Recent political and democratic gains in Iraq will seem hollow to the country’s people unless its leaders produce the benefits that they have promised, the top United Nations envoy to Iraq told the Security Council.
Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), briefed Council members on the latest developments in Iraq, where a national partnership Government was formed in December after nine months of political stalemate.
“While Iraq has made remarkable strides in its democratic transition in recent years, which included the adoption of a constitution, credible national elections, a broad national partnership government and an opening environment for media and civil society, the people of Iraq are now demanding the dividends that were promised by their leaders,” he said.
Protests have been taking place in Iraq since late February, part of the wider pro-democracy movement that has emerged across the Middle East and North Africa this year.
Mr. Melkert said the protesters have legitimate concerns about the lack of job opportunities, the delivery of basic services and the accountability of those in power.
“Unless these demands are addressed, the political and democratic gains made thus far may seem hollow to ordinary Iraqis,” he noted, adding that the new Government faces a significant challenge in trying to achieve the demands.
Meeting the burgeoning aspirations of young people in Iraq, where almost four-fifths of the population is under the age of 35, and nearly half are under 15, will be critical, the Special Representative said.
“Youth constitute over 50 per cent of the total unemployment rate, [or] about one million people. In addition, less than 40 per cent of children are enrolled in school after their primary education, and only 21 per cent are enrolled in the last two years of secondary school. These statistics paint a picture of a young population with few prospects for the future.”
UNAMI and UN agencies working in Iraq have developed a list of projects that could be fast-tracked to tackle some of Iraq’s biggest challenges, such as youth employment, access to water and waste management.
Mr. Melkert praised the efforts of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to take action on several fronts, including fighting corruption and cutting defence expenditure.
But he warned that the country’s stability is still under pressure, with terrorist attacks continuing and sectarian tensions lingering.
“While the overall trend of security incidents in recent months suggest a downward slope, still, an average of 25 incidents per day was reported over the last month.
“Yet the Government, security forces and society continue their efforts to make decisive progress towards stability and normalization. As US [United States] forces prepare to leave, Iraq should not be forgotten and the international community should stand ready to continue support.”
In a Newsmaker interview with the UN News Centre, Mr. Melkert said he saw Iraq pointing in the overall right direction, despite the ongoing security and economic concerns he outlined to the Council.
Iraqis “want to retake their lives, to organize them in a way that they deem fit and I think that more and more they’re succeeding in that. There are definitely also parts of the country that are relatively safe and normal life has returned.”
Speaking to the Council, he said he had observed “the start of removing endless lines of concrete T-walls over the past months… Increasingly, the prospect for Baghdadis and residents in other parts of the country to regain the space and beauty of their cities seems no longer a dream of the past.”