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Security Still Concern for UN Workers Planning Return to Iraq - 2004-07-22


The United Nations' new special envoy to Iraq says he is optimistic about a renewed U.N. mission to help facilitate Iraqi elections. U.N. officials remain concerned about lack of security for the international workers.

Pakistani ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Thursday to discuss the United Nations' official return to Iraq.

Earlier this month, Mr. Qazi was appointed to become the U.N.'s special representative in Iraq, a post that has been vacant since the former top envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was killed in a truck bombing on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last August.

Mr. Qazi said he is hopeful about the U.N.'s ability to contribute to rebuilding Iraq, but acknowledged that security remains a top concern.

"I understand that security is not only the first consideration, the first priority, but it's the second priority and the third priority, and a huge amount of work is going into that," he said. "But also I believe that reports coming out of Iraq are that they do believe the U.N. has a vital role to play, and a vital role of assistance and facilitation to play in bringing about a successful political transition, in which the entire Iraqi people are stakeholders."

Exactly when the United Nations' mission will begin remains unknown.

On Wednesday, Mr. Annan said so far only a handful of countries have offered protection for the United Nations when its contingent returns to Iraq. Speaking to reporters Thursday after his meeting with Mr. Qazi, the secretary general said that without more offers to help re-stabilize the country and assure the security of its Baghdad office, the U.N.'s role in Iraq could be limited.

"They are counting on us to help them work their way through the electoral process until the elections next year, and also assist with the constitutional process, and that work we are going to do," Mr. Annan said. "But everyone must realize that beyond that, circumstances must be right for us to scale up our operations and activities and get into other areas like institution building, humans rights, recovery and reconstruction."

Mr. Annan said Mr. Qazi might go to Baghdad some time in August, along with a small staff of U.N. workers.