Election doubt as UN staff ask to pull out

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The Independent Online

Fresh doubts were raised over the feasibility of holding elections in Iraq yesterday with reports that the already minuscule United Nations team there wants to pull out because of the dangerous security situation.

Fresh doubts were raised over the feasibility of holding elections in Iraq yesterday with reports that the already minuscule United Nations team there wants to pull out because of the dangerous security situation.

Two UN staff associations, representing 60,000 members, yesterday asked Kofi Annan, the secretary general, to withdraw all staff because of the "unprecedented" risk to their lives. They said the organisation "has become a direct target". But the UN Security Council Resolution 1546, passed in June, saysthe UN should play a key role in helping the Iraqi interim government to hold elections, scheduled for January. The US, Britain and the European Union stress that UN involvement will give the poll credibility.

There are just 35 UN international personnel in Iraq. They returned two months ago after Mr Annan pulled all staff out of the country last year following a spate of attacks, including one in which the UN envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others were killed.

Fred Eckhard, a UN spokesman, said: "We will need more than 35 in there to do what we want to do on the elections."

A spokesman for the US ambassador to the UN, John Danforth, said that "we would hope the secretary general would recognise that the UN exists to help governments in crisis".

A UN staff member in Baghdad said: "Are they seriously saying that it is safe for people to go out and about and organise elections with suicide bombings every day? The EU are offering some money, but we notice they are not sending one single election monitor." The EU recently agreed to contribute €30m (£20m) for the UN mission.

So far not a single country has offered to provide troops for such a mission. So the UN team is protected by US troops, something which, they say, identifies them with the occupying power, and puts them at greater risk.

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