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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 August 2007, 00:49 GMT 01:49 UK
Mixed feelings over UN Iraq role
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, UN Headquarters, New York

Scene of the Baghdad UN headquarters following the car bombing in 2003
Staff withdrew after the 2003 attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad
With a show of 15 hands, resolution 1770 was adopted unanimously at the UN Security Council, paving the way for a wider, political role for the UN in Iraq and a bigger presence inside the war-torn country.

The number of staff will only increase from 65 to 95 - a small but very symbolic step for the world body, which withdrew most of its 600 staff from Baghdad four years ago, in the wake of a massive attack on its headquarters.

Under the new resolution, sponsored by the US and the UK, the UN will now be authorised to help the Iraqi government to promote national reconciliation and regional dialogue on issues such as border security, energy and refugees.

It will also help settle disputes over internal boundaries - all tasks in which the US is seen to have failed so far in Iraq.

Our view right from the beginning was that we should have an important role for the UN
Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Hamid el Bayati
The Iraqis have welcomed the resolution, but said they realise the onus was on them as well.

"Our view right from the beginning was that we should have an important role for the UN," said the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Hamid el Bayati, adding that his country was hoping the special UN envoy to Iraq would have the clout and strong personality needed to do the job.

"We are aware that these challenges should be addressed by the government and the people of Iraq," he also said.

"While we realise that it is in principle a national responsibility, we however cannot achieve it without the assistance of the international community, represented by the United Nations," he added.

US attitude

The vote had been delayed by a day to allow the Iraqis to make revisions to the draft. The final text puts more focus on Iraqi sovereignty, human rights and humanitarian issues.

The Iraqis also eliminated two references to "parties to armed conflict", saying instead that "all parties" should take steps to protect civilians.

For some time now, the US had been pushing a wary, hesitant UN to be more involved in Iraq's deadlocked politics.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad
Mr Khalilzad says the US will play its part in protecting the UN
There has been some criticism about the US attitude, with some observers saying that the Bush administration is trying to get the UN to pick up the pieces of its failure in Iraq after initially scorning the international community.

In the day preceding the US invasion of Iraq, President George W Bush had predicted that the UN would meet the fate of the now defunct League of Nations, if it did not help confront Saddam Hussein.

While the UN has been heavily involved with refugees and election monitoring, it has been mostly a spectator on other fronts.

But there is a definite change in approach now - though how far reaching that change will be on the ground is still unclear.

'Shared vision'

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the UN, said he hoped this would be a "springboard to greater international support for Iraq and its people".

He added that "we in the international community have had our differences in regards to Iraq, but despite these differences I believe we all share our vision for Iraq's future."

Four years ago there was a strong assumption that the UN flag would protect people, protect the mission
B Lynne Pascoe, UN undersecretary for political affairs

Supporters of the move, including at the UN, say that this may be just what is needed to help make progress in Iraq and break the political deadlock, by bringing rival factions together - particularly those that are not willing to talk directly to the US.

The UN will have no military or security responsibilities in Iraq. That will remain squarely in the hands of the US-led multi-national forces. But security will be a top concern, as everybody at the UN still remembers the deadly, massive attack on the organisation's headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003.

The top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed along with 21 others and within weeks, most of the 600 UN staff were withdrawn from Iraq.

The security situation has only got worse since then, prompting some UN employees to question why they were being sent back in. The UN's staff union called on the world body not to send more people in and to withdraw all staff currently in Iraq.

"We would love to help the people of Iraq but the situation is not ready. UN staffers, when they go to a mission they mingle with the people to find out what their needs are, but at the moment we cannot do that," said Emad Hassanin, vice president of the union.

"We want to make sure that no staff are forced to go to this mission if they don't want to go because of safety and security reasons."

Staff concerns

Although postings in Iraq would be voluntary, there is a feeling among staffers here, that not agreeing to travel to Baghdad is held against people and hinders future career promotions.

But UN officials sought to address the concerns by stressing that security of UN staff remained of "paramount concern".

"What has changed is the amount of security we have applied for our staff... Four years ago there was a strong assumption that the UN flag would protect people, protect the mission," said B Lynne Pascoe, UN undersecretary for political affairs.

"Since that time, we have had to go to quite regular and quite stringent security methods to protect our people."

Mr Khalilzad also said that the United States "will do its part to ensure that the UN security and resources needs are met".

Aftermath of the attack on the UN in Baghdad in 2003

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