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Security Council Discusses Expanding UN's Political Role in Iraq

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday discussed a draft resolution to expand the United Nations' political role in Iraq. From VOA's New York bureau, Suzanne Presto reports that U.N. diplomats say there is support to extend the U.N. mandate for another year and to enhance the mission.

The United Nations pulled its staffers from Iraq in August 2003, after terrorists blew up the mission's Baghdad offices and killed 22 people. Although some employees have returned, security continues to be a major concern.

Now, western nations, particularly the United States and Britain, are urging the U.N. to expand its political role in Iraq.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) currently has 65 international employees in the country who handle basic political tasks there. Officials say the draft resolution seeks to increase the number of staffers to about 95.

After briefing the Security Council, Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe said he found wide support among members to increase the U.N.'s presence in Iraq.

"My very strong impression from this morning was that they [Security Council members] believe that this is where the U.N. should be, that they are happy that the U.N. is working these issues," she said. "They all recognize the difficulties. They recognize the dangers, but I think it was - as nearly as I could tell - there was absolutely no dissent from the idea that the thrust of this resolution is exactly where we should be."

Pascoe said the Iraqi people, as well as the Iraqi government, have asked the United Nations to do more on the ground. He stressed that the U.N. will only work with the Iraqi government's full cooperation. Pascoe said the speed at which tasks are accomplished depends upon the Iraqi government's willingness to move forward.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the resolution a balanced one. He emphasized that U.N. workers would be able to reach out to many groups and people, including those who refuse to deal directly with U.S. or British representatives in the country. He said this includes powerful Shi'ite cleric Ali Hussein al-Sistani.

Khalilzad says U.N. staffers can promote national reconciliation in Iraq and reduce regional disagreement.

"There is a need for Iraqis to come to a national compact, an agreement among themselves, and that the U.N. can, given its comparative advantage, play a role in facilitating and helping Iraqis get to that goal," he said.

The mandate for the U.N. mission expires Friday. The Security Council is set to vote Thursday.