09/15/2004, 00.00
IRAQ – UN
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U.N. hopeful Iraqi elections can be held in January but more security is needed

Iraqi deputy ambassador Feisal Amin Al-Istrabadi urging all nations to support Iraq and to provide troops to protect U.N. workers

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The United Nations is hopeful elections in Iraq can be held on schedule in January 2005 despite escalating violence, but the level of U.N. electoral assistance will depend on security, the top U.N. envoy to Iraq says.

Iraq's new deputy U.N. ambassador, Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, warned Tuesday that terrorists are determined to disrupt the vote and he urged the world's nations to send troops to protect an expanded U.N. staff which he called essential for holding the country's first free elections.

But Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the U.N. special representative to Iraq, said the security situation will be the overriding factor in determining how many U.N. international staffers can return to Iraq. Currently, there is a ceiling of 35 U.N. staff in the country, which al-Istrabadi called inadequate.

Qazi and al-Istrabadi spoke at a Security Council meeting called to discuss Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report on Iraq which warned that violence could make it more difficult to create the conditions for successful elections.

The U.N. envoy repeatedly stressed that the Iraqi Electoral Commission is in charge of the election process - not the United Nations -  and he said it was encouraging that the country's prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has expressed determination to hold the election by Jan. 31.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth all but ruled out any delay beyond the Jan. 31 deadline for elections in Iraq's interim constitution.

Qazi wouldn't be drawn out on when or whether the United Nations might beef up its election unit, calling staff safety "an overriding imperative."

An Aug. 19, 2003, blast outside the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations killed 22 people, including the chief U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Annan ordered all U.N. international staff to leave Iraq after a second attack on the building last October. The United Nations now maintains a low profile in Iraq, and several dozen non-Iraqi staffers stay in the Green Zone, a restricted area in the centre of Baghdad that houses Iraqi government ministries and the U.S. Embassy.

Qazi told the council the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government on June 28 has not improved security and "the resurgence of the vicious cycle of violence" was halting the process of rebuilding Iraq. Iraq's al-Istrabadi said the country needs technical support from U.N. experts to hold free and fair elections. "We know that…the U.N. knows that. ... And so do the terrorists. They are determined, at any cost, to prevent this vital assistance from going forward. They must not succeed," he warned. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said about 200 U.N. staffers would be needed on the ground in Iraq to help conduct elections.

Al-Istrabadi urged all nations to support Iraq, and especially to provide troops and money for a special force to protect U.N. workers which the Security Council authorized in June. U.N. officials have been talking to several governments and U.N. diplomats said Fiji and Australia were contemplating sending troops. Qazi said the United Nations remains hopeful that security will improve, which will enable the world body to deploy a larger international staff.
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