28 April 2008
Security Council
SC/9311

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5878th Meeting (AM)


UNITED NATIONS ‘DOING ITS BEST’ IN IRAQ IN MIDST OF PAINFUL NATIONAL TRANSITION,


UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL


Iraq’s Representative Highlights Government Efforts to Promote Reconstruction,

Reconciliation; Council Members Stress Need to Help Iraqis Resolve Key Divisions


Prompting debate in the Security Council today with a briefing on the situation in Iraq, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that he had returned from a recent visit there “absolutely convinced that the United Nations was doing its best” in a country undergoing a painful transition.


During his meetings with Iraqi and other interlocutors, he said there had been a common theme:  all had expressed appreciation for the enhanced role of the United Nations in the country.  The Organization’s presence in Baghdad had been increased to 140 and in Erbil to 40 international staff.  An outreach programme had placed nine national liaison officers in each of the Governor’s offices, and the presence in Basra had been re-established.  Expanding the United Nations presence to Najaf, Ramadi and Kirkuk was also being contemplated.


The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the country team had adopted an area-based approach that expanded activities where circumstances were permissible, he noted.  The Mission also strove to become more self-sufficient and planned to build a new integrated headquarters in Baghdad.


Mr. Pascoe also reiterated the Secretary-General’s belief that whatever one’s previous views on Iraq, the whole world had a responsibility and an interest today in helping bring peace and prosperity to the people of Iraq.  The challenges of national reconciliation, reconstruction and development after decades of dictatorship and war, were massive, but he was impressed by the seriousness and commitment of the Iraqi Government to address those challenges.  That was a long-term endeavour that required sustained international support.  The United Nations was committed to playing its full part in accordance with resolution 1770 (2007).


Reporting on behalf of the Multinational Force, the United States representative said that his country agreed with the Iraqi people on the goal of achieving a secure, unified and democratic Iraq that could govern, defend and sustain itself.  The security situation had improved since the last report, and the level of violence nationwide was significantly lower than in the summer of 2007.  Additionally, there had been a steady decline in ethno-sectarian violence due to both the increased presence of Iraqi and Coalition forces along sectarian fault lines and the decreased effectiveness of the enemy to reignite the cycles of violence.  Iraq must capitalize on the gains made with the improved security situation by taking increased responsibility for its affairs.


Thirty-three countries supported security in Iraq, either by participating in the Coalition or contributing to UNAMI operations, he noted.  Coalition members were now contributing some 10,000 personnel, and they also contributed to Iraqi progress.  The Iraqi Security Forces were also registering gains and increasing their capability.  More than 540,000 individuals now served in the Iraqi Security Forces, an increase of 24,000 since the January report.  Local citizens were also providing help, such as supplying information to the forces.  An additional 50,000 Iraqi soldiers were expected to be trained by the end of the year, as part of the Coalition effort to transfer overall responsibility to the Iraqis.


Iraq’s representative highlighted his Government’s recent efforts to promote reconstruction and national reconciliation in the country, including recent legislation on amnesty, and justice and accountability, as well as recent operations, which sought to send a message to all criminals that they could no longer be above the law.  Stressing that victory in Iraq would not be confined to Iraq alone, but would also enhance the security and stability in the whole region, he also commented on the increased regional activity of the past few months and called on all friendly nations to reopen their diplomatic missions in Iraq.


While welcoming progress in several areas, speakers in today’s debate stressed the importance of helping Iraqi communities resolve the fundamental issues that divided them.  It was pointed out that the recent spiral of violence in various parts of Iraq was a clear indication of the critical need for national unity through political dialogue and reconciliation.  Among the priorities, Council members highlighted the need to reach agreement on power-sharing and sharing the country’s natural resources, as well as on the federal structure of the Iraqi State, and to complete preparations for the October Governorate elections.


Speedy elaboration of a fair hydrocarbon law and completion of the constitutional review process were also encouraged.  Several speakers also expressed concern about the humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, as well as the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons.


Although Iraq’s national capacity was growing, the need for regional and international support was underlined, and in that connection, speakers welcomed the outcome of last week’s ministerial meeting of Iraq and its neighbours in Kuwait and the upcoming high-level meeting of the International Compact in Sweden.


Participating in the debate were representatives of Libya, China, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Belgium, Croatia, Panama, France, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Italy, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and South Africa.


The meeting was called to order at 10:12 a.m. and adjourned at 12:37 p.m.


Background


When the Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Iraq, it had before it the report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 6 of resolution 1770 (2007) (document S/2008/266).  In paragraph 6 of that resolution, the Council requested the Secretary-General to report to it on a quarterly basis on the fulfilment of the responsibilities of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  The current report is the third one and provides an update on United Nations activities in Iraq since the 14 January report (document S/2008/19).  The present report summarizes key political developments, including activities pertaining to resolution of disputed internal boundaries, as well as regional and international events concerning Iraq.


The report states that, despite some improvements in the security situation, the Government of Iraq continues to face formidable challenges in reaching a national consensus on power sharing and resources.  Efforts were made at reconciliation through legislation, including through the Justice and Accountability Law, which replaced earlier “debaathification” policies.  On 13 February, the Council of Representatives passed a package of laws:  the Law on Governorates Not Organized into a Region; the General Amnesty Law; and the 2008 budget.


The report notes that the growing Sahwa movement, composed of local alliances of tribal sheikhs, established the “Awakening Conference”, also on 13 February, announcing its transformation from a tribal grouping to a political bloc.  On 22 February, Moqtada al-Sadr extended the freeze on military activities by the Mahdi army.  The Government of Iraq continued to strengthen ties with neighbouring countries.


The report goes on to describe the activities of UNAMI in the areas of politics, disputed internal boundaries, regional dialogue, elections, constitutional support, humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, human rights and operational, logistic and security issues.  UNAMI has prioritized activities regarding resolving disputed internal boundaries, taking advantage in that regard of the agreed six-month delay in implementing article 140 of the Constitution.  The Mission tries to facilitate dialogue on relatively non-contentious areas to begin with in order to build confidence and momentum among the parties and to identify principles that could be used as part of a common approach to tackle the more disputed territories, including the city of Kirkut.


The Secretary-General observes that more needs to be done to help Iraqi communities resolve fundamental issues that divide them, urging influential figures and political parties to publicly reinforce the need for political dialogue, compromise and the need for leaders to pursue the Iraqi national interest, rather than individual, party, ethnic or sectarian interests.  As large sections of the population are living in poverty and insecurity in a country with vast potential wealth from natural resources, agreement on a hydrocarbon law to share natural resources in a fair and transparent manner could be enormously beneficial.


The Secretary-General further observes that, in order to ensure that credible electoral events are held on time in 2008, it is essential that Iraqi leaders meet a number of prerequisites.  He calls on Iraq’s Council of Representatives to urgently pass a governorate elections law and upon Iraq’s political blocs to respect, and to protect, the independence of the Independent High Electoral Commission.


As the regional dialogue process is an essential part of efforts by the international community to restore stability and security in Iraq, the Secretary-General urges Member States to seize the opportunity presented by the third expanded meeting of foreign ministers of neighbouring States in Kuwait on 22 April.  He welcomes Bahrain’s commitment to reopening an embassy in Baghdad and looks forward to other Arab States to follow suit.


Concerned about reports that the parties involved in the recent fighting in Basra and other places had committed human rights abuses, he urges those involved to respect their legal obligations under international humanitarian law, which applies both to States and to non-State actors, to minimize harm to civilians.  Under no circumstances should civilians be used intentionally as human shields, and all captured combatants should be treated in accordance with the laws of war.


The Secretary-General says he is pleased that UNAMI continues to move forward in expanding its activities in line with its mandate as revised in resolution 1770 (2007).  It has shown creativity and determination in its efforts to find new ways to support the people and Government of Iraq.  He thanked all for their tireless efforts under very challenging conditions.


Briefings


B. LYNN PASCOE, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that he had just visited Baghdad from 19 to 21 April and attended the Third Expanded Ministerial Meeting of Iraq and Its Neighbours on 22 April in Kuwait.  Despite improvements in security, the Government of Iraq continued to face formidable challenges to the process of national reconciliation.  Some important steps had been taken in January, such as the passage of a package of laws, including the Justice and Accountability Law.  There were also encouraging signs that the Arab Sunni front, the Tawafuq, could return to the Government soon.  Together with security improvements, those steps created a window of opportunity that the international community should pursue.


He said it was imperative that Iraqi leaders maintained that positive momentum and took further steps to resolve other fundamental issues, such as the sharing of natural resources and an agreement on the federal structure of the Iraqi State.  Those goals could be achieved through the adoption of a fair and equitable hydrocarbon law and completion of the long-delayed constitutional review process.  The United Nations strongly encouraged those efforts and continued to provide the Constitutional Review Committee with technical advice and assistance.


Pursuant to its mandate under resolution 1770 (2007), and following the agreed six-month extension of article 140 after its expiry on 31 December 2007, UNAMI had made the settlement of disputed internal territories a top priority, he said.  The Mission had conducted a number of field visits to several disputed areas to meet with local leaders and understand their concerns.  It had facilitated dialogue in several contested areas and would make recommendations with regard to the principles and methodology that could be used by Iraqi stakeholders as part of a common approach to tackle the most highly disputed territories.  He appealed to Member States to support United Nations efforts and encourage the parties concerned to work together to find lasting solutions.


Noting that UNAMI also continued to support the Iraq election commission, he recalled that Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, with the support of the Iraqi leadership, had announced on 14 February that the Mission would move forward the process of selecting the directors of several Governorate Election Offices in cases where there had been no consensus among the political parties to complete the appointment process.  Now almost completed, that process was an excellent example of how the United Nations could add value in Iraq.  He urged the Council of Representatives to forward the list of candidates for the Baghdad electoral offices as soon as possible to allow the process to be completed.  The Iraqi election commission was currently organizing a voter registration update to take place throughout the country in June.  The Governorate Council Elections were scheduled for 1 October.  However, that timetable depended on political agreements that must be reached in coming weeks, particularly with regard to voter registration eligibility and inclusion of internally displaced persons.  A new Governorate Election law must be written and adopted as soon as possible.


He said that the humanitarian situation remained of great concern.  The United Nations was monitoring the situation in the Sadr area of Baghdad and in the city of Basra, assessing humanitarian needs.  The United Nations could do more as its presence on the ground increased.  Also necessary was to alleviate the suffering of Iraq’s refugees and internally displaced persons.  While only a lasting political solution in Iraq could solve the current refugee and internally displaced persons crisis, the Government of Iraq and the wider international community, with the help of the United Nations, could and must do more in the interim to help host countries, particularly Jordan and Syria, with humanitarian assistance.  The Secretary-General’s report also expressed, once again, serious concern about the current human rights situation in Iraq.


The support of neighbouring countries was essential for the country’s stability, he said.  In the final communiqué of the Recent Ministerial Conference in Kuwait, the participants had condemned all acts of terrorism and reaffirmed the obligations of all States to combat terrorist activities.  They had also expressed their desire to hold the next expanded meeting in Baghdad.  The United Nations was committed to supporting the regional process, and strongly encouraged Iraq and its regional neighbours to step up their dialogue and interaction with a view to strengthening cooperation in areas of mutual interest.  Since its launch in May 2007, the International Compact with Iraq had emerged as a key framework for cooperation between Iraq and international donors.  It also provided a guide for focusing assistance to the country on the most critical problems.  In that context, he thanked the Government of Sweden for agreeing to host the first Compact review conference in Stockholm on 29 May.


He noted that the Secretary-General had said strongly and clearly that whatever one’s previous views on Iraq, the whole world had a responsibility and an interest today in helping bring peace and prosperity to the people of Iraq.  He had returned from his Iraq visit absolutely convinced that the United Nations was doing its best.  The Secretary-General had increased the United Nations presence in Baghdad to 140 and in Erbil to 40 international staff.  Among other things, an outreach programme had so far placed nine national liaison officers in each of the Governor’s offices, and the presence in Basra had been re-established.  Expanding the United Nations presence to Najaf, Ramadi and Kirkuk was also being contemplated.  UNAMI and the country team had adopted an area-based approach that expanded activities where circumstances were more permissible.  The Mission also strove to become more self-sufficient and planned to build a new integrated headquarters in Baghdad.


During his meetings with Iraqi and other interlocutors, there had been a common theme, he said:  all had expressed appreciation for the enhanced role of the United Nations in Iraq.  That served as an important reminder that the Organization’s presence enjoyed the respect of Iraqi and regional leaders.  He urged Member States to provide additional financial and logistical resources for the Mission, including funding for the new integrated United Nations facility in Baghdad and additional required security arrangements, in particular the provision of additional military advisers to UNAMI.


Iraq was going through a painful transition, he concluded.  The challenges of national reconciliation, reconstruction and development after decades of dictatorship and war were massive.  He was impressed, however, by the seriousness and commitment of the Iraqi Government to address those challenges.  That was a long-term endeavour that required sustained international support.  The United Nations was committed to playing its full part in accordance with its comprehensive mandate in resolution 1770 (2007).


ZALMAY KHALILZAD (United States), reporting on behalf of the Multinational Force as mandated by Security Council resolutions, said the United States agreed with the Iraqi people on the goal of achieving a secure, unified and democratic Iraq that could govern, defend and sustain itself.  Improvements had been made, but progress had been uneven.  The security situation had improved since the last report and the level of violence nationwide was significantly lower than in the summer of 2007.  The number of civilian deaths had fallen by more than 72 per cent since July 2007 and Coalition deaths had also gone down.  There had also been a decline in sectarian deaths owing to increased force presence and a weakening of violent elements.  Additionally, there had been a steady decline in ethno-sectarian violence due to both the increased presence of Iraqi and Coalition forces along sectarian fault lines and the decreased effectiveness of the enemy to re-ignite the cycles of violence.  The level of high-profile attacks also remained lower than last year and their effects were diminishing due to increased security.


He said that recent clashes between criminal elements and Iraqi forces had been an indication of Iran’s influence since the bulk of the weapons were from that country.  Syria also remained a concern since 90 per cent of all known foreign terrorists in Iraq entered through Syria.  Iran and Syria must stop the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Iraq.


Thirty-three countries supported security in Iraq, either by participating in the Coalition or contributing to UNAMI operations, he noted.  Coalition members were now contributing some 10,000 personnel, and they also contributed to Iraqi progress.  The Iraqi Security Forces were also registering gains and increasing their capability.  More than 540,000 individuals now served in the Iraqi Security Forces, an increase of 24,000 since the January report.  Local citizens were also providing help, such as supplying information to the forces.  An additional 50,000 Iraqi soldiers were expected to be trained by the end of the year, as part of the Coalition effort to transfer overall responsibility to the Iraqis.


Noting progress in the economic sphere, he said that the Iraqi dinar was strong and interest rates had been lowered.  Iraqi leaders must place national interests over parochial ones, and Iraq must integrate more with the region.  UNAMI was helping to clarify internal boundaries and preparing for elections.  The United Nations fostered Iraq’s participation in regional dialogue.  UNAMI should consider expanding its presence to other areas of Iraq.  Iraq must capitalize on the gains made with the improved security situation by taking increased responsibility for its affairs.


Statements


GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya) said that, during the consideration of the item in January, hopes had arisen that the security situation in Iraq would improve, but the report before the Council today reflected a renewed upsurge of violence.  He hoped that such a situation was temporary.   Libya supported all efforts to end the violence in Iraq, including reconstruction of Iraqi security forces and demilitarization of militias.  That could only happen if all factions truly believed that the door was open for participation in power- and wealth-sharing.  That was what the Government of Iraq was promoting.  He encouraged all the parties to genuinely participate in the efforts to achieve national reconciliation.  That said, he felt that real progress had been made on all fronts, and he hoped the positive trend would continue.  In particular, the economic situation in the country had improved.


Improved relations between Iraq and neighbouring countries were particularly important in guaranteeing stability, he continued.  In that connection, he welcomed the outcome of the Kuwait conference, as well as the efforts by UNAMI.  The expansion of its activities in the provinces was welcome, as well as its electoral and other assistance to the Government.  He urged the Mission to engage further on the humanitarian front.  It was also very important to address the situation of refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as the situation of millions of internally displaced persons.  It fell to Iraq to cater to the needs of those vulnerable populations, but the international community also had a responsibility.


Another important issue related to the legal and humanitarian situation of Iraqi detainees, whose number was increasing, he said.  He called on all concerned to remember that detainees also had rights, which must be respected.  He also addressed a recent request for supplies within the framework of the “oil-for-food” programme, which had ended in December.   Iraq’s legal and governmental entities could only meet its needs if the legal documents were provided.  The Compensation Committee was looking at Iraq’s participation to protect its legal and sovereign interests.  It was important to encourage coordination to find solutions acceptable to all parties.


WANG GUANGYA ( China) said five years had passed since the Coalition forces had entered Iraq, and one important milestone after another had been achieved.  However, serious challenges remained, particularly in the economic and constitutional realms.  Many displaced people still could not return home and there were no constitutional guarantees for the people.  However, like a boat on a river, there was the choice to either go forwards or backwards.  More effective measures must be implemented to achieve even more progress.  Political leaders in Iraq must put national interests ahead of sectarian ones, and measures must be implemented to advance reconciliation and unity.  Dialogue must be promoted, and relations between Iraq and its neighbours must be strengthened.  The successful third regional ministerial meeting last week had given hope for bright prospects in Iraq.  The international community should support all improvements in Iraq.


He urged UNAMI to continue its work in a step-by-step manner and with a clear focus on its tasks.  It should provide rational and feasible proposals for the holding of elections.  The Mission should also coordinate humanitarian efforts so as to benefit the people, working with the Government to ensure that basic needs were met.  More attention should be paid to bettering the situation of refugees.  The international community must support the Iraqi people so that they could get beyond the present hardships.


MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said that in the past few years, Iraq had achieved notable progress, but serious challenges continued to cloud the country’s security and stability.  The recent spiral of violence in various parts of Iraq was a clear indication of the continued importance of national consensus and unity through political dialogue and reconciliation.  He welcomed the Government’s continued efforts to promote dialogue and reconciliation.  The convening of a national political reconciliation conference on 18 March had been a welcome step.  He also recognized the reconciliation potential of some legislative measures, welcoming the adoption of a package of laws on 13 February, which could achieve a national consensus on the sharing of power and resources.  His country also attached great importance to the agreement on a hydrocarbon law, which was critical, not only to national unity, but also to the country’s prosperity.


He said that, despite an increase in Iraq’s national capacity, the need for regional and international support remained critical.  He, therefore, welcomed the convening of the Kuwait Conference on 22 April and the upcoming high-level meeting of the International Compact in Sweden.  The Government’s diplomatic initiatives were also welcome, as was its intention to develop a national strategy to address the problem of internally displaced persons and refugees.  Regional partnership could help Iraq in tackling that issue.  In that regard, Indonesia welcomed the launching in January of a fund-raising and public-awareness campaign by the League of Arab States, in partnership with the United Nations and other agencies.  Hopefully, the 2008 Consolidated Appeal would receive wide response.


The role of UNAMI would remain critical, he added, welcoming continued expansion of its activities in accordance with resolution 1770.  The Mission’s support for the Iraqi Government in promoting reconciliation was commendable, and extensive meetings between the Special Representative and various religious and political leaders were an important part of that support.  He also welcomed the Mission’s constitutional support activities and its electoral assistance.  And he reaffirmed Indonesia’s support for Iraq’s independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial, as well as the principle of non-interference in its internal affairs.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said he had a positive impression of progress in the humanitarian and political areas in Iraq.  Questions concerning internal boundaries in Kirkuk and elsewhere must be resolved solely on the basis of the benefit to the people who lived there.  And regardless of the progress that had been made, any attempt to sidestep the acute problems of Iraq were a mistake.


He said the improved situation in Iraq was still very fluid.  Security was not yet consolidated and effective dialogue between the parties had not been established.  Serious problems remained within the Iraqi Government itself.  One key to the security issue was to launch a national dialogue as soon as possible.  UNAMI was becoming more proficient in helping, and it must work to improve its consistency.  The question of foreign security forces should be addressed, as should a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops, who were considered by many Iraqis to be occupying forces.  The mandate of the Multinational Force, due to expire at the end of the year, should not be replaced by another military one.  Future reports should indicate what had been done to overcome shortcomings.


JOHAN VERBEKE ( Belgium), like previous speakers, welcomed the improved security conditions in Iraq, but noted that the overall situation remained fragile.  Security, well-being and respect for fundamental rights were needed, and he noted the efforts of the Iraqi Government in that regard.  Its endeavours should go hand in hand with strengthening the judicial apparatus and security forces, which should be impartial and inclusive.  In that context, Belgium adhered to the Secretary-General’s appeal to all parties to ensure implementation of their obligations under international humanitarian law.  Among other things, he also welcomed the positive evolution in respect of access of United Nations and independent observers to detention centres as the example of transparency.


Continuing, he touched on initiatives under way to strengthen the State, including those in the areas of justice and transparency, amnesty and allocation of the budget.  The central objective was the achievement of national reconciliation, and he urged the authorities to step up their legislative and political efforts on several fronts, with assistance of the United Nations.  Those included the completion of the constitutional review, which would strengthen the confidence of the population and ensure the right of all communities to participate.  It was also important to intensify the efforts to ensure fair and transparent sharing of natural resources and ensure delimitation of domestic borders, as well as finalize preparations for the Governorate elections.


The situation of many refugees and internally displaced persons remained of concern, he said.  The host countries and specialized agencies should be commended for their efforts, but efforts should be stepped up in that regard and the international community and Iraq’s neighbours should continue to provide assistance.  The Ministerial Meeting in Kuwait last week had been of crucial importance.  In view of the need to ensure that political progress went hand in hand with improved living conditions, the forthcoming Stockholm meeting in May was also important.  He welcomed progress towards enhancing the effectiveness of international humanitarian aid, stressing that the United Nations should remain the central international presence in Iraq.  Also welcome was the courageous work of UNAMI and the rest of the United Nations family under difficult conditions.


NEVEN JURICA (Croatia) expressed appreciation for the activities of UNAMA and, without underestimating remaining challenges, was pleased that the picture presented in the Secretary-General’s report was very different from just a year ago.  Recent episodes of violence should not obscure the larger trend of improved security that had begun with the surge in “MNF-I” forces.  Despite the challenges, there had been visible progress in the political, economic and security areas. Improvements continued in the capacity of Iraq’s national security forces, which were critical to reaffirming Iraq’s independence and sovereignty.  He commended recent resolute steps by the Government to assume greater responsibility for security, including its response to the threat of sectarianism, terrorism and outlaws.  Based on democratic elections and a constitutional referendum, Iraq’s institutions should be consolidated.  Violence must not be allowed to disrupt the political process.


He said that, by the same token, recent security gains might be put at risk without serious advances in the political process.  More should be done to help Iraqi communities resolve the fundamental issues that divided them.  The Government and all political actors should rise to the occasion and act responsibly, engaging in meaningful and inclusive dialogue, while rejecting sectarianism and extremism.  He looked forward to the provisional elections in October, and took note of the preparations under way.  He hoped to see timely adoption of the Governorate Elections Law.  The intensified pace of enacting relevant legislation should also be applied to such important areas as the hydrocarbon law, the implementation of article 140 of the Constitution and the constitutional revision process.


His delegation had also taken note of the positive regional trends, including last week’s Conference in Kuwait, as well as the preceding meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, he said.  Regular meetings of the three working groups were encouraging and he welcomed the idea of adding new working groups on issues of mutual interest.  He supported Mr. Pascoe’s call to further strengthen regional dialogue and cooperation, including through the opening of the embassies in Baghdad.  It was also important to protect and assist displaced and vulnerable Iraqis through concerted efforts by the Government, Iraq’s neighbours and the international community.  He also highlighted the importance of the support of the international community and particularly of the countries of the region in Iraq’s transition to a stable, peaceful and prosperous democracy.  He looked forward to the Stockholm conference in May as an opportunity to reaffirm international commitment.  For its part, the Iraqi Government should meet its obligations as a responsible partner and co-owner of the process.  The United Nations was well placed to play a central role in assisting the Government.


RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said he was aware of the challenges before both UNAMI and the Iraqi Government.  UNAMI had made progress in the political arena, as well as in the constitutional sphere, and in its regional deployments.  The dialogue at the diplomatic and regional levels must continue to be expanded, including with regard to refugees and the settling of border issues.


He said that the effect of sectarian violence on the civilian population remained of serious concern.  Political leaders must focus on the national welfare.  Visits by high-level United Nations officials were welcome, as they kept the international community’s attention on Iraq’s needs.  The Government must make more progress in the area of human rights, such as the steps that had been taken to improve the situation of detainees.


JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France) said that Iraq still confronted numerous challenges, including violence, which had again increased, despite certain improvements at the end of 2007.  The huge number of displaced persons testified to the immediate need for assistance.  Improvement of security conditions would determine the return of refugees, and he noted the efforts of neighbouring countries in that regard.  Recent fighting in Basra was a source of great concern.  All the players must work to decrease violence and avoid all forms of provocation.  There was no solution, except for dialogue and cooperation.  Improvement of the security situation also hinged on progress at the political level, including national reconciliation and equal sharing of power and resources.


He said that draft laws on electoral reform must be immediately adopted, and constitutional review should be put in effect.  France had proposed to hold a meeting, should Iraqis agree, of all Iraqi politicians in a neutral setting.  That could take place within the framework of France’s presidency of the European Union.  Neighbouring countries also had an important role to play, and the Kuwait meeting had been an important event in that regard.  Now, it was necessary to follow up with specific steps of tangible commitment.  However, any direct or indirect negative intervention by a neighbouring country could only lead to increased instability.


France welcomed the first results achieved by UNAMI, but its efforts must be supported in various fields, he said.  Among other important issues, he mentioned the difficult question of internal boundaries and implementation of article 140 of the Constitution, as well as activities in the electoral field.  It was important for the Independent Electoral Commission to have all the support possible.  He also emphasized the importance of ensuring human rights in Iraq, in particular regarding detainees.  France intended to assist the Iraqi people on the road to peace.  Among other things, his country had opened an office in Erbil and intended to develop a chain of medical centres in Iraq.


KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom) said good laws had been passed this year to advance the situation in Iraq on the political and economic levels.  The spirit of compromise that had been shown to reach agreement on those matters should be the same spirit in which further progress was achieved.  The focus should be on instituting measures and legislation that would allow Iraq to manage and benefit from its considerable resources.


With regard to elections, she said political decisions should be made to ensure the integrity of the process.  The provincial powers law that had been enacted was welcome, particularly since they called for all parties to avoid violence.  Important progress had been made with regard to security and advancing the rule of law.  Cross-party support had also been achieved, and the door had been opened for parties wanting to give up violence to take part in the political process.  In support of such efforts, it was not enough for the international community to support Iraq, but to also gain the support of the region.  The supply of weapons into Iraq by foreigners was unacceptable.  Countries with knowledge of such activities must take steps to stop it.


The United Kingdom had contributed $34 million to the Consolidated Appeal for Iraq, she said.  In March, the Basra Development Commission had held a meeting on bringing foreign investment to Iraq.  A similar meeting was being held today at a senior level in her country to invite investments.  Her country was also assisting the Iraqi security forces.  All Member States should do their utmost to support Iraq and UNAMI.


BUI THE GIANG ( Viet Nam) said he was encouraged by Prime Minister Maliki’s 24 April announcement that all political factions had agreed to rejoin the Cabinet.  All parties concerned should build on the momentum for the well-being and interest of the entire nation.  The improvement in Iraq’s international relations, especially with neighbouring countries, should be supported, as that was essential to the region’s long-term peace and stability.  However, as the Secretary-General pointed out, challenges remained, such as the outbreak of sectarian violence, disputed internal boundaries and pervasive poverty and marginalization.


He affirmed continued support for efforts to consolidate peace and security, advance political dialogue and strengthen national reconciliation, but urged more tangible and sustained progress in improving the rule of law, countering corruption, curbing illicit use of weapons, disarming militias and armed groups, and demobilizing and reintegrating them.  United Nations agencies should make further efforts to assist Iraq with the political process, with regional dialogue, economic reconstruction and humanitarian relief.  UNAMI should help the Iraqi Government address key priority issues as mandated by resolution 1770, including national reconciliation, constitutional support, electoral and humanitarian assistance.  Hopefully, the high-level meeting of the International Compact in Stockholm would further consolidate international and regional efforts to help Iraq better address the various security, humanitarian, national reconciliation and socio-economic development challenges in the medium term.


MARCELLO SPATAFORA ( Italy) said he was proud of what the United Nations had achieved in Iraq.  The Organization’s reputation and credibility were growing, and that was very important.  He was looking forward to seeing an increased and enhanced role of the United Nations in Iraq, facilitating and giving direction, and assisting the electoral process, among other things.  Italy shared the Secretary-General’s analysis that sustainable stabilization in Iraq could be achieved only in the framework of a new social pact, with the broadest possible representation of parties and without ethnic or religious discrimination.  The most important issues included fair distribution of State revenues and natural resources, disbandment of militias and establishment of a reliable national police.  Emphasis should be placed on rapid approval of the hydrocarbons law.


He commended the Government for the progress achieved in the political sector and the steps taken towards national reconciliation, as well as efforts to confront terrorists and militias.  Those efforts must be encouraged and actively supported by the whole international community, and foremost, by neighbouring countries, which played an essential role.  In that connection, he welcomed last week’s meeting in Kuwait.


Reiterating Italy’s strong commitment to building a better future for Iraq, he said the role of neighbouring countries could be encouraged through further debt relief and support for the international facility and fund for Iraq.  Commending the activities of UNAMI, he said that the United Nations had a fundamental and central role to play in Iraq in support of the Iraqi ownership.  He welcomed a recent visit of United Nations officials to the country and hoped that the Mission could develop a broader mandate.  Helping Iraq unlock its considerable resources remained a top priority.


MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) said that challenges remained in Iraq in the areas of power-sharing and resource management, but progress had been made in establishing dialogue between the parties.  The Government’s decision to strengthen ties with Iraq’s neighbours was encouraging and diplomatic developments pointed to a revitalization of State institutions.


He said there was difficulty in the humanitarian field and in the area of human rights, as well as with delivery of humanitarian assistance.  All parties must respect humanitarian law, and Iraq’s ratification of the Convention on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment had been a sign of progress.  Ongoing contacts must be maintained to encourage dialogue and reconciliation.  The participation of religious figures and local representatives should be encouraged so as to get a more realistic picture of the situation on the ground.  The relevant political measures must also be taken to ensure proper conduct of the elections.  National capacity must be built in the framework of the 2008 Consolidated Appeal.


Finally, he said the international community must strengthen its commitment to the Iraqi people and to UNAMI.  The Mission must continue efforts, particularly in helping to resolve internal border issues in line with human rights laws.  Support to Iraq would contribute to a better climate in the region.


JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said that it would have been logical for the representative of Iraq to have presented his views prior to statements by the Council members as that would have provided a clearer insight into the situation on the ground.  Like other members of the Council, he welcomed and supported the efforts of UNAMI, the international community and non-governmental organizations pursuing their difficult tasks in a highly unstable and difficult situation.


He said that with problems persisting in Iraq, the foundations of a federal State remained fragile.  As stated by the Under-Secretary-General, regardless of prior preconceptions, the world had a responsibility to promote peace in Iraq.  He appealed to the Council to give further priority to pursuing the political process in the country, in order to achieve reconciliation and strengthen legitimacy of the Iraqi authorities.  The constitutional review and passage of the election law were among the priorities.  He also urged everybody concerned to step up their efforts to ensure greater involvement of the people and Government of Iraq in building the country’s future.


Concerned about the human rights situation in Iraq, he nevertheless welcomed Iraq’s ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and he urged ratification of the treaty’s Optional Protocol.  He also expressed concern over the situation of Iraqi children and condemned sexual and gender violence in the country, including the crimes of honour.  It was essential to continue to strengthen the mechanisms of accountability and justice, as those were vital to national reconciliation, the establishment of the rule of law and the fight against impunity.


DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa), speaking in his national capacity, said that despite improvements, the situation in Iraq was fragile.  It was important to ensure an all-inclusive political process and to take measures to promote reconciliation.  Dialogue must be encouraged both internally and with neighbours.  The recently adopted amnesty law was a good step forward.


He encouraged influential public figures and parties to continue to work towards consolidating peace and security in Iraq.   The role of actors at the regional level could not be overemphasized, particularly when it came to questions related to the situation of refugees.  Economic reconstruction should also be stressed, and all parties must ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law.  The treatment of detainees was of concern, and the renewal of the mandate of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board should be considered.


Finally, he said that shortages that had been noticed in the Development Fund had not been addressed.  A meeting was to have been held on the matter, but it had not taken place.  It was long overdue and should be held as soon as possible.  Also, it was important to ensure that the powers given to the Multinational Force were appropriate, and the funds derived from Iraq’s resources must be used for the benefit of the people.


HAMID AL BAYATI ( Iraq) said that his delegation appreciated the United Nations efforts to assist the people and Government of Iraq.  Among his Government’s recent initiatives were a number of important laws, including the justice and accountability, and amnesty laws, as well as the elaboration of the budget for 2008.  The Amnesty Law was one of the main elements of the efforts to move towards national reconciliation and ensure stability in Iraq.  Under that legislation, relevant Iraqi authorities were now examining the files of detainees, and thousands of investigative committees had been set up to expedite the processing of their cases.  Some 28,240 detainees had been released since February.


He noted that Iraq’s budget amounted to $48 billion, and a supplementary budget would be issued in June.  Among other things, those funds would be used to provide basic services for Iraqi citizens, support displaced families, provide subsidies for those in the social welfare network and finance reconstruction projects.  With the danger of corruption no less than that of terrorism, Iraq had ratified the Convention against Corruption, and an anti-corruption conference had been held in March.  Meanwhile, efforts were being made to improve living conditions, increase the public sector salaries, create job opportunities and revitalize economic activity.  Also, funds had been allocated to provide loans to the population.


In cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Government was providing assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, he continued.  Some 150,000 Iraqi dinars had been allocated for families forcibly displaced from their homes, and construction of housing units had been initiated.  Iraq was developing a national strategy to provide assistance to refugees in the neighbouring countries and facilitate their return.  In that connection, he expressed gratitude to the countries hosting Iraqi refugees and stressed his Government’s determination to secure their return.


Turning to the security situation, he highlighted recent operations by Iraqi forces aiming to limit the possession of weapons to the Government forces, disband militias and ensure that there was “no army, except for the Government Army”.  At the same time, rational political dialogue was required for reconciliation.  He called on the armed groups to drop weapons in order to allow citizens to live freely in their own country.  The Government would not hesitate to pursue all criminals.  Recent military operations by Iraqi forces were a message to all outlaws that they could no longer be above the law.  Those operations did not target any political parties and were non-sectarian, directed at punishing all outlaws.  They had the support of the people and all the political blocs.


He also outlined the Government’s continued efforts to improve basic services, which included the allocation of $150 million to support service projects in several provinces, as well as $100 million in Sadr.  At the political level, he emphasized the determination to reform the Government of National Unity, saying that immediate return of various withdrawn political blocs would facilitate those efforts.  The country was progressing towards democratic transformation and coexistence of the people, which would pave the way to reconstruction.


National reconciliation had been announced as the Government’s strategic vision, he continued.  That process would emphasize dialogue, tolerance and moving on from the past.  There were 39 supporting councils countrywide, and more would be established in former “hot spots”.  More than 35,000 former members of armed groups and Al-Qaida now participated in efforts to re-establish unity and security in Iraq, and numerous members of the former army had been reinstated.  The Government also sought to create job opportunities for former members of armed groups.


He also commented on the increased regional activity of the past few months, noting the meetings of the three working groups, including those on security and refugees, which had supported Government efforts to establish security and confront terrorism.  Victory in Iraq would not be confined to Iraq alone, but would also enhance the security and stability in the whole region.  Efforts to prevent infiltration of terrorists into Iraq were of great importance.  Noting that more than 30 friendly countries had cancelled Iraq’s debts, he also expressed hope that the Arab brothers would follow suit.  He called on all friendly nations to reopen their diplomatic missions in Iraq, adding that the country’s Prime Minister had recently expressed the Government’s readiness to provide security and protection for all diplomatic missions and their personnel.


Noting the positive role of the Kuwait meeting and Kuwait’s willingness to enter into bilateral consultations under the umbrella of the Compensation Commission, he said that was a step in the right direction.  Iraq was looking forward to the Compact meeting in Sweden in May for the purpose of mobilizing the international community towards Iraq’s development and reviewing the commitments made by both.  He stressed the vital role of the United Nations in Iraq, as defined in resolution 1770.  The conference would be an important forum to review the progress and future prospects for assistance to the reconstruction.


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For information media • not an official record