IT was only a small step for UN-kind but Friday's Security Council resolution to increase the role of the UN in Iraq by doubling its representation there to about 100 staff was an important symbolic occasion for the UN as well as the practical beginning of an itermediary role that could grow in importance as the US and British forces begin to leave the country.

The resolution, sponsored jointly by Britain and the United States, was passed unanimously. It calls for a UN mission to Baghdad to “advise, support and assist the government and people of Iraq on advancing their inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliatikon.” In practice this means trying to get Iraq's Shia and Sunni Muslims to work together, something that Iraq's politicans have utterly failed to achieve, and tackling the humanitarian crisis that persists in the country; another task will be to persuade some of Iraq's neighbours, Saudi Arabia for instance, to be more helpful. It is a tall order and even small progress will be a major achievement. A critically important factor will be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's choice of a special envoy to lead the new initiative; equally important will be guarantees of security for the UN team whether provided by the United States or Iraqi services. The UN will be engaged in a race against time to achieve some national reconciliation in Iraq before the occupying powers depart and leave the country to its own, and others, devices.