Global Policy Forum

Why the United Nations Belongs in Iraq


By Zalmay Khalilzad*

New York Times
July 20, 2007

After meeting with President Bush on Tuesday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the Iraqi situation is "a problem of the whole world" and that the United Nations is prepared to contribute to the "Iraqi government and people to help them overcome this difficulty." The United States recognizes the global importance of stabilizing Iraq and supports this forward-leaning approach to enhancing the United Nations' role. The United Nations possesses certain comparative advantages for undertaking complex internal and regional mediation efforts; it can also help internationalize the effort to stabilize the country.

In coming weeks, the United Nations will appoint a new envoy for Iraq and renew the Security Council mandate for its mission in Baghdad. As special envoy and ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, I saw how the United Nations could play an enormously helpful role when represented by talented envoys who are given the right mandate, and when supported by the major powers. In Iraq, the United States supports a larger United Nations role because we believe that with the right envoy and mandate it is the best vehicle to address the two fundamental issues driving the crisis in Iraq.

First, the United Nations has unmatched convening power that can help Iraq's principal communities reach a national compact on the distribution of political and economic power. In the role of mediator, it has inherent legitimacy and the flexibility to talk to all parties, including elements outside the political process. A new United Nations envoy should have a mandate to help Iraqis complete work on a range of issues: the law governing distribution of hydrocarbon revenues, the reform of the de-Baathification law, the review of the Constitution, the plan for demobilization of militias, an agreement for insurgents to give up their armed struggle. The envoy should be empowered to help resolve the status of Kirkuk and disputed internal boundaries and to prepare and monitor provincial elections. Also, the mandate should make it possible for the United Nations to explore potential third-party guarantees that may be needed to induce Iraqi factions to reconcile.

In this role, the United Nations has an added advantage by virtue of its role as co-leader with the Iraqi government of the International Compact for Iraq, an agreement that commits Iraq's leaders to key political steps and policy reforms in exchange for economic and other support from the international community. The influence that the United Nations has over the release of any assistance will give its envoy significant leverage to encourage compromises among Iraqi leaders.

Second, the United Nations is also uniquely suited to work out a regional framework to stabilize Iraq. Several of Iraq's neighbors — not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States — are pursuing destabilizing policies. The United States supports a new mandate that creates a United Nations-led multilateral diplomatic process to contain the regional competition that is adding fuel to the fire of Iraq's internal conflict. This process should build on the work of the expanded neighbors conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in May, where regional powers, as well as members of the Security Council and the eight industrialized nations, began a dialogue on Iraq and established a set of working groups on security, energy and refugees. Going forward, this dialogue should be institutionalized at the ministerial level under the leadership of the secretary general. Also, the United Nations envoy for Iraq should convene a contact group at the subministerial level that will meet regularly to determine whether specific agreements are being carried out.

To do this work, the United Nations will need additional political, financial, logistical and security support from states with interests in the region. In addition, the coalition will need to maintain forces in Iraq to build on the initial positive security results of our new strategy in Iraq, and to work with the United Nations to ensure that the coalition's military strategy supports the internal and regional mediation efforts. The United States recognizes its responsibilities and is prepared to do its part.

While reasonable people can differ on whether the coalition should have intervened against Saddam Hussein's regime, it is clear at this point that the future of Iraq will have a profound effect on the region and, in turn, on peace and stability in the world. The United States endorses Mr. Ban's call for an expanded United Nations role in Iraq to help Iraq become a peaceful, stable country — one that will be a responsible partner in the international community and a force for moderation in the region.

About the Author: Zalmay Khalilzad, ambassador to Iraq from 2005 to April, is the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on the UN Role in Iraq


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.