- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2007

NEW YORK — The United Nations is poised to take on a greatly expanded role in Iraq and soon will be charged with aggressively pursuing agreements between key political and religious parties while improving relations with neighboring countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is preparing to replace the original U.N. representative in Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, whose contract expires this month. Sources say Mr. Qazi is likely to be succeeded by his deputy, Steffan di Mistura of Italy.

The United States, which is desperate for fresh allies in Iraq, has drafted with Britain a Security Council resolution that calls on the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, or UNAMI, to clarify internal boundaries, help care for an estimated 2 million internally displaced Iraqis, rebuild infrastructure, foster economic stability, coordinate with donor countries and help build peace among Iraq’s warring Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis.

The aim is “to assist Iraqi efforts to build a productive and prosperous nation at peace with itself and its neighbors,” according to a draft resolution circulated Thursday.

“The key goal is to get a national compact among Iraqis on the key issues that still remain to be resolved because that in turn would reduce the sources of violence,” American U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Thursday.

Mr. Khalilzad, a former U.S. envoy to Iraq, added: “It is the competition for political and economic power, territory … that feed the violence that is there. In order to reduce the sources of violence, we believe that the U.N. can help Iraqis come to a national compact, come to an agreement on these big issues.”

One of most roiling issues is how to define Kirkuk, an oil-rich region that was once home to Kurds and Turkmen, among others, until Saddam Hussein evicted them in the late 1980s and repopulated the city with Sunnis. Determining who should live there and how the oil proceeds will be apportioned will require a census, new laws and lots of patience, U.N. officials said.

However, chronic insecurity is still the rule in Baghdad, and the United Nations will not be taking along peacekeepers to protect the lawyers, human rights advocates, cartographers, translators and advisers necessary to chart a new age of lawfulness and coexistence.

The Iraqi government is delighted that the organization will shoulder more political, humanitarian and technical responsibility, said Hamid al-Bayati, Iraq’s U.N. ambassador.

“This is overdue,” he told The Washington Times in an interview Thursday at roughly the same time the primary Sunni political bloc was withdrawing from the coalition government eight time zones away.

He said the United Nations has been helpful in drafting a constitution and organizing elections, but noted that it is time for the world body to engage the neighbors, some of whom are thought to be arming sectarian militias, for “a more healthy Iraq.”

The Security Council is expected to adopt the resolution Thursday morning, after a relatively smooth period of drafting and consulting. Even Russia, which rarely agrees with the United States on Iraq issues, has signaled its acceptance of the draft.

U.N., U.S. and Iraqi sources said that Mr. Qazi, a low-key Pakistani diplomat, has functioned well within his limited responsibilities since 2004. But Mr. al-Bayati noted that it is time to expand the mission and find someone with “the standing to meet leaders and have them listen to him.”

U.N. and diplomatic sources said Mr. di Mistura, a veteran Middle East hand and U.N. official who has served U.N. political missions in southern Lebanon, Israel and Iraq, is likely to succeed Mr. Qazi.

As secretary-general, Kofi Annan scaled back the U.N. presence in Iraq after the August 2003 bombing of its Baghdad headquarters, an attack that killed senior diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello and nearly two dozen top U.N. staffers. While helping organize Iraqi elections and other tasks, many U.N. staffers working with Iraq are based outside the country.

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