U.N. Set to Expand Mandate on Iraq

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The Bush administration has been looking for more allies on Iraq. Increasingly, that means turning to the United Nations. The U.S., along with Britain, has drafted a Security Council resolution to expand the U.N. mission in Iraq. That resolution goes to a vote on Thursday.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The Bush administration has been looking for more allies on Iraq, and it's increasingly turning to the United Nations. Along with Britain, the United States has drafted a Security Council resolution to expand the U.N. mission in Iraq. That resolution will be voted on tomorrow, and NPR's Michele Kelemen is covering the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN: After serving two years in Baghdad, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, has been working the corridors of the United Nations to encourage the U.N. to play a larger role in Iraq.

Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): The future of that region is the defining geopolitical challenge of our time. And therefore, the U.N. needs to play and enhance a role in helping Iraqis overcome the difficulties that they have at the present time.

KELEMEN: It's been four years since a truck bomb killed the U.N. envoy in Baghdad, along with 21 others, and that attack still haunts officials in the United Nations. But Khalilzad argues it's time for the U.N. to take risks and play a bigger role. He says the U.N. is uniquely qualified to deal with the driving forces of the conflict - interference from neighboring states and internal disagreements about political and economic power.

Ambassador KHALILZAD: One of the advantages of the United Nations is that it can reach out to many groups, some groups that do not want to talk to other external players are willing to talk to the United Nations. For example, as you know, Ayatollah Sistani, one of the influential figures of Iraq, does not speak to the representatives of the United States or the United Kingdom directly but does engage with the U.N. envoy.

KELEMEN: The U.S. wants the U.N. to do more than just sort out Iraqi politics. Khalilzad says the U.S. also wants to see the United Nations increase humanitarian aid to Iraqis. That could be an even more difficult task. To make a difference, aid workers would need to move around the country, and the U.N.'s top humanitarian official John Holmes says even the most courageous private aid groups are hesitant to go to Iraq these days.

Sir JOHN HOLMES (Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations): I certainly can't promise any miracles because there is fundamental security problem, which means that we can't put the kind of international staff you would have anywhere else in the world on the ground at the moment in Iraq. It's dangerous in Somalia, it's dangerous in Darfur, but we have lots of people there. In Iraq, this is simply impossible for the moment.

KELEMEN: As he sees it there are two humanitarian crises to deal with. Outside Iraq, U.N. agencies are trying to help countries cope with an influx of Iraqi refugees. Inside Iraq the humanitarian needs are growing.

Sir HOLMES: We're talking very large numbers of people being displaced each month for sectarian reasons, because people are employed, they have no resources. The food distribution system, the classic public distribution system is breaking down in some areas. In some areas, it's being used to sectarian ends, so you only get the supplies if you're from the right side of the religious divide. All these add up to pretty serious problems for families living in conditions of fundamental lack of security as well.

KELEMEN: Just what U.N. agencies can do about this is a problem Holmes will have to solve. For now, he says, they are hoping to move supplies in and find local partners to distribute aid.

On the political side, U.N. Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe says he expects to increase the size of the U.N. mission in Baghdad, raising the ceiling from 65 to 95 international staffers. And he's looking for ways to help elsewhere.

Mr. LYNN PASCOE (Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, United Nations): We have an operation still in Irbil. We don't have one any longer in Basra. We would be interested and we will constantly be looking at the security situation everywhere to decide what level is appropriate.

KELEMEN: Pascoe, a former U.S. State Department official, says the Security Council seems to agree on the need for an expanded U.N. role, though he's had to address U.N. staff concerns that Washington is trying to shift responsibility for Iraq to the U.N.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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