- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon maintained the organization would only boost its Iraq staff by a “modest” number, despite assurances by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that his country is a safer place thanks to Iraqi police and foreign troops.

The two co-chaired a meeting of foreign ministers yesterday afternoon to brainstorm about what the Iraqis need to do to bring stability and security to the country, and how their governments can help.

The meeting was attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from Syria and Iran — possibly the countries with the most significant effect on security now — as well as foreign ministers from Iraq’s other neighbors, donors, Security Council members and representatives of other Muslim and European nations.

“The overall situation in Iraq, which I tried to express to delegations, is that at the present time, with the multinational forces, we have improved the situation,” Mr. al-Maliki told the press last night after the two-hour meeting.

“There are still pockets of tension and terrorist militias working in the shadows,” he acknowledged. “But they are all pursued by Iraqi forces.”

Shortly after a private session with Mr. Ban earlier in the day, Mr. al-Maliki said the security situation “has begun to develop tremendously.”

The Iraqi prime minister brushed off criticism from the White House and Congress, maintaining that it is “normal” for lawmakers to be impatient.

Despite Mr. al-Maliki’s relatively upbeat picture, Mr. Ban said the organization would not be returning to Iraq in the same numbers it deployed before and directly after the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

“I am seriously considering how to increase our presence and our role,” Mr. Ban said in a joint press conference with Mr. al-Maliki. “Security is improving, but I think much more has to be done. Our activities have been largely constrained by the situation on the ground.”

Nonetheless, he added, “the United Nations has a competitive advantage in political facilitation and national reconciliation.”

He said he soon will authorize the U.N. international staff in Baghdad by a “modest increase … as soon as integrated facilities are ready for the safety and security of our staff.”

Mr. al-Maliki refused to confirm the existence of an Iraqi videotape reportedly showing Blackwater private security guards firing unprovoked into a crowd, killing at least 11.

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