U.S. troops may be leaving Iraqi cities…

…but the UN is staying. Almost 500 international personnel (and again that many Iraqis) work for the UN in Iraq, maintaining a key presence in cities like Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk. And as pretty much everyone acknowledges, what’s most important for the country in the coming months is national dialogue, political reconciliation, and regional cooperation — the very areas where the neutral brokers wearing the blue berets are taking the lead.

Somewhat ominously, though, the reasons why the UN is going to be so important in Iraq are also the reasons why its job might become even more difficult — and dangerous. I know that today, June 30, is more symbolic than anything else, but with the gradual drawdown of U.S. forces, UN officers are losing their primary source of security. August 2003 showed us what can happen when UN outposts are not sufficiently protected, and, unfortunately, insurgents are not likely to shy away from targeting UN blue. With the departure of the most prominent targets — U.S. military — I worry that, in addition to terrorizing civilians, spoilers may increase their attacks on UN personnel.

Here’s what the UN’s outgoing Special Representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, had to say about today’s Day of National Sovereignty:

While the Iraqi people and government is today celebrating the withdrawal of the MNF-I forces from Iraqi cities, towns and villages the SRSG said that “what has been achieved is a real source for congratulation. I know that the Government is fully aware of what remains to be done in providing better services to the people, greater inclusiveness at many levels, and improved security for all. But significant progress has been achieved on many fronts. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq has worked hard to contribute to this progress in a number of areas, and my colleagues who will remain behind in the country are totally dedicated to continuing these efforts.”

(image of Fijian members of UNAMI, from UN Photo)