August 11, 2007 in Nation/World

Broader role in Iraq OK’d by U.N. panel

Edith M. Lederer Associated Press

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Security forces win U.S. praise

» BAGHDAD – A car bomb killed at least eight people in a northern Kurdish area Friday, but Baghdad remained largely calm with a driving ban still in effect and thousands of Shiite pilgrims headed home.

» U.S. military officials praised the performance of Iraqi security forces during the pilgrimage Thursday, which saw hundreds of thousands of Shiites march to a northern Baghdad shrine, undisturbed by any major violence.

» The driving ban and curfew imposed on Baghdad for three days was to lift at dawn today.

» “They have done an absolutely amazing job,” said Col. John Castles, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82 Airborne Division, speaking of Iraqi forces who protected the march.

» “We have been in solely a support role, in the background only. And this is something that the Iraqis planned themselves, coordinated and then executed, over a span of three or four days,” Castles said.

UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council voted unanimously Friday to expand the U.N. role in Iraq and opened the door for the world body to promote talks to ease Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed.

The broader U.N. initiatives on Iraq – which could begin next month – were supported by Washington in an apparent bid to bring together Iraqi factions and neighboring countries under an international umbrella rather than struggling on its own to bridge the many religious, ethnic and strategic battles opened by the five-year-old war.

The Bush administration is also seeking ways to boost the embattled government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has been paralyzed by internal political feuds.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hopes to organize a meeting of foreign ministers from the region at U.N. headquarters in late September on the sidelines of an annual General Assembly meeting. The United Nations will also be urging discussions among different Iraqi factions, ethnic and religious groups, he said.

The resolution authorizes the United Nations – at the request of the Iraqi government – to promote political talks among Iraqis, a regional dialogue on issues including border security, energy and refugees, as well as help tackling the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis, which has spilled into neighboring countries.

The United States and Britain, co-sponsors of the resolution, believe the world body should do more to use its perceived neutrality to promote dialogue on Iraq.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. envoy to Iraq, has said, for example, that Iraq’s top Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, won’t talk to the Americans but he will talk to the U.N. envoy, Ashraf Qazi.

But Khalilzad stressed that the resolution is not a substitute for the U.S. commitment to Iraq.

“The United States will continue to shoulder all of its responsibilities to assist Iraq’s government and people,” he said.

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