- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

UNITED NATIONS (AP) Iraq’s prime minister today said his government would provide any necessary security for an expanded United Nations presence in his country, stressing that the “Baghdad of today is different from the Baghdad of yesterday.”

Nouri al-Maliki’s comments followed a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which he said focused on expanding the world body’s role in Iraq and working toward realizing the economic and political goals laid out in the International Compact with Iraq. The compact is a sweeping five-year economic and political reform package Mr. Ban helped broker in May in Egypt.

“The security situation … has begun to develop tremendously, and the Baghdad of today is different from the Baghdad of yesterday,” Mr. al-Maliki said.

The current security situation “is unlike the situation in the past, and we will take on (the responsibility of) providing security for the delegation” to help it carry out its role effectively.

The U.N. has maintained a reduced presence in Iraq since after an Aug. 19, 2003, bombing at its Baghdad headquarters that killed 22 people.

Mr. al-Maliki is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly session. He has several meetings scheduled on the sidelines with top U.S. officials, including President Bush.

His assurances of an improvement in security reflect efforts to deflect criticism that, more than four years after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled by a U.S.-led coalition, political violence is still claiming dozens of lives daily in Iraq.

Mr. al-Maliki has come under pressure from the Bush administration to achieve progress on a series of economic and political benchmarks. But those efforts have been stymied by distrust and strife among Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions. Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, point to the failure to achieve reconciliation among Iraqis as a reason to withdraw U.S. troops.

At the U.N. the Iraqi prime minister said his talks with Mr. Ban focused on the goals laid out in the compact and last month’s Security Council resolution authorizing the expansion of the U.N.’s role in the country. The resolution authorizes the world body to promote political talks among Iraqis, as well as helping establish a regional dialogue on issues including border security, energy and refugees, among others.

“If in 2007 we exerted all our efforts on the security side, our intention, God willing, is that 2008 be for the political and economic goals,” Mr. al-Maliki said.

Associated Press Writer Tarek El-Tablawy contributed to this report from the U.N.

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