By: John Boonstra on August 14, 2008 At a ceremony honoring the 22 people who died in the horrific bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad five years, the head of the UN mission in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, pledged that the UN would continue to step up its work in the country. “What we are doing at the moment is sending a signal that the U.N. is back. The U.N. is back to stay. The U.N. is back to have its footprint increasing, its activities increasing.” U.N. officials say there are about 350 international civilian and military staff members across the country, and that the number of civilian foreign staff members increased by 30 percent over the last year. As the situation in Iraq shifts, so too is the direction of the UN’s support. [Officials] say their focus has shifted from bricks-and-mortar projects, such as building schools, to training and advising Iraqi ministries and officials. With violence at four-year lows across Iraq, the United Nations is also venturing further into the tempestuous world of Iraqi politics. The only way to consolidate the possible benefits of this decreased violence, of course, is through ramped up efforts at political reconciliation. Upcoming provincial elections — likely to be delayed from October until early next year because of, among other factors, the difficulty of negotiating a referendum over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — are crucial to Iraq’s political progress, and, as others have noted, the UN is in the best position to take the lead in this endeavor.