UNITED NATIONS – TheU.N. Security Council (search) voted unanimously Thursday to extend the world body's beleaguered Iraq mission, which is trying to help the country establish a democratic government at a time of heightened violence and insecurity.
But whether the United Nations (search) will be able to play the leading role the council envisions remains to be seen, because Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said he is sending only a small U.N. team back to Baghdad as a result of the difficult security situation.
Annan pulled the world body's international staff out of Iraq in October after two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and a spate of attacks against humanitarian workers — and he said last week the United Nations will remain "a high-value, high-impact target for attack in Iraq" for the foreseeable future.
The Security Council resolution adopted Thursday by a 15-0 vote reaffirms "that the United Nations should play a leading role in assisting the Iraqi people and government in the formation of institutions for representative government."
It gives the United Nations another year to assist Iraq through elections, the drafting of a new constitution, and its reconstruction.
The secretary-general's new envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi of Pakistan, is expected to take up his post in Baghdad this week with a small staff, giving the United Nations an official presence in Iraq for the first time since October.
Annan said Qazi's primary task will be to assist the Iraqis in political activities leading to the establishment of a constitutionally elected government by Dec. 31, 2005. He will attend the three-day national conference of political, religious and civic leaders that begins Sunday in Baghdad, U.N. associate spokeswoman Denise Cook said Thursday.
But the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq will remain headquartered in neighboring Amman, Jordan, and Annan said last week that all U.N. agencies and programs will continue to minimize their international presence in the country. Iraqis working for the United Nations have remained on the ground, running mainly humanitarian programs.
"It's an ongoing situation of instability ... and the hope is that the situation will improve and that the mission will be able to do some useful work there," Cook said.
Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram, a council member, said the unanimous vote for the resolution is "an indication of the continual commitment of the United Nations and of the Security Council to play a role in bringing peace and stability to Iraq."
"Beyond that, of course, the whole issue of how significant a role the U.N. can play still depends on the security environment," he said. "So we will have to see how the security situation evolves and what kind of role the U.N. will be able to play, both directly and indirectly in Iraq."
Security is an especially sensitive issue as the first anniversary of the Aug. 19, 2003 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad approaches. The attack killed U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.
The Staff Union, which represents more than 5,000 U.N. employees worldwide, opposes any return to Iraq.
"The secretary-general has promised to fix the dysfunctional security management system, and the staff are still waiting for the promised reforms," said Guy Candusso, the Staff Union's vice president. "Until the U.N. gets its act together and the security situation improves significantly, we can't see anyone going back to Iraq, even in small numbers."
The Security Council has authorized a separate force to protect U.N. staff in Iraq, but Annan said last week that no nation has offered a single soldier. The United Nations must therefore rely on the interim Iraqi government and the U.S.-led multinational force for security for Qazi and his team.