Several days ago, Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates on a visit to Iraq suggested that some US troops might remain in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline for withdrawal if the Iraqi government requested it. But yesterday, the UN's official representative in Iraq, former Dutch political leader, Ad Melkert, told a forum sponsored by the International Peace Institute in New York City that the UN is operating on the assumption that all American forces will be gone by the end of this year. Melkert said that the UN, in any case, would not be involved in any decisions relating to a US force remaining in Iraq. That is the sovereign determination of the Iraqi government, he explained. Meantime, Melkert, who was appointed by the UN in 2009, painted a picture of a country that is gradually starting to normalize, but is still beset by unpredictable violence and governance issues. "The main problems today," he stated, "are the need for better services, more jobs, improved infrastructure and an end to corruption." What is easing the transition is that Iraq is now more integrated into the Middle East than it has been in decades. He suggested that the Iraqi government is now likely to extend the UN's mandate in the country in its work on various nation-building tasks, including reconciliation efforts, election aid, development help, and refugee matters.