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UN Responds to Iraqi Envoy's Call for Greater Involvement

Iraq's U.N. ambassador is urging the United Nations to do more to help in his country's post-war transition. The world body has opened two additional offices in Iraq as it prepares to expand its role.

Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie went to the Security Council to express thanks for the United Nations' help in organizing Iraq's national assembly elections. He urged the Council to quickly revoke punitive measures and restrictions that were imposed on Saddam Hussein's government.

But the ambassador also chided U.N. officials for repeatedly citing security concerns in refusing to expand the world body's presence in Iraq. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Ambassador Sumaidaie suggested it might be time to re-deploy large numbers of U.N. staff.

"There is a problem in some areas of Iraq securitywise but we believe they can be a little bit bolder," he said. "They should not be insisting on absolute zero risk, because there is no such place in places of conflict and places were a country is in transition, so a certain amount of risk taking is important because we are talking about rebuilding a country."

The United Nations currently limits to 50 the number of its international staff in Iraq at any one time. But Secretary-General Kofi Annan told VOA Wednesday two new U.N. offices are operating, one in the northern city of Erbil and another in the southern port of Basra.

"Obviously the time will come and we are all monitoring developments very closely when we will be able to send in additional staff," he noted. "We already have a presence in Erbil and we are looking at Basra as well, in addition to Baghdad."

Spokesman Fred Eckhard confirmed that U.N. offices did open in Erbil and Basra this week, but described them as "a toe in the water," a tentative first step toward a larger U.N. presence in Iraq.

"The idea was to put security people in place and they will assess from up close the security environment and they will judge on a day-to-day basis whether it's safe for substantive people to come in from Baghdad or elsewhere. So it's a toe in the water," he explained.

Iraqi ambassador Sumaidaie said he was encouraged by several developments, particularly the Security Council's unanimous support of his country's democratic transition.

"In this Security Council two years ago there was widespread division, there was no consensus about Iraq. Now there is," he said. "Now everybody is unanimous about the way to go forward. This is a big change."

The Security Council Wednesday unanimously adopted a statement calling for international support of Iraq's effort to democratize. The statement emphasized the U.N.'s leading role in the transition, and encouraged member states to contribute to the effort.