UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Staff Council, representing 25,000 staff members, unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon not to deploy any additional staff members to Iraq and to remove those currently serving at the duty station in Baghdad.
The resolution cites the "unacceptably high level of risk to the safety and security of U.N. personnel currently serving in Iraq," and stresses that, "the breakdown of law and order in Iraq has created a place where aid workers have become targets and pawns."
"The security situation in Iraq is getting worse every day," Emad Hassanin, first vice president of the Staff Union, told IPS.
Against this backdrop, the U.S. and Britain are circulating a draft resolution aimed at expanding the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
A small U.N. contingent has been in Iraq since August 2004, after Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general, pulled all U.N. staff out of Iraq in October 2003. The U.N. withdrawal came after two bomb attacks at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad which resulted in 22 staff members deaths.
Annan issued a report following the bombings in 2003. Ban issued a situation report in June 2007. "According to the reports the situation is worse now," Hassanin said, stressing that "nothing has been done to improve security of staff since 2003." In fact, a mortar exploded in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone during Ban's televised press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in March.
"The U.N. needs to play an enhanced role in helping Iraqis at the present time," Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told reporters here.
"This is a very important issue, the issue of Iraq for the region, for the country, and for the world and therefore the U.N. needs to play a bigger role and help Iraqis," Khalilzad said.
"One of the advantages of the U.N. is that it can reach out to many groups and some groups that do not want to talk to other external players are willing to talk to the U.N.," Khalilzad said, pointing out that, "Ayatollah Sistani, one of the influential figures of Iraq did not speak to the U.S./UK reps but does engage with the U.N. envoy."
"We are on a very strong effort to increase the numbers of international staff in Iraq," B. Lynne Pascoe, U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs, said after briefing the Security Council Tuesday.
"The current ceiling is 65. I think by the fall, by October, we'll be up to about 95," he said.
Asked about a timetable for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops to go hand in hand with the expansion of the U.N. role, Khalilzad said, "We understand that the issue of the coalition presence is an issue on which Iraqis disagree. But I also know, you all know that I was in Iraq for almost two years, that no community in Iraq would like a precipitous U.S. withdrawal."
"I do not understand the logic of sacrificing the lives of U.N. civilian staff to save face of a few strong member states," Hassanin stressed.
The draft resolution extending the mandate of UNAMI is an "exit strategy of a few member states," Hassanin added.
The political situation is bad, if it improves there may be a role for an enhanced U.N. presence, Hassanin explained.
"The U.S. has been talking about a 'new and important role' for the U.N. in Iraq, as part of a public relations campaign about how things are getting better, stability is just around the corner, and so on," James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum in New York, told IPS. "But in fact, the security environment is deteriorating there and the U.N. cannot operate safely or effectively."
"Meanwhile, the Multinational Force (under Security Council mandate) continues to commit daily violations of human rights and humanitarian law, in an occupation that three-quarters of Iraqis firmly oppose," Paul said.
"The U.N. Security Council is closing its eyes to the reality of the world's most serious security and humanitarian crisis," Paul continued, stressing that, "There is astounding neglect of the real situation in Iraq."
Four million Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have left their homes as sectarian fighting has spread through the country. The U.N. estimates that more than 100,000 people are fleeing Iraq each month.
"Iraq is far from being stable," an Asian diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS.
"With the incidence of bombings daily, there is an appalling humanitarian problem," the diplomat stressed.
The draft resolution ignores the "problem of 'humanitarian space' in Iraq due to the close identification of UNAMI with the Multinational Force," Paul said. This is partly due to the "serious problem of Iraqi funds being used for U.S. military-run 'humanitarian' programs like the Commanders' Emergency Response Programme," he explained.
The urgent problem of food availability and the declining access of Iraqis to the public distribution system are also ignored, as well as the need for funds for emergency assistance, especially for refugees outside of Iraq, Paul said.
The Security Council is expected to vote on the UNAMI resolution on Thursday. Some Security Council delegations, including Belgium, France, Indonesia and South Africa, have reportedly raised concerns with the draft which was circulated on Aug. 1, just nine days before the expiration of the current resolution on Aug. 10.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service