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Approval of boosted U.N. role in Iraq looks likely

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia signaled its assent on Thursday to a U.S.-British draft resolution that would expand the political role of the United Nations in Iraq, making its approval by the Security Council almost certain.

Iraqi police patrol with U.S. soldiers from the 2nd battalion, 32nd Field Artillery brigade, in Baghdad, August 2, 2007. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“I think it’s overall a good draft. Some work, of course, may be required, but I don’t see any basic problems,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

The draft circulated to the Security Council’s 15 member states on Wednesday called for a major upgrade to the scope of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI, which Western countries hope can help smooth over sectarian differences.

UNAMI’s current mandate expires on August 10. Diplomats from several countries expected the new resolution, extending the mandate for another year, to be voted through next week.

Since it was set up four years ago, UNAMI has focused mainly on helping with elections and monitoring human rights. U.N. staff were withdrawn from Iraq after their Baghdad office was blown up, killing 22 people, five months after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but some later returned.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly envoy to Iraq, wants the world body more involved in reconciliation between Iraq’s feuding factions. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also favors a bigger U.N. role.

The draft says UNAMI should in the future “advise, support and assist” Iraqis on “advancing an inclusive, national dialogue and political reconciliation,” reviewing the constitution, delineating internal boundaries and staging a census.

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As Washington and London urge Iraq to take more responsibility to allow U.S. and British troops eventually to leave, it also says UNAMI should promote dialogue between Iraq and its neighbors on border security, energy and refugees.

The mission should assist in the return of millions of refugees who have fled the violence, coordinate reconstruction programs and aid, and help promote economic reform, it says.


“In order to reduce the sources of violence, we believe that the United Nations can help Iraqis come to a national compact, come to an agreement on these big issues on which there are differences,” Khalilzad told reporters on Thursday.

He said that included provincial boundaries such as those around the disputed oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk. Kurds want Kirkuk included in their autonomous region as its capital, but other ethnic groups object.

U.S. mission spokesman Benjamin Chang said experts would discuss the draft on Friday. “I think there’ll be some editing to be done, but so far we’ve had positive responses,” he said.

The invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein ended the domination of Iraq by its Sunni minority, empowering the long downtrodden Shi’ite majority and the Kurds. Iraqi factions have struggled since then to govern the country together while violence by militant groups has killed tens of thousands.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the organization was being consulted over the resolution, but added, “We remain mindful of the security situation and the constraints that are presented” by it.

The head of the former U.N. mission in Baghdad, Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, was among those killed in the 2003 blast, and the new draft acknowledges the security problem.

In a June report, Ban said current U.N. staff quartered in Baghdad’s Green Zone government and diplomatic compound needed a new, more solid building to withstand possible attacks.

Western diplomats say it will be up to the United Nations to decide if it needs to increase the approximately 300 staff UNAMI has, should the resolution pass.