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UN expands mission in Iraq

The Security Council on Friday unanimously agreed to expand the UN mission in Iraq despite the high level of insecurity in the country and resistance by United Nations staff.

The resolution presented by the United States and Great Britain, approved by all of the council's 15 members, extends the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), which expires Friday, by one year.

The measure permits the expansion of the UN staff in Iraq and paves the way for a UN special envoy "as circumstances permit" to "advise, support and assist" the Iraqi government in a wide range of matters -- political, economic, legal, and human rights among them.

The resolution also underscores the US-led multinational force in Iraq's "important role" in supporting United Nation's mission, especially in providing safety for its staff.

"Security is essential for UNAMI to carry out its work on behalf of the people of Iraq," it says.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the vote that the United Nations is "deeply committed" to helping the Iraqis.

"I'm pleased to have the opportunity to now enhance where possible our contributions in crucial areas such as national reconciliation, regional dialogue, humanitarian assistance and human rights," he told reporters.

"A peaceful and prosperous future is for the Iraqis themselves to create, with the international community lending support to their efforts."

US President George W. Bush quickly praised the measure.

"This vote sends an important signal of the United Nations' commitment to support stability and security in Iraq," said White House spokesperson Dana Perino, traveling with Bush as the president visits his family's vacation compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The United Nations has allowed a maximum of 65 staffers to reside in Iraq since it ordered most personnel out after their office in Baghdad was bombed August 19, 2003. The truck bomb killed 22, most notably special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Currently there are only 55 UN staffers in the country, 50 in Baghdad and five in Basra. Some 235 UNAMI-affiliated staffers work out of Jordan and Kuwait.

The ceiling for in-country staff could be increased to 95 in October under the new resolution, UN under-secretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe said earlier this week.

On Friday at the United Nations, Iraq's ambassador Hamid al-Bayati endorsed the measure before the council vote.

"Our view right from the beginning was that we should have an important role for the UN," Bayati said.

"They were hesitant after the terrorist attack against the UN headquarters in Baghdad ... But we've been encouraging them to send more personnel and staff to Iraq and we hope that they will be able to do so after this resolution."

Washington has for months been pushing for an expanded UN role in Iraq, an idea to which Ban lent his support during a meeting with Bush last month.

Bayati however said he did not see US support for the resolution as heralding a move to eventually pass security responsibility for Iraq over to the United Nations.

"The US is having a different role. The US forces are not going to be replaced by the UN. The UN is not going to send forces," he said.

"The US is doing a military and security role but the UN will do another role which is political, humanitarian."

The council passed the measure Friday despite resistance from UN employees concerned by the persistent security problems.

In a statement Tuesday the UN Staff Council called on Ban "not to deploy any additional staff members to Iraq and to remove those currently serving at the duty station in Baghdad until such time as the security situation and environment improves."

But Ban emphasized Friday that the safety of the UN staff in Iraq "will remain a paramount concern."

US ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad said that the United States "will do its part to ensure that the UN security and resources needs are met."

UN expands mission in Iraq -  Source

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