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UN’s work in Iraq best tribute to colleagues killed five years ago, says top official

UN’s work in Iraq best tribute to colleagues killed five years ago, says top official

UN Affairs

As the United Nations today remembers the colleagues killed and injured in the attack on its headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, the world body’s top political official said there is no better tribute to the fallen than continuing the vital work they began in Iraq.

“The United Nations will continue to support the Government and people of Iraq as they try to rebuild their country in peace,” B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, writes in an op-ed published in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Our work on the ground, each and every day, is the best tribute we can pay to the colleagues who perished on that terrible afternoon five years ago in Baghdad.”

The UN’s top envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others were killed in the suicide bombing at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, which Mr. Pascoe calls “one of the darkest and most painful days in our 60-year history.”

He notes that subsequent tragedies such as the bombing last December of UN offices in Algiers serve as a reminder of the gravity of the threats the Organization’s staff face, and have prompted heightened efforts to improve UN security around the world.

“But through it all, the work of the United Nations continues,” stresses Mr. Pascoe. “Our structures were shaken, but not our resolve – and Iraq provides no better case in point.”

He points out that after returning staff to the country not long after the 19 August bombing, the world body helped organize Iraq’s landmark 2005 elections as well as the drafting of a new constitution. It has also been working hard to promote human rights, provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people and help its neighbours cope with the influx of refugees.

UN efforts in Iraq have increased “significantly” under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Baghdad very early in this term and has sent a clear message throughout the Organization that more should be done to help the country and its people, he notes.

In addition, a year ago this month, the Security Council adopted a resolution providing the mandate for a broader UN role in Iraq and, under the leadership of the current UN envoy in Baghdad, Staffan de Mistura, the world body’s efforts are gaining more visibility.

For example, the UN has been assisting the country’s efforts related to the holding of provincial elections and internal boundary issues such as the eventual status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Just last week, the UN and the Iraqi Government signed a landmark agreement outlining a three-year blueprint for the world body’s work in reconstruction, development and humanitarian assistance.

At the same time, Mr. Pascoe writes that while the Organization’s role in Iraq has been increasing, “the UN footprint in Iraq remains modest today given the dangers prevailing in the country.”

He notes that the 300 UN international staff currently on the ground are based largely in Baghdad’s international zone, “though we have been branching out to the provinces and gradually increasing our numbers.”

With the financial support of Member States and the Iraqi Government, he adds, the UN plans to construct a larger, better fortified compound that can safely house more staff.

“In the end,” he concludes, “stability in Iraq cannot be built by outsiders but rather by Iraqis themselves, making courageous compromises in the greater interest of the nation. Without progress in that direction, recent improvements in security will remain fragile.”