While there are still forces in Iraq trying to disrupt reconstruction with deadly violence, they cannot reverse the progress already taking place, with national elections slated for 7 March, but greater international engagement is needed, the top United Nations envoy in the country said today.
Iraq “has made considerable progress but still faces tremendous challenges,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Ad Melkert told journalists after briefing the Security Council on Mr. Ban’s latest report on the situation in Iraq.
“Generally speaking, I should say that the elections are on track in terms of their technical preparation. Still, a lot needs to be done. Security remains a big challenge to all, to the Iraqis in the first place, but also to the international community.”
In his address to the Council, Mr. Melkert said that despite the forces seeking “to interfere violently in the reconstruction and reconciliation” process, the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people wants it to succeed. “Whilst regrettably these forces continue to kill and target innocent pilgrims, public servants, police officers and election candidates, they cannot reverse the progress that is taking place in Iraq,” he added.
“The determination of Iraqis to resist the return of the perils of the past is real and strong, stronger than the heinous forces behind the attacks. However, more international attention and engagement is needed for allowing the people of Iraq to determine their future in their own way.”
In a press statement read out by Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency for February, the 15-member body called for the elections to be “free, fair, transparent, legitimate and inclusive with broad participation in order for the results to reflect the will of the Iraqi people and be accepted by them.”
Mr. Melkert cautioned against “persistent scepticism and impatience” in discussing Iraq, noting that while there are “imperfections, gaps and contradictions,” that is not the heart of the matter given the decades of conflicts and crimes that have gravely affected the country.
“The crux is now to see whether there is a genuine effort under way to reconstruct and innovate,” he said. “This is what in many different ways is happening and deserves to be seen and properly understood, unprecedented as it is on the axe of a long and distinguished history.”
Citing the lack of transparency in the disqualification of hundreds of candidates on grounds of their links to the ousted Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, he said reasons for concern remained but the impact should be assessed in the context of the electoral process as a whole.
“We have strongly advised on a transparent and consistent process,” he told reporters afterwards.
He also called for full transparency and combating corruption in revitalizing the oil industry, the country’s main source of revenue, as a major issue for improving investors' confidence.
Turning to the support that the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) is providing for the elections, Mr. Melkert cited the “huge collective effort” that has put in place the infrastructure to allow some 18.9 million Iraqi voters to visit 48,000 polling stations on election day and noted that security “is of vital consideration” both for the integrity of the polls and voter confidence.
Highlighting the “pivotal role” that observation of the electoral process plays in ensuring credibility, he stressed the active UN role in funding the training of more than 29,000 domestic observers, while international observers are being coordinated by the European Union (EU).
Although UNAMI will not observe the elections due to its role of supporting the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), it will undertake its own poll-watching activities, sending teams to different locations in the country as a confidence-building initiative.
“Acceptance of results is of paramount importance, and will be the litmus test for the success or failure of the process,” he said. “UNAMI is supporting IHEC in developing a robust and timely complaints mechanism to ensure the credibility of the results is not eroded by a delay in adjudication of complaints.”
Also of paramount importance for the near future is cementing long-term stability between the federal State and the Kurdish region, which have been divided on issues of borders and economic development.
Once a new government starts its work in the course of the year, the UN can look to transforming its support from primarily humanitarian tasks into a more development and policy reform-oriented advisory role, Mr. Melkert said.
These include four key areas: post-election activities including census and civil registration; broader engagement on disputed internal boundaries; reform of the public distribution system and the development of social safety nets; and water resources management and relevant issues of trans-border cooperation.