Under pressure from the US to take a bigger role in stabilizing Iraq, the UN agreed on Friday to expand its mission despite unrelenting violence that could complicate its work.
The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1770, which calls for the UN mission to "advise, support and assist" the Iraqi government on a wide range of issues, but "as circumstances permit."
The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), whose mandate was extended by one year, will advise Baghdad on political, economic, legal and human rights among other issues.
These activities are common for the world body, but usually take place in post-conflict situations. Violence rages on in Iraq more than four years after the US-led invasion.
The UN has allowed a maximum of 65 staffers to reside in Iraq since it ordered most personnel out after its Baghdad office was hit on Aug. 19, 2003, by a truck bomb that killed 22 people, most notably special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Currently there are only 55 UN staffers in the country, 50 in Baghdad and five in Basra. Some 235 UNAMI-affiliated staffers work out of Jordan and Kuwait.
The Security Council has expanded the mission despite resistance from UN employees concerned by the persistent security problems.
In a statement on Tuesday, the UN Staff Council called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "not to deploy any additional staff members to Iraq and to remove those currently serving in Baghdad until such time as the security situation and environment improves."
Ban said after the council vote that the safety of the UN staff in Iraq "will remain a paramount concern." And the US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said that his country "will do its part to ensure that the UN security and resources needs are met."
The US-British-drafted resolution also underscores the US-led multinational force in Iraq's "important role" in supporting the UN's mission, especially in providing safety for its staff.