With barely two weeks left before Iraq holds elections for a provisional national assembly which will appoint a new government and write a constitution, top United Nations officials today called for the poll to be as inclusive as possible despite the violence in the war-wracked country.
"I have always made clear that the elections must be as inclusive as possible if, as I hope, they are to contribute positively to the political transition in Iraq," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a news conference in Mauritius, where he attended a conference on small island developing States.
"Even at this late stage, outreach to the Arab nationalist component of society, especially the Sunni Arabs, is critical to this. I encourage the Government to intensify its efforts, and I know the Government is making efforts in this direction," he said.
"I encourage all Iraqis to exercise their democratic right to vote. Iraq needs as broad-based a government as possible for a successful transition," he added, stressing that it was clear that the vast majority of Iraqis are eager to vote although "it is equally obvious that the conditions in which the election is being held are far from ideal."
He noted that there would be attempts at intimidation and there had been regrettable violence but efforts were being made to pull in as many people as possible.
Meanwhile Mr. Annan's Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, continued his tour of Middle Eastern countries in an effort to ensure the success of the transitional process, holding talks with Iraqi political figures based in Lebanon as well as with Lebanese officials, and focusing on the UN's role in providing assistance to the Iraqi people on both the political and humanitarian levels.
Accompanied by his deputy, Staffan de Mistura, Mr. Qazi met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud for detailed discussions, and at a news encounter afterwards he stressed the need for all Iraqis to participate in the elections which he said represented a milestone in the political process.
Mr. Qazi emphasized the importance of continuing efforts to broaden dialogue among segments of all Iraqis to ensure a broad based and inclusive political process that will bring all Iraqis together to rebuild their country on the basis of democracy and equal rights for all.
Mr Qazi, who earlier met with leading Lebanese Shia'a cleric Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadllala, Monsignor Michel Jassar, archbishop of the Chaldean Church, and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, leaves Lebanon tomorrow for Syria.