- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

The senior U.N. official in Iraq yesterday said that the United Nations will soon be raising its profile there, acknowledging that its “perceived absence” has been noticeable since a tragic suicide bombing after the U.S. invasion three years ago.

Ashraf Qazi, the special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will be in Washington through Monday for meetings at the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council.

“It is a fact that the United States strongly encourages us to play a more proactive role in a whole range of activities to make an impact on Iraqi lives,” Mr. Qazi told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

He said the organization has been active in many aspects of nation building, assisting Iraqis in drafting a constitution, holding elections and rebuilding infrastructure.

But Mr. Qazi also said that it was time for the 90-member U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI, to take a higher profile despite security concerns.

“A lot of people are not aware of our contributions,” he said, in part because U.N. officials are based inside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

“People ask ‘where are you?’ because they don’t always notice us,” said the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington.

“We need to do a better job in terms of enlarging the scale of our activities, being seen and being safe at the same time.”

Mr. Qazi’s predecessor, Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, and 21 others died in an August 2003 suicide bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

Mr. Qazi, told the U.N. Security Council earlier this week that UNAMI needs its own helicopters and small aircraft to transport U.N. staff between the Green Zone base and new offices in Irbil and Basra.

The planes, he said yesterday, would allow the organization to be more active and independent in a country where the roads are dangerous and movement is often curtailed.

Mr. Qazi made it clear that he disagreed with the frequent warnings that Iraq is slipping into a full-scale civil war.

“What is civil war? I wouldn’t say it is even a prospect right now, but there is no reason to be complacent,” he said, acknowledging serious human rights violations, sectarian violence, little protection for civil servants and an absence of civil services that would make daily life easier for average Iraqis.

For example, he said yesterday, the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra last month might have actually been a turning point in the effort to calm sectarian violence that continues to cripple reconstruction efforts.

“The government has managed to keep a lid on it but [sectarian tensions] have to be addressed through a broad-based approach” that includes security, political inclusiveness and restored electricity, transportation, education, health care and other services.

The Iraqi government plans to rebuild the historic Shi’ite mosque, as well as many Christian churches that have been bombed over the past three years.

Mr. Qazi said UNAMI is working with U.N. agencies such as UNESCO and the World Bank to try to raise money and recruit expertise for the project, which he said would also encourage sectarian healing.

Although Mr. Qazi declined to comment on the progress or strength of the U.S.-led multinational forces, he noted that the Iraqi police remain tangled in sectarian and political divisions, even though the Iraqi army seems to be making greater progress.

This will be one of his messages when he addresses the donors conference, which is likely to be convened this June or July in Istanbul.

About $13 billion has been pledged for Iraq’s reconstruction, and more than half of the nearly $1 billion received has already been spent on governance, humanitarian and reconstruction projects.

Mr. Qazi and his team also met yesterday with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who said the bank would soon have a larger presence in Iraq.

Mr. Qazi stressed that he has frequent contact with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. And he repeatedly made clear that the United Nations is in service to the Iraqi government, rather than dictating to it.

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