Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power chose an auspicious day to give her first "Sergio talk" -- a discussion of her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, Tuesday afternoon at The New America Foundation. Power's book is a chronicle of the life and influence of Vieira de Mello, the career UN diplomat tragically killed in August 2003 after a suicide bombing of the UN's headquarters in Baghdad. While the UN has bravely continued to operate in Iraq, the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) -- the agency to which Vieira de Mello dedicated much of his career -- has until now worked almost entirely out of Amman, Jordan. Wednesday, however, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres announced that he would send the organization's first representative to Baghdad since Vieira de Mello's premature death.
The weight of UNHCR's responsibility -- dealing with over 2 million refugees in Syria and Jordan, as well as an even greater number displaced within Iraq, all with a Baghdad staff that will soon increase to just five -- underscores the courage with which the UN has conducted its mission in Iraq. Despite a persistent lack of security, the UN has nonetheless taken on some of the greatest challenges in Iraq and contributed to some of the country's most tangible successes. As Power reminded listeners at yesterday's talk, the indelible images of Iraqis proudly showing their purple hands, stained with the ink from their ballots, trace directly back to the UN's crucial role organizing Iraq's landmark elections.