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Iraq: Mixed Signals On Support For Security At UN

There have been mixed signals from leaders at the UN General Assembly about contributing forces to safeguard Iraq's elections. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has remained noncommittal about providing peacekeepers, while Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili affirmed her country's offer of hundreds of troops to a UN special protection force.

United Nations, 23 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Four months before elections are due in Iraq, there are still no forces on the ground to protect UN experts seen as crucial to the process.

The absence of contributions to a UN special protection force and escalating violence in key areas of the country have raised doubts about Iraq's ability to hold credible elections on time.

Iraqi interim leaders and U.S. officials say the polls can still be held but have heightened their appeal for security assistance at this week's gathering of leaders at the UN General Assembly.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged that security remains a problem for the UN, which has sent only 35 international staff to Iraq. He told reporters yesterday that U.S. officials would continue to address the issue.

"We are in conversations with the UN as to what their needs are," Powell said. "Secretary General [Kofi Annan] made it clear that he wants to scale up the size of his team, but the issue is how to make sure that this larger team will have the necessary security and protection so that it can do its work."

Powell and Annan met separately yesterday with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose country is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions. But there were no signs of an agreement on forces to the UN mission in Iraq, which is headed by a Pakistani diplomat.
Powell dismissed the notion that U.S. officials had come to the UN to solicit pledges for Iraq. But he said EU members serving in the coalition forces in Iraq yesterday reaffirmed their support ahead of elections.

In his address to the General Assembly, Musharraf also showed no indication of new support.

"Pakistan stands for the restoration of peace and stability in Iraq, ensuring its unity and territorial integrity," Musharraf said. "This can only be achieved through handing over governance, authority to the people of Iraq and allowing them full control over their natural resources. Internal law and order and security can be best promoted by local Iraqi police and militia which need to be built up expeditiously."

Powell said he had met with European Union ministers earlier in the day and that they had expressed a willingness to provide financial support for UN efforts in Iraq. He did not elaborate on the financial offer.

Powell dismissed the notion that U.S. officials had come to the UN to solicit pledges for Iraq. But he said EU members serving in the coalition forces in Iraq yesterday reaffirmed their support ahead of elections.

"We came here to discuss many issues and it was not a donors' conference or a pledging conference," Powell said. "We had good discussions with a number of leaders. The leaders who have forces in Iraq now as part of the coalition have reaffirmed their understanding of the challenge we face and they're going to stick with the mission as it was set out."

Meanwhile, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili affirmed in an interview with RFE/RL that her country is committed to supporting a special UN protection force.

"It's something that has been under discussion for some weeks and months and we have now made the next step, which is to announce formally that we would be ready to provide for a number that is still to be defined. It's between 300- and 500[-person] contingent, that would be dedicated to UN protection," Zurabishvili said.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced the Iraq force in his General Assembly address on 21 September. Powell made no mention of the Georgian offer during his meeting with reporters yesterday.

A UN diplomat told RFE/RL that the matter is still under discussion and that the UN is awaiting word from U.S. officials about any confirmed force. A UN Security Council resolution passed in June calls for contributions to the unit, which would be distinct from U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, but still come under U.S. command.

[For additional news, background, and analysis on events in Iraq, click here.]