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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

U.N. Sending Political Advisors to Help Set Up Forum

August 07, 2004|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

The United Nations is planning to reestablish a permanent presence in Iraq as early as today, starting with a team of six political officers who will help prepare a national conference in Baghdad.

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the new U.N. special envoy to Iraq, is scheduled to arrive next week -- almost a year after an Aug. 19 suicide bomb attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed his predecessor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.

U.N. officials Thursday asked the United States for an aircraft to transport the team to Baghdad as soon as possible to help with preparations for the conference, scheduled for Aug. 15. Arranging visas to allow the group to fly commercially through Kuwait would be too time-consuming, said a letter to the U.S. from the undersecretary-general for political affairs, Kieran Prendergast.

The United Nations is wary of placing its staff in danger but recognizes the importance of returning to Iraq. U.N. advisors will help organize the national conference of civic and tribal leaders, which will appoint an interim national assembly. They will also assist in preparations for elections and help draft a constitution.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has resisted growing pressure from the United States for the world body to resume its work in Iraq -- not only to assist American rebuilding efforts, but to encourage others to follow. Annan has insisted that the Security Council give him flexibility on when and how to send in large numbers of international staff.

A recent Security Council resolution provides for a "distinct force" of about 4,000 troops under U.S. command to protect U.N. staff and equipment in Iraq. But despite discussions with half a dozen countries, there have been no firm offers of troops, Annan said Wednesday. A Saudi proposal for an Islamic force to protect the U.N. staff has failed to gain momentum.

"For the time being, for practical measures, we have no other choice but to rely on the multinational force," Annan said.

In a new report to the Security Council on the United Nations' work in Iraq, Annan said Friday that security remained a constraint on its operations there. He categorized the risk to U.N. personnel as "high to critical," which means that a minimal staff will be sent and its activities will be limited to essential tasks, the report said.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John C. Danforth, said he hoped to have an international protection force for U.N. personnel in place next month. But he said the U.S. was having trouble persuading other countries to provide troops until security improved.

"The U.S. has to do it, the Brits have to do it, the multinational force has to do it, because other countries simply don't want to be in there to be at risk," Danforth said Thursday.

"So it just goes round and round."

*

Farley, The Times' U.N. Bureau chief, reported from Denver.

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