ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 23, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 17

UN hosts key talks on rescue plan for Iraq

UNITED NATIONS, Saturday (AFP) - Iraq and its neighbors are to huddle with major powers and donors here today to discuss ways to speed up efforts to put the war-ravaged country back on its feet despite poor security and continuing sectarian divisions. UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are to co-chair the ministerial session which will consider how to bolster the UN presence in Iraq and weigh a five-year plan to stabilize the country on the political, economic and security fronts.

The meeting follows warnings from US President George W. Bush last week that the US involvement in Iraq will last beyond his presidency, which ends in January 2009, although if progress on the ground continues the 169,000 US troops there could gradually be scaled back.

US-led troops invaded Iraq in March 2003 to oust the regime of the late Saddam Hussein. Saturday's gathering will be attended by representatives from 20 countries, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and eight neighbors of Iraq -- Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.

Organizers said the aim is to build on the momentum generated at the international conference on Iraq in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last May. On the agenda are “challenges and opportunities” in implementing UN Security Council resolution 1770 adopted last month, as well as support for the Baghdad government's efforts to curb sectarian strife through an inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation.

Resolution 1770 extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) by one year and urged it to “advise, support and assist” the Iraqi government on a wide range of issues. The UN was specifically tasked with assisting Baghdad in pursuing national reconciliation and facilitating dialogue with its neighbors on issues of border security, humanitarian aid and the return of the estimated 4.5 million Iraqi refugees.

Ban told a press conference Tuesday that he planned to discuss with Maliki “how to strengthen the UN role” in Iraq and review the “International Compact (ICI),” the five-year rescue plan adopted last May in Sharm el-Sheikh. The ICI is a joint initiative by the United Nations, the World Bank and Baghdad.“The United Nations wants to do what it can to help in Iraq, subject to what the security situation permits and what the Iraqis themselves want us to be doing,” UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe told AFP Wednesday.

The UN allowed a maximum of 65 staffers to reside in Iraq after its Baghdad office was hit on August 19, 2003 by a truck bomb that killed 22 people, most notably its special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Currently there are 95 UN international staffers in the country -- 65 in Baghdad and 30 in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil -- in addition to several hundred international security personnel. Some 235 UN-affiliated staffers also work out of Jordan and Kuwait.

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