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Time ripe for collective action on Iraq: Ban Ki-moon

Time ripe for collective action on Iraq: Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon (R) and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today emerged from a high-level meeting on Iraq he convened with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki calling for international action to help the country and pledging full UN support in this effort.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today emerged from a high-level meeting on Iraq he convened with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki calling for international action to help the country and pledging full United Nations support in this effort.

“We face numerous challenges in Iraq, and today it was clear that the time for determined collective action has come. This meeting has helped to promote a stronger partnership between the international community and Iraq,” Mr. Ban told a news conference.

“The United Nations is committed to supporting this partnership,” he declared.

“The meeting was very positive,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki. Participants, he said, underlined the progress accomplished by Iraq and offered their support.

The meeting was attended by senior officials from Iraq’s neighbouring countries, the Permanent Members of the Security Council, the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries, major donors, Egypt, Bahrain, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the European Union. Most delegations were represented at the level of Foreign Minister.

“There was a very positive and supportive tone from all the participants at the meeting. And there was strong Iraqi support for an enhanced UN role within the framework of the new mandate in Security Council resolution 1770,” Mr. Ban said.

Adopted last month, that resolution extended for one more year the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and foresaw an expanded UN role in the country.

Responding to questions at today’s news conference, the Secretary-General said the world body is well-placed to help Iraq but cautioned that any expansion of its presence there would be contingent on security conditions.

“The UN has a competitive advantage in political facilitation and promoting national reconciliation and also socio-economic reconstruction. These are the areas the UN will focus on in expanding our role there,” he said.

He said a “modest” increase in the number of staff in Iraq will be made as soon as facilities are ready to accommodate them in safety and security.

Mr. Ban added that there will be an increase in the number of staff in Erbil, and the UN is considering adding a presence in Basra.

The Secretary-General said that following on preparatory talks earlier this month, he also proposed the establishment of a “support office” in Baghdad to facilitate coordination between Iraq and neighbouring governments.

The proposal was met with a “positive response,” he said, anticipating that it would be finalized at a planned expanded ministerial meeting to be held next month in Istanbul.

“The safety and security of our staff is of paramount interest and importance to us,” Mr. Ban emphasized.

Reviewing the results of the closed-door meeting, he said there was an emphasis by many speakers on the UN’s key role in helping to promote national reconciliation.

“Neighbouring States pledged their support for a stronger UN role in promoting regional cooperation. In this context, many speakers also stressed the need for strengthened border security,” he said.

Iraq’s stability, all agreed, “is our common concern,” he added.

The Iraqi Prime Minister said security can be built not through military means but “through the goodwill of the components of Iraqi society.”

Mr. Ban drew attention to the humanitarian crisis facing Iraq, voicing “serious concern” about the number of Iraqi refugees and displaced persons. The UN has estimated that over 4.2 million Iraqis have been uprooted, with 2 million fleeing to neighbouring countries and 2.2 million displaced within their home country.

“While neighbouring host countries have extended a helping hand to deal with the humanitarian crisis, their capacities are now strained to extreme levels,” Mr. Ban said, calling for efforts to “ensure that adequate assistance is mobilized and delivered to those in need.”

While noting that the UN “is already doing much to support and coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance” he stressed that “more can be done.”

Through UNAMI, established in 2003, the UN has worked to assist the Government and people of Iraq by promoting dialogue, assisting in the holding of two national elections and a referendum, supporting the drafting of the Iraqi constitution, contributing to the coordination of humanitarian assistance and promoting the protection of human rights.

UNAMI is led by the newly appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, who succeeded Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, now the senior UN envoy to Sudan. Mr. Qazi’s predecessor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was among 22 UN staff members killed by a suicide bomb attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003.

This attack led to a re-location of UN international staff from Iraq. Staff began returning, under heightened security, in April 2004. Currently there are nearly 300 UN international staff and 393 national staff serving in Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan.