The increasingly sectarian nature of violence in Iraq, the continued lack of security, and ongoing human rights violations pose key challenges as the country prepares to go to the polls next week, underscoring the need for the communities to reach out to each other, according to a United Nations report released today.
“The fact that the political process has remained on target against an ambitious timetable is a considerable achievement in itself given the difficult conditions in which it has taken place,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in his report to the Security Council, voicing satisfaction that the UN was able to support the Iraqi people at every step of the process.
“Despite these benchmarks, however, Iraq today remains beset with formidable security, political and economic challenges. The forthcoming election and formation of a new permanent government will not mark the end of the country’s political transition, but rather the beginning of a new phase in which responsible politics and leadership will make the difference between success and failure,” he adds.
The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has been providing humanitarian relief and support for the political transition, including help in organizing the elections and a constitutional referendum, since the end of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, and Mr. Annan pledges that this will continue despite all the difficulties.
“The security environment continues to constrain both the Organization’s presence and its ability to operate effectively in Iraq,” he writes in the quarterly report.
“In order to provide United Nations staff members with the best security possible, and therefore ensure that the Organization is able to maintain a presence in Iraq, we have had to introduce a number of mitigating and protective measures in place which are both expensive and time-consuming.”
But the main thrust of the report concerns the need for national reconciliation in the war-torn country, where Shiite Arabs make up a majority of the population, which also includes Sunni Arabs – the dominant force under Saddam – and Kurds, who have enjoyed a wide measure of autonomy since the 1991 Gulf War.
The most positive development over the past quarter has been the determination of the Sunni Arabs, who largely stayed away from last January’s elections to a transitional assembly, to “make their voice heard through engagement in the political process,” he writes, and he praises the Arab League for organizing a preparatory meeting for an Iraqi national accord conference scheduled for February.
“Provided with adequate space and support from outside, the Iraqi parties have demonstrated their capacity to engage collectively in dialogue over difficult issues,” he says. “The United Nations will continue to work closely with the League and the Iraqi Government to ensure that these discussions continue.”
On the continuing lack of security, the Secretary-General cites “an increasingly sophisticated and complex insurgency, underscored by high levels of violence, intimidation and murder.”
He also notes that the human rights situation “continues to warrant grave concern.”
“Ongoing armed-group attacks, violent crime, arbitrary arrests on a large scale and allegations of mistreatment in detention centres constitute major human rights violations,” he says, citing charges of execution-style killings and torture against Iraqi Special Forces and large-scale displacements of civilians due to operations by the Iraqi army and the United States-led Multinational Forces, including air attacks resulting in non-combatant deaths.