Iraqi foreign minister criticizes U.N. for not sending more election help |

Iraqi foreign minister criticizes U.N. for not sending more election help

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The United Nations has not sent enough election workers to help out with vital balloting in Iraq set for January, the Iraqi foreign minister said Wednesday.

The United Nations pulled its international staff out of Iraq a year ago following bombings at its Baghdad headquarters. U.N. chief Kofi Annan has since allowed a small team to return to help with elections but won’t expand it without greater protection for them amid Iraq’s increasing violence.

“It is unfortunate that the contribution and participation of U.N. employees in this process is not up to expectations,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters.

Zebari said a “very limited” number o0f U.N. employees were expected to arrive to help out with elections. He said the number expected in Iraq was far smaller than the 300 workers the United Nations sent for the first elections in East Timor – which has a much smaller population and land area.

“Judging by the size of the process in Iraq and its complexity, we definitely need a larger U.N. presence in Iraq, at least to bestow trust upon the electoral process,” Zebari said.

Annan said Tuesday that had tried to raise international troops to form a brigade to protect for U.N. workers, so more staffers could be sent, but he had gotten no response.

“We have not done very well. It is the same governments who are asking me to send in my civilian staff who are not going to give me troops to protect them,” he said, without singling out any nations.

Annan pulled out international staff after the two anit-U.N. bombings and a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. The first bombing, on Aug. 22, 2003, killed the top U.N. envoy, Sergio Viera de Mello, and 21 others.

In August, Annan allowed a small U.N. contingent to return to Baghdad to help organize the election. Annan imposed a ceiling of 35 international staffers, despite pressure from the United States and elsewhere to boost that figure. However, the United Nations is training Iraqis outside Iraq to return here and train other Iraqis in how to run an election.

Zebari, a Kurdish politician who served as foreign minister during the U.S. occupation, said Iraq will raise the issue of greater U.N. and international support during a conference on Iraq to be held next month in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

He said the Iraqi delegation will not only ask for greater U.N. participation but will also call on conference participants to “support this electoral process seriously and in good intentions.”

The conference will bring together Iraq’s neighbors, the eight major industrialized powers and China, the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union.

“It is important for Iraq to garner the support of the countries participating in the Sharm el-Sheik conference … to help in providing the positive and suitable political ambiance, and encouraging all parties to participate positively; and to provide monitors and technical help,” Zebari said.

Earlier this month, two organizations representing more than 60,000 United Nations staff members urged Annan to pull all U.N. staff out of Iraq because of the “unprecedented” risk to their safety and security.

In a joint letter to Annan, the staff organizations cited a dramatic escalation in attacks in Iraq and said the United Nations regrettably “has become a direct target, one that is particularly prone to attacks by ruthless extremist terrorist factions.”