New hope for Iraq after years of war, Secretary-General tells Compact meeting
Iraq is making “notable progress” in the security, political and economic fields, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the annual review conference of the International Compact with Iraq today.
“If I were asked to use one word to describe the situation in Iraq today, I would choose the word ‘hope,’” Mr. Ban said, speaking in Stockholm to the meeting on the Compact, the five-year plan to promote peace and development in the strife-torn country.
“There is new hope that the people and Government of Iraq are overcoming daunting challenges and working together to rebuild their country, after years of war, dictatorship and neglect,” he added, addressing an audience that included the Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri Al-Maliki.
Because of concerted efforts by the Government and others, Mr. Ban said there had been steady progress in strengthening Iraqi security forces and in curbing the activities of militias and other armed groups.
“Iraq is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most,” he added, noting that violence had retreated from the alarming levels of 2006 and early 2007.
Striking a note of caution, the Secretary-General said that the situation in the country remains fragile and he also stressed that it was essential to build professional security forces that are trusted by all Iraqi communities and capable of operating in a non-sectarian manner.
On the political front, Mr. Ban again noted that there is cause for hope, citing as successes several new laws introduced by the Government, including laws on justice and reconciliation, amnesty, provincial powers and the 2008 budget.
He urged Iraqi communities to work together to resolve fundamental issues that continue to divide them, including the federal structure of Iraq and the sharing of natural resources. He encouraged Iraqi leaders to finalize pending laws which he said were critical for national reconciliation, such as the draft electoral and hydrocarbon laws.
The Secretary-General described the engagement with the Awakening Councils in Iraq’s Anbar province as a fine example of building interaction with groups that are willing to renounce violence and enter into dialogue.
“Integrating them into the security forces, workforce, and political mainstream could significantly help pave the way for national reconciliation,” he said.
On the economy, Mr. Ban said the signs were also hopeful, citing estimates from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the economy has expanded since last year.
But he added that there are still too many citizens who lack clean water and sanitation, electricity and fuel, and access to proper health care and education. He noted that there are also vast numbers of Iraqi refugees as well as hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who require urgent assistance.
Saying that he had often been reminded by his Iraqi counterparts that Iraq is not a poor country, Mr. Ban called on the Government to consider ways of spending more of its own resources to improve the lives of its people.
For its part, the Secretary-General said the United Nations remains committed to doing all it can to support the people and Government of Iraq.
At the end of today’s conference delegates adopted the Stockholm Declaration and the Secretary-General summed up by saying that there was a recognition that more needs to be done and that diplomatic and trade relations with Iraq should be expanded.
“In this way,” he said, “we can move the Compact to a new level of cooperation, and provide a valuable addition to the architecture of peace and stability in Iraq.”
Speaking to reporters after the conference, Mr. Ban said he was encouraged that participants had affirmed their support for the Compact as well as their intention to promote investment and trade. They had also accepted the Iraqi Government’s six-point proposal for a “Partnership for Development,” he added.
Asked about a proposal to hold the next Compact meeting in Baghdad next year, the Secretary-General said he was quite confident that the Government would be able to stage the event there and said he was looking forward to it.