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Ban Ki-moon reports decline in Iraq violence, plans stepped up UN role

Ban Ki-moon reports decline in Iraq violence, plans stepped up UN role

A new report on Iraq by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sees a moment of opportunity for achieving progress amid declining violence, and envisages an expanded United Nations role in support of this goal.

September witnessed the lowest level of Iraqi casualties in 2007, according to Mr. Ban’s latest report to the Security Council on the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), released today.

“There is now an opportunity that should not be missed,” declares Mr. Ban. He attributes the declining attacks to the ceasefire by the Mahdi Army and adds that the Sunni insurgent allegiance against Al-Qaida “holds significant political potential as well.”

The challenge ahead is to focus on transforming the more positive military developments into a basis for national reconciliation, according to the report, which acknowledges the devastation caused by “ongoing daily attacks, continued high levels of displacement and political gridlock.”

While the Iraqi people are chiefly responsible for achieving this transformation, Mr. Ban pledges the UN’s readiness “to assist them to that end.”

The Secretary-General welcomes the expansion by the Council of UNAMI’s mandate and says the UN is “vigorously planning practical and immediate steps” to carry it out.

Last month, following a high-level meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, Mr. Ban announced that there would be a “modest” increase in the number of UN staff in Iraq as soon as facilities were ready to accommodate them in safety and security. Specifically, he said there would an increase in the staffing level in Erbil, and that the UN was considering adding a presence in Basra.

In today’s report, he says the UN had increased the staff ceiling in Baghdad and Erbil, adding, “I am also considering ways to improve outreach to the provinces, including the re-establishment of a small United Nations presence in Basra.”

At a press briefing in New York, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe said that the ceiling for international civilian staff in Baghdad has been raised from 65 to 85, while there are now 30 international staff in Erbil.

The report says the UN is “prepared to do more” to advance an inclusive political dialogue and stands ready to assist in the successful completion of the constitutional review and in drafting key constitutionally mandated legislation. It also underscores the need for international support to bolster UN efforts to carry out the demanding tasks ahead.

At the same time, Mr. Ban repeats his long-standing call for the constructive engagement of Iraq’s neighbouring countries, and those in the region. “Regional cooperation must reinforce the efforts made by leaders inside the country and avoid exacerbating tensions,” he cautions.

“Political compromise and genuine attempts to work across ethnic, sectarian, and political lines are needed now more than ever,” says Mr. Ban.