UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday named Pakistan's ambassador to Washington to be the U.N. special representative to Iraq, the world body's first envoy there since it withdrew its staff in October.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, 62, will fill the post last held by Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a bombing of the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters in August.
Qazi will go to Baghdad with an initial staff of 20 to oversee U.N. humanitarian work and election preparations as soon as the security situation permits.
Annan has been quietly searching for months for a diplomat who was willing to take on the risks and responsibilities of leading a U.N. team at a time when aid workers and officials have become targets in an increasingly volatile environment. The secretary-general wanted a non-Arab Muslim who could speak Arabic, but one not closely affiliated with any of the dominant sects in Iraq.
Several candidates who had considered the post turned it down at the behest of their families, Annan said recently. Though Qazi's Arabic is "rusty," according to his resume, he best fit the bill.
The two other candidates on the short list were former Indian Foreign Secretary Salman Haidar and former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, said Marie Okabe, a U.N. spokeswoman.
Qazi is expected to arrive at the United Nations headquarters in New York within a week or two for briefings and consultations, Okabe said. No date has been set for his departure to Iraq. The United Nations must get "the sufficient security guarantees from both the Iraqis and from the forces on the ground ... before he can be deployed," she said.
It is not the first time that Qazi will be present to see a nation go through a major transformation. He was ambassador to East Germany when it reunited with West Germany in 1990 and ambassador to the Soviet Union when it broke up in 1991.
He has also served as ambassador to Syria and China, and he was recalled in 2002 while high commissioner to India in a bilateral spat over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Later that year he was named ambassador to Washington, where his posting was due to end this summer.
"He's the best Pakistani diplomat in the world," said Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations. "If the secretary-general thinks he is the best one for the job, it's difficult for anyone to say no."
Although the United States and the United Nations have asked Pakistan to provide troops for a special force that would protect U.N. staffers in Iraq, Qazi's selection does not imply a package deal, Akram said.
"We will have to make a judgment depending on how welcome we are, how useful we can be, and the impact for us in the international community and around the region," he said.
Having Qazi as the U.N. special envoy to Iraq "doesn't add to the factors in favor or against," Akram said. "One might say you must protect your own guy, but it is a U.N. operation, not a Pakistani one."
Washington has been pressing the world body to reestablish a presence in Iraq, both to help stabilize the country and to draw back other humanitarian aid groups that followed U.N. teams out of the country in October after a second bombing of U.N. headquarters there and a rash of attacks on foreign aid workers.
But it is a mission Annan had been resisting until he could be assured that the risk was equal to the gravity of the task.
Despite the delay in sending Qazi to Iraq, the fact that the envoy has been named and will be based in Baghdad is being taken in Washington as "an important development," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday.
"We'll do everything possible to support his efforts, to work with him and the Iraqi government, and also to take care of things like assisting them with security and other areas," he said.
Boucher said that on top of the special U.N. protection force, the Iraqi government and U.S.-led multinational forces would help provide security "so that the U.N. can carry out its important work."