The top United Nations envoy to Iraq today called on the Iraqi authorities to capture the perpetrators behind the wave of “despicable violent crimes” that have killed and injured hundreds of innocent civilians, “especially the ghastly attacks” on Sadr City in Baghdad yesterday, warning that the very social fabric of the country is at stake.
In a statement issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Ashraf Qazi appealed to all Iraqis “to exercise calm and self-restraint, and together face the challenges that face them to overcome the looming adversity, jointly charting their common future for peace and prosperity.”
He described the crimes as “particularly heinous,”, warning that they can “widen the sectarian divide and thrust the country into a cycle of uncontrollable violence threatening the very social fabric of Iraq or any prospects for a future of peace, tolerance and unity.”
In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Annan also condemned the “heinous” and unjustifiable actions that were clearly aimed at fomenting sectarian strife and further undermining stability and national unity. He urged Iraqis to heed the calls by political and religious leaders from all sides for calm to prevent an escalation, and to engage in a genuine national dialogue that addresses the needs and aspirations of all.
In a related development, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voiced deep concern over five Palestinians, three men and two boys, arrested on Tuesday by Iraqi security forces at Al Tanf border crossing between Iraq and Syria.
The five were among more than 300 Palestinians from Baghdad who have been stranded at a tented site in no man’s-land since early May after fleeing the targeted violence and killings of Palestinians in the capital.
“So far, we have not been able to establish all the facts surrounding the arrest including the arresting authority and detention facility,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, noting in August Iraqi armoured vehicles entered the camp and threatened and intimidated the refugees with their weapons.
“UNHCR has formally approached the Iraqi authorities as well as the [United States-led] Multi-National Forces expressing our concern over these acts of intimidation against the Palestinian group and requesting cooperation to ensure that such incidents are not repeated,” he said.
The Palestinians in Al Tanf are among an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 remaining in Iraq, many of whom have tried to flee fearing persecution. UNHCR has repeatedly appealed to the Iraqi authorities and the Multi-National Forces to provide increased protection for the Palestinians.
It has also appealed to countries in the Arab region, Israel, as well as resettlement countries, to provide a humane, if only temporary, solution for this specifically targeted group. “These appeals have so far yielded few results,” Mr. Redmond said.