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International community must quickly build on Iraq’s recent progress – UN envoy

International community must quickly build on Iraq’s recent progress – UN envoy

The international community should seize the opportunity offered by recent security and political improvements in Iraq to push ahead with stabilization and reconciliation efforts, the top United Nations official in the violence-torn country said today.

“The political and security terrain remains undoubtedly complex, inextricably linked, and prima facie quite daunting,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council.

“The risks and challenges are not lost on us; we are neither immune nor oblivious. But this is the time, if any, to be proactive, where positive momentum has been gained,” he said in presenting Mr. Ban’s latest report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Summarizing the “bottom line” of the report at a later news briefing, Mr. de Mistura highlighted four positive “surges” and two major concerns. Firstly, he said, “we have witnessed a security surge, there is no question of that. We are seeing it in the streets, we move in the red zone we go around in Iraq and we have been noticing a substantial improvement. No question – 60 per cent decrease of the violence.”

The second positive trend is the economic surge, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reporting a 7 per cent increase expected for 2008 and 200,000 additional barrels of oil a day, “but also what we have been detecting in the streets of Baghdad again, when shops are being opened, when things are taking place that were not taking place before,” he added.

Thirdly, after much concern and many misgivings at the beginning of the year, there has been a political surge with the “long overdue” law on de-Baathification. “That is a very good step in the right direction,” he said of the measure which would allow some reintegration of people who served under ousted president Saddam Hussein, also citing the current “serious discussions” on reintegrating Sunnis in the Government.

The fourth positive development is the UN surge. “We are with a strong mandate, we are in Erbil (in the north), Baghdad, Basra, we are currently having a mission in Kirkuk and we are seriously, actively involved in many areas we were not before,” he added.

He cited UN involvement with the central authorities in Baghdad and the leaders of the Kurdish region to cooperate to avoid further violence over the delay in a referendum over the city of Kirkuk and disputed internal boundaries.

Turning to the two major concerns, Mr. de Mistura underscored the need to sustain “all this good news” through dialogue and actions among the Iraqis, including progress on amnesty laws and the need for economic improvement to percolate quickly down to the people in the form of social services, sanitation, electricity and water.

The second major concern is the race against time in 2008. “These 12 months need to be well utilized in order to proceed accordingly,” he said.

Detailing the reasons for the improved security, Mr. de Mistura cited the additional United States and coalition troops brought in at the time when violence was getting out of control, the role of the 73,000-strong Sunni Awakening Councils in fighting Al-Qaida militants, the crucial ceasefire by Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, and the Iraqi people’s fatigue with the violence.

“But in the background we all are convinced there has been a very helpful role of neighbouring countries, particularly Iran, in advising everyone that the time for the moment of dialogue is now,” he said.

In his speech to the Council, Mr. de Mistura stressed that the Iraqi Government cannot be left alone to tackle the structural, political and security challenges it faces. “It requires the commitment of the United Nations, the unremitting assistance of the international community and the constructive re-engagement of its neighbours,” he said.