Foreign Minister Zebari came to the Security Council Monday to express Iraq's gratitude for the continued presence of the U.S.-led multinational force. He indicated the 160,000-strong force would be needed for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, the minister voiced concern that Syria continues to allow its territory to be used as a point of entry by extremists on their way to Iraq to join the insurgency. He urged Damascus to stop the flow of what he called "foreign terrorists."
"We have learned recently that Syria has stopped more than a thousand foreign fighters from entering Iraq from Syria," Mr. Zebari said. "We welcome this action but note that it confirms our long-held view that Syria has been one of the main transit routes for foreign terrorists, as well as for remnants of the previous regime."
Syria's U.N. ambassador Feyssal Mekhdad has in the past denied that Damascus allows insurgents en route to Iraq to use its territory.
In his speech to the Security Council Monday, the Iraqi minister, Mr. Zebari also chided the United Nations for not doing more to help Iraq's political transition. The world body has been slow to return international staff to Iraq after the August 2003 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad citing security concerns. Speaking to VOA afterward, Mr. Zabari said U.N. officials should immediately dispatch experts to help in organizing two elections scheduled this year.
"There are certain responsibilities and obligations on the U.N. to facilitate, to play a leading role in this political process," he said. "We see sometimes delays, we had January elections, they had electoral advisor who did exemplary work to assist our independent electoral commission. He has gone, he has fulfilled his mission. We have two elections, one a referendum coming up in October and another general elect in December and still we don't have an electoral adviser to the commission."
The Iraqi minister is to press his case Wednesday during a meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Afterward, he will head for Washington and talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials.
Mr. Zebari told reporters he plans to press Secretary Rice for increased security assistance.
"I'll be honest, there is some anxiety that we need continued engagement of the U.S. in this process," he said. "For us this is important, and the other thing for us is to accelerate the training, buildup of these forces. There are many efforts being exerted, but speed is of the essence."
Also addressing the Security Council Monday, acting U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said there is no specific timetable for withdrawing the multinational force in Iraq. She said the troops would not remain any longer than necessary, but would also not leave until the Iraqis could meet the security challenges they face.