Dutchman Melkert to be new U.N. envoy for Iraq

UNITED NATIONS, July 7 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has chosen Ad Melkert, a Dutch politician who later worked for the World Bank and United Nations, as his new special envoy in Iraq, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Melkert, 53, replaces Staffan de Mistura, who is joining the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).

Melkert rose to prominence in the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), becoming minister of social affairs and employment in the 1990s under then prime minister Wim Kok, whom he succeeded as party leader in 2001.

But he resigned the leadership after the PvdA fared badly in elections the following year and a few months later joined the World Bank, where he served for more than three years on board of directors.

In 2006 he became deputy head of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), a position he has held until now. Melkert was involved in exchanges with officials of the former U.S. Bush administration, which alleged financial malpractice by UNDP in North Korea. An inquiry later cleared UNDP of major wrongdoing.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Melkert would bring to the Iraq job "a unique combination of extensive political experience ... and economic and development expertise."

"As a result he enters with a deep understanding of the nature of the challenges and priorities that face Iraq at this phase of its transition," she told a news briefing.

Melkert will be required to carry on work begun by de Mistura to expand U.N. activities in Iraq to include assisting political reconciliation and improving ties between the country and its regional neighbors.

U.N. officials live and work under heavy security in Baghdad after a truck bomb at the former U.N. headquarters there killed 22 people in 2003, including special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. (Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Alan Elsner)