That year, the UN pulled its expatriate staff from the country following the August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 22 others.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was established in June 2004. By then, the UN had allowed a small staff (no more than 35) of expatriate workers to return to Iraq. However, the staff size and lack of security largely prohibited the UN from carrying out much of its mandate.
Small, But Worthwhile Steps
Despite the lack of any significant presence inside the country, the mandate has been renewed each year, and the UN has taken small but worthwhile steps toward reestablishing its presence on the ground, through supporting efforts to draft a new constitution, observing elections in January and December 2005, and supporting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's 24-point national-reconciliation initiative.
Together with the Iraqi government, the UN launched the International Compact with Iraq in July 2006. The initiative sought to "bring together the international community and multilateral organizations to help Iraq achieve its national vision" over five years. The program would work to institutionalize good governance while addressing outstanding political, economic, and security issues.
Through the participation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the Iraqi government would develop a strategy for economic reform and regeneration that would help reintegrate Iraq into the broader region and, by extension, the international community.
Sectarian Tensions Affect Relations
The official launch of the project was delayed for several months due to security issues in Baghdad, as well as reluctance by neighboring Arab states to support the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government. The Arab states -- with primarily majority Sunni populations and Sunni Arab leadership -- fear a Shi'ite government in Iraq and the possible consequences of relations that government may have with Iran.
On May 3, representatives of Iraq's neighboring states, as well as the UN and the United States, gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for a conference in support of the compact. Representatives from more than 50 countries and international organizations attended the meeting.
In an effort to elicit Arab regional support for the compact, a key article in the conference's final declaration noted that participating states would support the Iraqi government as long as it ensured "the basic right of all Iraqi citizens to participate peacefully in the political process through the country's political system."
Arab states signed onto the compact, albeit grudgingly, but largely ignored their commitments in the months that followed. Unfortunately, the current state of relations among Iraqi political parties does little to prompt Arab states to do more.
Reaching Out To Neighbors
Rather, the decision of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front this week to withdraw its ministers from al-Maliki's cabinet is likely only to worsen Iraq's relations with neighboring Arab states. And although regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia committed this week to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, it is unlikely to follow through with the commitment anytime soon.
The ability of the UN successfully to expand its role in Iraq will largely depend on its ability to encourage regional states to engage constructively with Iraq in terms of political and economic initiatives. While the United States has worked actively to encourage such engagement, persuading regional states to engage will require a more proactive approach from other Western nations, particularly the EU.
The new draft UN resolution calls for an extension and expansion of the current mandate for one year and would authorize UNAMI to facilitate regional dialogue, including on border-security issues, energy, and refugees, according to AP, which viewed the draft.
It also paves the way for the UN to help facilitate national dialogue and political reconciliation, resolve disputed internal boundaries, and advise and assist in a constitutional review and a national census.
The draft also calls on the UN mission to help plan, fund, and implement reintegration programs for former combatants, signaling that a deal may be nearing between the Iraqi government and nationalist insurgent groups. The UN has tried to support talks with native insurgent groups, who are largely comprised of disaffected Iraqis who lost their military or technical jobs following the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003.
Searching For A Way Forward
LOOKING BEYOND AL-MALIKI: RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo led an RFE/RL briefing about the changing political landscape in Iraq, focusing on efforts to gain the upper hand in the event that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki falls.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
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