United Nations, 20 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The deployment of more than 150 Fijian guards to Iraq this month marked a sudden surge in the UN presence in the country.
The addition of the guards means that more than 200 UN staffers are now in Iraq, including 25 election experts. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also plans to set up offices in Irbil and Al-Basrah, raising the organization's profile outside of the fortified zone in Baghdad less than six weeks before elections.
Fiji was the first country to respond to the UN Security Council's call in June for contributions to a special protection force for UN staff. It may have spurred other countries to act although it is unclear whether there is time for significant new deployments.
The European Union announced this month it is ready to contribute about $12 million to a fund set up by the UN Security Council to finance the protection force. Romania, which already contributes about 800 troops to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq, has offered 100 more for UN protection outside the Green Zone.
Romania's ambassador to the UN, Mihnea Motoc, told RFE/RL that his government is awaiting results of talks with U.S. officials on how the deployment would take place. "As far as we're concerned, we took this decision at the executive level and depending on how these arrangements that we mentioned will fall into place, we will submit it to parliament," Motoc said.
Georgia's offer of UN protection troops is also under serious discussion. Georgia's UN ambassador, Revaz Adamia, told RFE/RL that about 500 Georgian troops, trained by U.S. experts, are supposed to be deployed before the 30 January elections but further details are sketchy.
Discussions on the subject with Ukraine, which has 1,600 troops deployed in Iraq, have been inconclusive. U.S. officials had hoped last June's resolution, which passed unanimously, would lead to contributions from countries such as Pakistan and India, which have wide experience in UN peacekeeping.
Even a token presence by other forces could have a deterrent effect on violence.
Experts on postconflict situations say that in the absence of contributions from seasoned forces, the U.S.-led multinational coalition is likely to provide the main security during the elections.
James Dobbins, a former U.S. envoy on postconflict missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, told RFE/RL that Georgia and Romania are unlikely to have a major impact. "They may on the margins provide some military capability, but I would think [with] Georgia, [it's] hard to think that they would provide very much. Romania may be a little bit more. But these countries don't have serious military capabilities, let alone serious capabilities of projecting that military power at any distance," Dobbins said.
But even a token presence by other forces could have a deterrent effect on violence, said Joanna Mendelson Forman, an expert on nation building at the UN Foundation. "These [Romanian and Georgian] protection forces will augment and help provide some of the static security, which is extremely important," she said. "And even if these forces are not as well trained and well equipped, they will still provide an important deterrent role, although I think the Georgian and Romanians will be just fine to provide that safety for voters at the polls."
Iraqi and U.S. officials have welcomed the pledges of funding and troops but remain concerned about whether they will lead to an expanded UN presence. They say more UN experts are needed to help in the preparations for polls in six weeks.
A broader UN presence is seen as enhancing the credibility of the elections.
That was the basis for a clause in Security Council Resolution 1546 in June, which authorized the handover of power to Iraqis. The clause called on countries to contribute to a special force to protect UN staff, which had mostly withdrawn since the August 2003 terrorist attack on their Baghdad headquarters. The force is considered separate but ultimately comes under the authority of U.S. commanders In Iraq.[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]