be dispatched to Baghdad shortly, but declined to be more specific.
U.N. diplomats noted, however, that Secretary-General Kofi Annan would be going to Washington later this week for talks on Iraq with Secretary of State Colin Powell and his designated successor Condoleeza Rice. Increasing the U.N. presence is expected to be at the top of the agenda.