Pakistan's ambassador to Washington appears to have the edge as Secretary-General Kofi Annan's top envoy for Iraq, diplomats said on Thursday. 

 

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, who has been in his post in Washington for nearly two years, has been on Annan's short list for about a week as his special representative in Iraq.

 

The post has been empty since the bombing attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad last August that killed 22 people, including the head of the mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

 

Annan was to have made a decision last week but diplomats

said his extensive travel this month was a prime cause for the

delay. Earlier he had difficulty finding a qualified candidate

because of the precarious safety conditions in Iraq. 

 

India's Salman Haider, a former deputy foreign minister, had been considered the front-runner but the diplomats said Qazi is now under serious consideration. They said Annan first wanted to speak to government leaders of candidates involved

before announcing his choice.

 

Qazi served as Pakistan's high commissioner to India as well as ambassador to China, Russia, the former East Germany and Syria.

 

He has held diplomatic assignments in Copenhagen, Tokyo, Cairo, Egypt, Tripoli and London. He has a master's degree in economics.

 

Special UN guard

 

A special UN force was expected to guard UN staff, with diplomats saying fresh troops had volunteered from Nepal, Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. But Annan has made clear the UN operation would be a small one. 

 

Some envoys said Annan was hoping for troops from Pakistan

or India if Qazi or Haider were named.

 

Senior UN officials have commuted to Baghdad since foreign staff was withdrawn.

 

Special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi, who for months has said he

was not interested in the post, helped form the interim

government that took power on June 28. UN elections chief

Carina Perelli has also spent considerable time in Baghdad.