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As ‘major catastrophe’ looms over Iraq, UN envoy urges regional approach to peace

As ‘major catastrophe’ looms over Iraq, UN envoy urges regional approach to peace

SRSG Ashraf Qazi
With Iraq at the brink of civil war, some 5,000 people dying each month and a major humanitarian catastrophe looming, the senior United Nations envoy to the country today said the region and the international community must come together in support of a solution.

“There is no merit in arguments that assume pessimistic outcomes in Iraq because for the people of Iraq, failure is not an option,” Ashraf Qazi told the Security Council. “A collective international and regional initiative in support of the efforts of the Government of Iraq to reduce the current levels of violence and resolve key issues is the only way forward.”

Mr. Qazi offered a blunt assessment of the ongoing instability in Iraq. “Efforts made by the Government of Iraq and the Multinational Force have not prevented a continuous deterioration of the security situation which, if not reversed, will progressively undermine Iraq’s political prospects,” he said.

Recent initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue “have had no impact on the violence and bloodshed,” he added. “The violence seems out of control.”

Given the current conditions, “it is not realistic to expect the Government and Parliament to bring about progress without the active cooperation of the regional and international community,” he warned. Reliance on the use of force alone, he added, “could indeed preclude negotiated compromise, the only sound basis for stability.”

The envoy called for a broad approach involving Iraq’s main neighbours and the permanent members of the Security Council. “The structure of the situation in and around Iraq requires that all regional countries see it is in their interest to contribute to the peace and unity of Iraq as a matter of priority and to participate in efforts to ensure that their contributions collectively assist the Government and people of Iraq.”

Toward that end, he welcomed Iraq’s decision to send envoys to its neighbours and prepare the ground for a regional conference.

He emphasized the reconciliation process must address sensitive issues, not shy away from them. These include a fair sharing of oil revenues; a realistic sharing of powers enabling the central government to deliver essential services; the development of trusted and respected Iraqi security forces; the disabling of militias and other illegal armed groups; the protection of human rights; a functioning judiciary; and the fostering of non-sectarian politics.

In addition, there must be a way to discuss the role of the multinational force “as a key component of a national reconciliation process.”

In calling for these measures, Mr. Qazi cited statistics illustrating the stark problems facing Iraq, where more than 5,000 people die violent deaths each month and nearly half a million have been internally displaced since February. “In the event of a further deterioration of the security situation, a major humanitarian and refugee catastrophe may ensue.”

Speaking on behalf of the 25 countries making up the Multinational Forces-Iraq (MNF-I), Ambassador Jackie W. Sanders of the United States acknowledged that security remains a grave concern. “Sunni insurgent attacks against the Iraqi Security Forces and MNF-I remain at high levels, and the forces continue to experience attacks from armed Shia groups, especially in the Baghdad region,” she said. “At the same time, sectarian violence, much of it directed toward civilians, has increased.”

She said the UN continues to play a “crucial role” in Iraq's stability and development. “A robust UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) presence remains essential to supporting Iraqi efforts, including on national reconciliation, constitutional review and future provincial elections,” she told the meeting, which saw the participation of over a dozen speakers.

“Iraq’s stability and security is a regional issue, as well as an international issue, and Iraq’s neighbours have an important role to play. We call on the entire international community to support Iraq’s sovereign Government and assist efforts for a democratic, united and prosperous Iraq.”

Hamid Al Bayati of Iraq said his Government would resolutely challenge those seeking to undermine the democratic process. “To defend the political process in Iraq is to defend international legality,” he said, pledging that the Iraqi people would emerge victorious over terrorists and preserve the unity of their land.

Political consensus is the only way to end the security deterioration, he said. A national conference involving different Iraqi political forces is planned for the future. “Any call for an international or regional conference that goes in the same direction will be welcomed… however, if the purpose is to circumvent the gains achieved by the Iraqi people and to take the political process back to square one, that would be unacceptable.”