6 August 2008
Security Council
SC/9415

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

Security Council

5949th Meeting (AM)


UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL, IN BRIEFING ON IRAQ, WARNS SECURITY COUNCIL


AGAINST COMPLACENCY, STRESSES NEED FOR TRUST ACROSS COMMUNITY LINES


While outlining recent achievements in Iraq, including the improved security situation, B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, warned the Security Council against complacency this morning, stressing the need to focus on building trust and confidence across community lines and on improving the quality of life for all Iraqis.


Briefing the Council on the situation in Iraq, he said it remained fragile and recent gains could easily be lost.  The United Nations continued to believe that trust was best established by tackling the issues at the heart of each community’s competing visions for Iraq’s future, including the federal framework of the country, handling of Kirkuk and other disputed territories, distribution of oil wealth, and a viable revenue-sharing agreement.


“The potential is there, and it is ultimately up to the Iraqi people to make sound choices that will allow them to build a sustainable and lasting peace,” he said.  The United Nations was making a strong contribution and would continue to try to help Iraq in that process.  Since the Council’s authorization of a more robust mandate for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) a year ago, the Organization was steadily expanding its presence and activities, while remaining mindful of the very complex operating environment in the country.


He said the Mission was focusing on advancing political dialogue and national reconciliation as well as resolving disputed internal boundaries and preparing for provincial elections.  Security remained essential to the Organization’s functioning in Iraq and the support and protection of Member States was vital.  In view of possible changes in current arrangements for the presence of the Multinational Force after 31 December 2008, the continued assurance of security for the United Nations presence was essential.


Reiterating his Government’s request for an extension of UNAMI’s mandate for another year, Iraq’s representative said the Government had decided to allocate a parcel of land for the Mission’s new integrated headquarters.  It was to be hoped that UNAMI would provide support and assistance in accordance with certain mechanisms and with the prior approval of the Iraqi Government, which looked forward to the Mission playing a more influential role, through the return of United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, in contributing to national reconstruction.


He also described a series of military operations led by the Iraqi Army, with support from international forces, which had led to an 80 per cent decrease in the number of terrorist operations and violent acts.  Having succeeded in building up its armed forces, the Government was keen to stress human rights principles and to keep the armed forces away from political affiliation.  The decline in violence had led to the return of normal life in all parts of Iraq, encouraging some internally displaced families and refugees to return to their homes.  The country was pursuing a national strategy to encourage voluntary returns.


In relation to Iraq’s oil wealth, he said plans had been made to increase production and to ensure the continuous development of the oil sector through the adoption of legislation, establishment of an investment framework and the promotion of fair revenue distribution.  The Government was keen to use oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people.  A law on combating the smuggling of oil and petroleum products had been adopted, and efforts were being made to fight corruption.


Speaking on behalf of the Multinational Force, the representative of the United States said coalition and Iraqi security forces had achieved a “sustained decrease in security incidents and violence”, even as the Multinational Force had drawn down from surge levels.  Nonetheless, Al-Qaida in Iraq remained a serious threat, retaining the intent and capability to carry out “sensational, lethal attacks, and their use of person-borne improvised explosive devices”, even as female suicide bombers remained a particular challenge.  Another concern was the flow of foreign fighters and lethal aid into Iraq.


Welcoming the improvement in the “still-delicate” situation in Iraq, most speakers in today’s debate supported the extension of UNAMI’s mandate for another 12 months, saying further efforts must be made to advance political dialogue and reconciliation in order to consolidate the security gains.


China’s representative said changes in the Iraqi situation had provided greater space for the United Nations while also confronting it with new challenges.  With regard to its future work, UNAMI should maintain close cooperation with the Iraqi Government and increase its contacts with all segments of Iraqi society, so as to win as much support and understanding for its work as possible.  The Mission should also carry out all its mandated tasks in a balanced way, including the provision of electoral assistance and during the constitutional review.  In economic reconstruction and the promotion of human rights protection, UNAMI could do more by playing a coordinating role and forming synergy with relevant offices in Iraq.


Among other things, speakers emphasized the importance of holding credible governorate council elections that would be accepted by the Iraqi people, highlighting the need to reach agreement on the electoral law, which must be passed as soon as possible for the elections to take place this year.  Delegates also stressed the importance of addressing the human rights and humanitarian situation in Iraq, emphasizing the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the need to ensure the protection of affected civilians.


Libya’s representative warned that the stability of the security situation was contingent upon national reconciliation and convincing all Iraqis that the opportunities presented to them, particularly in terms of governance and wealth-sharing, were far removed from sectarian and ethnic considerations.  Libya supported an end to Iraq’s occupation and the maintenance of its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.  It also agreed with the Secretary-General that Iraq could no longer brook continued delay in finding political solutions to its problems.


Also taking the floor today were representatives of Viet Nam, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, Croatia, Russian Federation, Italy, Indonesia, Panama, France, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Belgium.


The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m.


Background


The Security Council had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (document S/2008/495), which provides an update on United Nations activities in that country since April, with a continuing focus on the implementation of resolution 1770 (2007).


In that document, the Secretary-General reports continued improvement in the security situation across Iraq over the past three months, while cautioning that those gains must be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national reconciliation.  “Time is of the essence, and Iraq can no longer afford continued delays in finding viable political solutions.  Long-term stability will require significant political buy-in from all segments of the population, many of which are not yet fully engaged in the political process.”


According to the report, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has made progress in increasing its self-reliance, but it still depends on Member States for security, logistical, operational and financial support.  The Mission will continue to assist the Independent High Electoral Commission in planning for credible governorate council elections that would be accepted by the Iraqi people.  Failure to pass the electoral law in time would deprive Iraqis of the possibility of participating in voting this year, which could alienate a number of communities.


Stressing the need to strengthen further Iraq’s human rights protection system, the report states that improvements to public safety should not come at the expense of civic freedoms or the protection of civilians.  All security forces must continue to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and disproportionate use of force.  The wider human rights situation also continues to be alarming, characterized by persistent abductions for ransom and assassinations of targeted individuals.  Gender-based violence is also a deep concern.


The issue of disputed internal boundaries remains a priority for the Mission, which continues its consultations with the Government and its work with all affected populations, especially minority groups, the report states.  The Secretary-General is hopeful that Iraqi solutions, once formulated, will in the end be acceptable to all.  Linkages with outstanding constitutional issues will be explored actively with a view to reaching a comprehensive solution on a range of issues, such as power- and wealth-sharing.  UNAMI is prepared to offer additional expertise and provide platforms for political dialogue so as to ensure a credible constitutional-reform process, with the aim of encouraging the parties concerned to see the wisdom of collective rather than unilateral solutions.


The report notes that, with more than 100 delegations attending the recent Stockholm Conference on the International Compact with Iraq, the success of that meeting sent a strong message of support for pursuing economic reform, security consolidation and political regeneration.  The Government has made clear that it needs advice and partnership, not merely additional international funding, to help it tap into its considerable human and material resources.  Rising oil revenues offer an opportunity to improve the management and accountability of Iraq’s financial resources, while providing the Government with the resources to address the basic needs of Iraqis.


The country’s new wealth has not lifted many Iraqis out of poverty or reduced unemployment, the report says, adding that a new United Nations programme is being launched to help create jobs and address obstacles impeding business development.  Led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in conjunction with the Government of Iraq, the programme is also backed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Also in connection with rising oil income, the Secretary-General welcomes the Government’s new commitment to providing relief for internally displaced persons while urging it to assist the Iraqi refugee community in the region in concert with host countries, which have already shouldered a great burden for many years.


Among other encouraging developments, the Secretary-General also reports that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have now stationed their heads of office permanently in Baghdad, and that the United Nations country team continues to expand its presence inside Iraq.  At the regional level, several Arab States have expressed their willingness to re‑establish their diplomatic presence, and the United Arab Emirates has announced its decision to forgive Iraqi debt.  At the third expanded Ministerial Conference of the Neighbouring Countries of Iraq, held in Kuwait on 22 April, there was increased backing for the ad hoc support mechanism for regional dialogue, and an agreement in principle was obtained to convene the next ministerial meeting in Baghdad.  UNAMI will continue to provide more technical assistance to that process and to use its good offices to strengthen relations between Iraq and its neighbours.


Briefings


B. LYNN PASCOE, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the Organization’s efforts in Iraq had increased in important ways since the adoption of resolution 1770 in August 2007.  The Secretary-General had made clear his strong commitment to seeing the United Nations do more to help, which was not easy, given the country’s circumstances.  Today, under the more robust mandate of resolution 1770 (2007) and the strong leadership of the Special Representative on the ground, the United Nations was steadily expanding its presence and activities, while remaining mindful of the very complex operating environment.  Political and military efforts had contributed to improved security in most parts of the country, most visibly during the past three months.  However, civilian casualties resulting from violence remained unacceptably high.  A string of suicide bombings just last week had killed 60 people and injured hundreds more in Baghdad and Kirkuk, a brutal reminder of the lengths to which some were willing to go to provoke hatred and division among Iraqis.


It was necessary to cement gains on the security front through strengthened, sustained political dialogue, he continued.  While there might be a window for improved political dialogue, the situation remained tenuous and the progress achieved thus far could be lost.  The leading Sunni bloc, Tawafuq, had recently returned to the Government and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had filled the vacant Cabinet posts that had been empty since the boycotts of early last year.  While the political atmosphere in Baghdad, Kirkuk and elsewhere had deteriorated somewhat during the recent debate on the electoral law, it was to be hoped that the Iraqi parties were coming to recognize the need to continue and expand the extent of their political dialogue.


Since the Council had handed down a new mandate for UNAMI a year ago, the Mission had worked with great energy to ensure its implementation, he said.  It was focusing on advancing political dialogue and national reconciliation as well as resolving disputed internal boundaries and preparing for the provincial elections.  The Independent High Electoral Commission had achieved a number of operational milestones, with assistance from UNAMI.  Among other things, it had recruited and trained nearly 8,000 staff to administer voter registration at 564 centres nationwide.  The Mission had also advised the Commission on how to ensure transparency and strong oversight in updating the voter registration process.  The international electoral team continued to be impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of election administration staff.  The Commission had thus far accredited close to 20,000 political party agents and observers to monitor election events.


On the new electoral legislation, he said discussions in Parliament remained unresolved, stressing that a failure to agree on a law would be a major setback.  In connection with the discord over passage of the electoral law, tension in Kirkuk had grown, turning violent last week.  The passage of the draft electoral law, which had subsequently been vetoed, and the Kirkuk Provincial Council’s decision to set in motion mechanisms for a referendum on Kirkuk’s status, had led to provocations by both sides and would inevitably raise tensions.  UNAMI continued to work on the issue of Kirkuk and disputed internal boundaries with the hope of establishing recognition among the parties that sustainable peace could only be based upon collective solutions acceptable to all concerned.  The Mission planned to present its next set of analyses on disputed territories to the Presidency Council, the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government later in the year.  While UNAMI worked as an honest broker to establish a mutually acceptable way to handle those complex issues, the United Nations had repeatedly stressed that ultimate responsibility to make the difficult decisions lay first and foremost with the Government of Iraq and other representatives of the Iraqi people.


He said there was also a need for progress on fundamental issues that defined the nature of the Iraqi State.  They included defining the nature of the federal framework, establishing a clear revenue sharing mechanism and equitably managing Iraq’s considerable resources.  The United Nations continued to assist the Constitutional Review Committee, and important related legislation remained under discussion.  Wisdom, patience and compromise would be required from all sides.  Iraq’s neighbours and other States in the region had a vested interest in the country’s stability and should play a constructive role in that regard.  Following the Stockholm Conference, several States in the region had announced the restoration of full diplomatic representation in Baghdad, and two expanded ministerial meetings of neighbouring countries had taken place, in November 2007 and April 2008.


Noting that the Secretary-General and the Iraqi Prime Minister had hosted a high-level meeting on Iraq in New York last September, he said a second round of working group meetings on border security, refugees and energy had been held, and UNAMI was currently helping the Foreign Ministry prepare for the next cycle of working group meetings that would lead to a ministerial conference in Baghdad later this year.  Developments on the regional front were welcome and it was to be hoped that regional States would seize on opportunities to turn the regional dialogue into a real partnership.  The United Nations, for which Iraq’s reconstruction and development remained a top priority, was ready to assist in that effort.


He went on to note that the growth of Iraq’s economy, due in large part to high oil prices, had not yet translated into improvements in the lives of ordinary citizens.  An estimated 60 per cent of Iraqis had no access to one or more essential social services and 15 per cent lacked food security.  However, security improvements presented a new opportunity for Iraq’s oil wealth to reach its population.  The United Nations was working with the Government on economic reform for private-sector development, aimed particularly at increasing employment opportunities and diversifying economic output.  A new $30 million project would be dedicated to helping develop a viable and functioning private sector.


Noting that the Stockholm Conference had welcomed the Government’s proposal for a “Partnership for Development”, which would recognize Iraq as a wealthy country requiring technical assistance more than aid.  As a result, the United Nations, in close consultation with the Government of Iraq and donors, was transitioning from high capital projects to co-financing, capacity-building and technical assistance.  The Iraq Trust Fund had already disbursed $1 billion, to which the European Commission and Japan, among others, had contributed particularly generously.  The remaining $300 million was being actively programmed.  With the consent of the Government and donors, it was envisioned that the Trust Fund would complete its activities at the same time as the Compact with Iraq, in 2011.


Increased attention had been paid to the humanitarian needs of Iraqis and to alleviating the suffering of Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups, he said.  The percentage of United Nations projects dedicated to humanitarian activities had increased, with funding from the 2008 Consolidated Appeal for Iraq, which currently stood at $128 million.  In consultation with donors, $20 million of the $55 million that the Trust Fund had gained through interest had been dedicated to humanitarian needs, including through the development of an Emergency Response Fund.  However, humanitarian access during military operations was often constrained and humanitarian actors had at times felt unsafe when delivering urgent relief.  All parties should do their utmost to normalize and facilitate humanitarian access.  UNAMI’s human rights office had focused its monitoring and advocacy activities on the plight of Iraqi civilians in areas where intense fighting had taken place in recent months.  Among other things, the Mission continued to seek better access to detention centres and improved mechanisms for the efficient legal processing of detainees.


Under the leadership of the Special Representative, the Mission and the United Nations country team were working hard to build an enhanced presence throughout the country, despite the obvious challenges and continuous security threats.  Security remained essential to the Organization’s functioning in the country and the support and protection of Member States was vital.  In view of possible changes in current arrangements for the presence of the Multinational Forces after 31 December 2008, the continued assurance of security for the United Nations presence was essential.  The “distinct entity” established in 2004 under the unified command of the Multinational Forces to provide security had recently received contributions to ensure its operation well into 2009.  The construction of a new integrated compound in Baghdad was also essential for the United Nations presence in Iraq.  While Iraqis had witnessed an improvement in security, the situation remained fragile and recent gains could easily be lost.  It was imperative not to become complacent due to recent achievements.


ALEJANDRO WOLFF (United States), speaking on behalf of the Multinational Force, addressed the “sustained decrease in security incidents and violence”, noting that, for the past three months, total security incidents had remained at their lowest level in more than four years.  Since June 2007, the overall number of attacks had decreased by 84 per cent and that of civilian deaths due to violence had fallen by 65 per cent.  Deaths among Iraqi security force had declined by 67 per cent, United States military deaths by 91 per cent and coalition military deaths by 96 per cent.


He said coalition and Iraqi security forces had achieved those gains even as the Multinational Force had drawn down from surge levels.  The United States had withdrawn, without replacement, the last of its five surge brigade combat teams, as well as its Marine Expeditionary Unit and two Marine battalions.  Also, the Australian battle group had departed Iraq, and the Polish contingent would soon be withdrawn.  Ongoing security operations in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul, Amarah and Diyala had also produced encouraging results.  Nonetheless, Al-Qaida in Iraq remained a serious threat, particularly in the north, retaining the intent and capability to carry out “sensational, lethal attacks, and their use of person-borne improvised explosive devices” as female suicide bombers remained a particular challenge.


Another concern was the flow of foreign fighters and lethal aid into Iraq, he continued.  Syria was the “primary gateway” for foreign terrorists moving into Iraq, and its Government must do more to halt the operation of foreign fighter networks within its territory.  During the recent operations in Basra, Sadr City and Maysan, Iraqi troops had uncovered convincing evidence that Iranian lethal aid continued to flow into Iraq.  In addition, numerous Jaysh al-Mahdi militia fighters and leaders from its associated, highly-trained special groups had fled to Iran, where they had received sanctuary.  The legal activities of Iran’s Islamic Republican Guards Corps –- the Qods Force -– contradicted Iran’s publicly-stated policy of supporting the Iraqi Government and must cease.


The increasing capability of Iraqi security forces had contributed substantially to improving the security environment, he said.  More than 580,000 personnel now served in those forces, an increase of more than 21,000 personnel since June.  There were now 161 Iraqi Army combat battalions conducting operations, an increase of 14 since the last report.  More than 70 per cent, or 113, of those battalions were assessed to be leading operations and, of those, 93 were rated as not only able to take the lead, but also fully capable of planning, executing and sustaining operations with minimal or no assistance from coalition forces beyond enablers and adviser teams.  Another 10 battalions were currently in force generation, and the Multinational Force planned an additional 10 for force generation this year.


He also detailed the substantial progress made by the Iraqi Air Force and Navy, pointing out also that the National Police continued to increase its effectiveness and efforts to achieve a better ethno-sectarian balance within its ranks.  At the end of July, 36 police battalions had been conducting operations alongside a battalion-sized Iraqi emergency response unit.  National Police forces had conducted more than 15 operational deployments outside Baghdad, most recently in Basra, Mosul and Baquba.  Their increased effectiveness and deployability marked the beginning of a transition from a static, Baghdad-centric force to a rapid-response force of the Iraqi Government.


Providing an update on the coalition’s role, he stressed the critical importance of support from 30 countries to the coalition, the training mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the operations of UNAMI in the success of Iraqi efforts to build a stable and secure country.  Coalition members other than the United States had contributed more than 9,000 forces to the Multinational Force and another 450 personnel to UNAMI.  Every contributor, large and small, played a critical role.  Also welcome was the assistance of countries that continued to provide security for United Nations personnel and those that had contributed to the Trust Fund.  “We remain committed to ensuring that the United Nations receives the guarantees necessary for it to sustain and expand its robust presence in Iraq.”


At the same time, he stressed, the Multinational Force was continuing progressively to transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqi Government.  In June, the Government had continued its offensive against illegal armed groups and special groups, through operation “Tidings of Peace” in Maysan.  Several senior provincial officials had been arrested and Iraqi security forces had seized numerous Iranian-origin weapons caches.  Those operations showed the willingness of the Prime Minister and Government to confront militants, regardless of sect or ethnicity, and to secure the country against the threat of malign Iranian influence.


Iraqi security forces, working alongside local groups, had also conducted operations in Mosul against Al-Qaida elements, he reported.  Operations “Mother of Two Rivers” and “Lion’s Road” had denied Al-Qaida sanctuary in the urban areas of Ninewa Province, capturing and killing several Al-Qaida leaders.  Recently, Iraqi security forces and coalition units had launched a major clearing operation in Diyala Province, north-east of Baghdad, to clear remaining Al-Qaida in Iraq safe havens and interdict Jaysh al-Madhi smuggling and lethal aid.


He said Iraqi security forces had extended their control significantly, not only through its execution of military operations, but also through the facilitation of humanitarian assistance and the restoration of basic services.  In terms of political reconciliation, the Government’s willingness to confront militias, regardless of sect, had encouraged the Sunni coalition Tawafuq to reconcile its internal differences and return its ministers to the Government.  That provided an additional avenue for Sunni participation in the political process.  In late July, six ministers representing the Sunni coalition had been approved for the Cabinet, and four new Shia ministers had filled vacant Sadrist seats.


UNAMI remained deeply engaged in helping the Iraqi Government in various political and diplomatic activities, he said, adding that he was encouraged by the Mission’s plans to “expand its footprint” in Iraq.  United Nations assistance would be critical to the country’s long-term development and stability.  The proposed United Nations compound in Baghdad would ensure UNAMI’s ability to continue its important role, and the United States looked forward to Iraqi support in ensuring the construction of those facilities.  It was also important that Iraq’s neighbours support efforts to provide security, achieve political progress, and build its economy.  Negotiations between the United States and the Iraqi Government on their “transitioning relationship” continued, including with respect to security.  That relationship would recognize the increasing ability of the Iraqi security forces to assume greater responsibility for security and stability.  The United States called on all parties to renew their commitment to assist the Iraqi Government in continuing the hard work to overcome the many remaining challenges.


Statements


HAMID AL-BAYATI ( Iraq) said his Government had succeeded in preventing a sectarian war, proving that it represented all Iraqis without discrimination.  In the past few months, the country had witnessed a series of military operations, led by the Iraqi Army with the support of international forces, targeting members of Al-Qaida, armed militia groups and other outlaws.  Those operations had led to an 80 per cent decrease in the number of terrorist operations and violent acts.  The Government had also succeeded in building its armed forces on a national, professional and neutral basis.  It was now evident that the loyalty of Iraqi troops was only to Iraq and not to any ruler, party or sect.  The Government was keen to stress human rights principles and to keep the armed forces away from political affiliations.  The number of army, police and other security forces had increased according to security needs.


The decline in violence had led to a return of normal life in all parts of Iraq and encouraged some internally displaced families and refugees to return to their homes, he said, adding that the Government was pursuing a national strategy to encourage voluntary returns.  The Cabinet had allocated more than $195 million for the repatriation of internally and externally displaced people, and some $140 million had been allocated to helping Iraqi refugees.  About 270 families had returned from Iran and 31 individuals from Saudi Arabia in May.  The return of many refugees from Syria and Jordan had been coordinated with international organizations.  Iraq had also provided support for countries hosting Iraqi refugees.


He said the House of Representatives had adopted the Provincial Elections Law in order to hold free and fair elections.  That legislation had been adopted to include all segments of Iraqi society and ensure democratic elections without external interference.  Information had just been received from Iraq that a committee had been formed to bridge the gaps on the provincial elections.  The Government was keen to proceed with national reconciliation to maintain the unity of the people, achieve progress in the national dialogue and expand participation in the political process.  In the context of continuing efforts at national reconciliation, the Government sought to convene an expanded religious conference as a step towards consolidating solidarity among all Iraqis and facilitating the return of internally displaced persons to their homes.


The adoption of the General Amnesty Law had played a positive role in enhancing national reconciliation, he said.  The Ministry of Justice had released 1,648 detainees, the Interior Ministry had released 2,560 detainees, including 59 Arab nationals, the Ministry of Defence had released 545 detainees and the Labour Ministry had released 314 detainees.  Political efforts had culminated in the return of Tawafuq bloc ministers to the Government, and the House of Representatives had voted to appoint 10 ministers to fill vacant ministerial portfolios.


On the economic situation, he said the volume of investment in Iraq had reached $7.4 billion, distributed among various basic facilities.  A large number of businessmen, investors and investment companies had already visited Iraq and a number of investment agreements had been signed with many countries.  At the forefront of the Government’s priorities was improving economic conditions and reviving trade in order to lift Iraq from the brink of economic and social collapse.  The inflation rate had decreased from 65 per cent in 2006 to 22 per cent in 2007.


Outlining Government efforts in the labour market and in the education, social protection, health and other sectors, he said a strategy had been launched to develop agriculture.  As for Iraq’s oil wealth, plans had been made to raise production to 3.5 million barrels per day, and to continue developing the petroleum sector through the adoption of legislation and investment frameworks as well as the promotion of fair revenue distribution.  A law on combating the smuggling of oil and petroleum products had been adopted and efforts were being made to fight corruption.  The Government had also stressed the importance of promoting women’s rights and was keen to entrench a human rights culture.  It had established a national system to monitor violations and formed monitoring teams in the Ministry of Human Rights to cooperate with human rights departments in all other ministries.


He also outlined the latest regional developments, including visits by high-level officials from several neighbouring countries and the development of diplomatic relations.  The Compact meeting in Stockholm had welcomed the proposed new Partnership for Development, which included co-financing of new programmes with international partners and arrangements with regard to debt settlement.  “Brotherly Arab countries” should promote their historical role towards Iraq by forgiving its debts and reconsidering the percentage of the compensation imposed on the country due to its 1990 invasion of Kuwait -– a crime committed by the former dictatorial regime.


Highlighting the important role played by UNAMI, he reiterated the Government’s request for an extension of its mandate for another year.  In demonstration of its keenness to facilitate the Mission’s work, the Government of Iraq had decided to allocate UNAMI 40,000 square metres of land in the international zone for its new integrated headquarters.  It was to be hoped that the Mission’s support and assistance would be provided in accordance with certain mechanisms and with the prior approval of the Iraqi Government.  Iraq looked forward to UNAMI playing a more effective and influential role through the return of United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes to work inside the country and contribute to national reconstruction.


LE LUONG MINH (Viet Nam) said that, in the past four months, Iraq had continued to consolidate and expand its political and socio-economic achievements, as reflected by the lowest levels of overall violence since March 2004; the promulgation of key legislation on justice amnesty, provincial powers and budget execution; the enhanced capability of Iraqi security forces independently to maintain national security and the rule of law; the intensive preparations for the provincial elections scheduled for October; the participation of all political factions in the Cabinet; and the Government’s announcement of a six-point “Partnership for Development”.  Equally noteworthy had been macroeconomic records in increased domestic consumption, the revival of business nationwide, a projected 8 per cent growth in gross domestic product for the next two years, decreased inflation, the gradual settlement of external debt, and large revenues from oil exports.


Against that backdrop, the remaining challenges were a reminder of the magnitude of the tasks to be completed, in order to facilitate Iraq’s smooth transition to durable peace and sustainable development, he said.  They included sectarian violence and criminal acts, delayed adoption of electoral and hydrocarbon laws, unresolved status of Kirkuk, alarming poverty and unemployment rates, and the humanitarian challenges caused by internal and external displacement.  There was also much room for enhancing national dialogue and reconciliation, advancing the legislative agenda and constitutional review, curbing the illicit use of weapons and combating organized crime, promoting disarmament, demobilizing and reintegrating former combatants, creating an environment conducive to foreign and domestic investment, and fostering socio-economic reforms.


Given the progress achieved and the remaining challenges, he said he supported the emerging partnership between the Iraqi Government and people, United Nations agencies, neighbouring countries and the international community.  It was to be hoped that partnership would be translated into further concrete action to serve the mutual interests of all relevant stakeholders on the basis of Iraq’s territorial integrity.  UNAMI’s efforts and the continued presence of the United Nations country team in Iraq were to be commended and deserved support.  Viet Nam thanked the United States for submitting a draft resolution on the issue and was ready to work towards the early adoption of a consensus text.


LA YINFAN ( China) said UNAMI had registered good progress on all fronts under extremely complex circumstances.  Changes in the Iraqi situation had provided “greater space” for the United Nations while also presenting it with new challenges.  China supported a 12-month extension of the Mission’s mandate, which it was expected to implement with professionalism and innovativeness.  With regard to its future work, UNAMI should maintain close cooperation with the Iraqi Government and increase its contacts with all segments of Iraqi society in order to win as much support and understanding of its work as possible.  The Mission should also carry out all mandated tasks in a balanced way, including the provision of electoral assistance and during the constitutional review.


In the areas of economic reconstruction and the promotion of human rights protection, UNAMI could do more by playing a coordinating role and creating synergy with the relevant offices in Iraq, he said, adding that the protection of United Nations personnel was paramount.  China welcomed the remarkable progress achieved in the political, security and reconstruction fields, but stressed that the security situation was still fragile and civilian casualties remained high.  In order to cement security gains, further efforts must be made to advance political dialogue and reconciliation.  Iraqis should establish a solid consensus on important interests, such as the country’s political future.


The provincial elections, for which preparations were under way, would be a key step in that direction, he said.  The elections must be impartial and delays must be avoided.  The security situation, political process and economic reconstruction complemented each other.  China called upon the international community to honour its pledges of assistance to Iraq and tap fully the potential of existing mechanisms, such as the International Compact for Iraq.  Although the country still faced numerous challenges, the situation would improve and the Iraqi people would live in peace and dignity, free, like all peoples of the world, to govern their own affairs.


JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said the extended mandate of UNAMI and the efforts of the Special Representative and international staff had made it possible to facilitate solutions and allow the Mission to be an agent of change and an ally in building peace and sustainable development in Iraq.  That was a natural role for the United Nations, but the ultimate solution could only come through dialogue and reconciliation among Iraqis.  The improvements in security must go hand in hand with improving the Government’s legitimacy.  The United Nations should support all endeavours to promote meaningful and inclusive dialogue.


Turning to activities in preparation for the elections, he urged approval of the necessary legislation in order to give the result of the electoral process legitimacy.  Sustainable peace was a result of a delicate combination of factors.  There was a need to pay special attention to public investment, particularly in broad and effective development.  It was also important to ensure that improvements in security were not made at the expense of the fundamental freedoms and protection of the civilian population and human rights for all.  Iraq should take advantage of the profits from oil production.  A balance between security, fundamental freedoms and the enjoyment of human rights was an important ingredient of peace.  Costa Rica joined the Secretary-General’s call to all forces in Iraq to do everything possible to avoid causing civilian casualties and the disproportionate use of force.


KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom) said that, thanks to recent military operations, violence in Iraq had subsided and the security situation continued to improve.  The Government had taken tough actions and the Iraqi security forces were delivering on their responsibilities.  The improved security situation had provided a platform for further essential progress on reconciliation.  There had been increased cooperation between Sunni communities and the Government, in addition to the passage of important legislation.  The provincial elections would reinforce the political progress made at the national level and contribute to political reconciliation.  However, the progress achieved was fragile and could not be taken for granted.  Among the remaining challenges were the situation of internally displaced persons and refugees, unemploymentand the activities of groups determined to create instability.


Clarifying her country’s role, particularly in light of “misinformed” speculation in the press, she recalled that, 10 months ago, the United Kingdom had set out the key elements for handing over security in Basra to the Iraqis.  The initial phase had been completed when Basra was transferred to provincial Iraqi control in December.  That reflected a judgement borne out by the action of the Iraqi Government to conduct successful operations, for which the United Kingdom had been pleased to provide support.  The remaining British troops were completing key tasks in support of the Iraqi security forces, including training, finalizing the preparation of Basra airport for civilian control and continuing to develop the capacity of the Iraqi navy and marines, so that they could protect territorial waters, the port and oil platforms.  As progress continued in different areas, the number of British troops in Iraq would continue to be reduced.  Of course, future decisions would be based on the advice of military commanders on the ground and would be taken in consultation with the Government of Iraq and coalition partners.  She expected a fundamental change of mission in the first months of 2009 as the transition took place to a normal bilateral relationship with Iraq, similar to those that the United Kingdom had with other key partners in the region.


VICE SKRACIC ( Croatia) agreed with previous speakers that Iraq was making strong albeit measured progress, especially in the security and political fields.  Although casualties among both Iraqi security forces and civilians still occurred at unacceptably high levels, local officials had demonstrated increased cooperation with the Government and the security forces had renewed their efforts to break the cycle of violence.  Strengthened cooperation with local elements had proven crucial to the success of several security operations conducted with increasing success against rebel or terrorist groups.


Recognizing that many security challenges remained and that more must be done to ensure civic and political freedoms, he said the wider human rights situation remained alarming.  While Croatia understood the many challenges associated with simultaneously attempting to strengthen and uphold the institutions of a fledging democracy amid armed rebel groups and criminal gangs, it was to be hoped that, in addressing those challenges, the Iraqi police and security forces would strike the necessary balance between ensuring public safety and upholding international humanitarian and human rights law.


He welcomed UNAMI’s continued work with the Independent Electoral Commission, expressing the hope that its assistance would enable the Government soon to overcome the remaining problems associated with the new electoral law.  The impasse over the constitutional review was also of great concern, as were the persistent problems related to the hydrocarbon law.  Meanwhile, Croatia welcomed UNAMI’s confidence-building efforts in helping to address the issue of disputed internal boundaries.  The Mission remained well placed to undertake a central role in international efforts to help Iraq overcome the remaining challenges before it.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that, while a certain amount of progress in the security field had taken place in certain governorates, it was too early to talk about its irreversibility.  Certain ruthless incidents had been perpetrated by extremists.  The Russian Federation supported the declared approach of the Iraqi leadership and political forces to the achievement of a lasting settlement by advancing Iraqi dialogue through strengthened national reconciliation.  Expediting the adoption of laws covering local elections and hydrocarbons was crucial for sustained political and economic development, and the Russian Federation welcomed UNAMI’s active efforts to help Iraqis resolve those challenges.  In that context, maintaining Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity remained a top priority.


Agreeing with previous speakers on the importance of local elections, he said they should be transparent with results accepted by all Iraqis, all States in the region and the international community as a whole.  Certain political steps were commendable, such as the opening of new embassies in Baghdad and new economic measures.  Following Russia’s lead, several other countries had stepped up to resolve Iraq’s foreign debt.  A timeframe was also being set concerning the presence of foreign troops, which was important for the stability of the Persian Gulf and the entire Middle East.


He expressed support for UNAMI’s goal of continuing its work with the Government to end impunity and redress the human rights situation, adding that the Mission’s regular reports describing the humanitarian and human rights situation should include statistics on the number of civilian casualties, which, unfortunately, remained high.  The Russian Federation welcomed Iraq’s recent accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which concerned the participation of children in armed conflict, and encouraged Iraq to implement resolution 1612 (2005).  Those steps should help mitigate the inhumane treatment of children in Iraq.


ALDO MANTOVANI ( Italy) welcomed the improvement in the security situation, but cautioned that further improvements in the security framework were needed to promote economic and social growth.  Italy hoped for a completion of the transfer of responsibility for security to Iraq, which had already taken place in 10 out of 18 governorates.  Increasing the reliability of the Iraqi security forces was an objective to which Italy attached great importance and to which it contributed through its participation in the NATO training mission.


The security and political gains of the past months must be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national reconciliation, he continued.  All the expressions of democracy should be included in the political process so as to enable a consolidated political dialogue that would make a strong contribution to improving security.  Italy appreciated measures to counter sectarianism or attempts to discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities.  It also supported the United Nations initiative for an agreed political solution articulated through a gradual approach, starting with the administrative reform of less problematic areas.


Calling on all Iraqi political forces to reach an agreement on an electoral law to enable the holding of provincial elections, he expressed appreciation of the recent allocations by the Iraqi Government to alleviate the conditions of refugees in Syria and Jordan and of internally displaced persons.  Italy also welcomed initiatives to foster their re-entry and reinsertion into the country.  The United Nations had a central role to play through the committed efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and all UNAMI staff.  Italy was honoured to be one of the co-sponsors of the draft resolution that would renew the Mission’s mandate for a year, upon the request of the Iraqi Government.


MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said that, despite the positive developments, violence remained unabated.  Recent suicide bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk were a reminder that investment in security was still of paramount importance.  While welcoming the Iraqi security forces’ growing confidence and capabilities, all parties should respect international human rights and humanitarian law and continue to take measures to ensure the protection of civilians.  Indonesia shared the Secretary-General’s concern about the psychosocial impact of violence and deprivation on millions of Iraqi children, and called for greater efforts and resources to address that challenge.


Support from all segments of the Iraqi population was critical to the achievement of long-term stability, he continued.  It was important that the Iraqi people overcome sectarianism and employ peaceful means to settle disputes while engaging in political dialogue and reconciliation.  The Helsinki reconciliation meeting on 29 April had been a welcome step.  Indonesia also welcomed recent positive steps to strengthen unity within the Iraqi Government.  The upcoming provincial elections would be an important stage in Iraq’s democratic process.  And Indonesia welcomed the role of the Independent High Electoral Commission in that regard, as well as the Government’s commitment to progress in passing the electoral law and the constitutional review process.


On the regional level, he welcomed the Third Ministerial Conference of Neighbouring Countries in Kuwait on 22 April and the first Iraq Compact Review in Stockholm on 29 May.  As for UNAMI, the Mission’s continued presence in and contribution to Iraq would remain essential, considering the ongoing efforts by the Government and people of Iraq to develop economically, while embracing democracy, good governance and rule of law, and promoting peace and stability.


ALFREDO SUESCUM (Panama), while also noting the positive security developments and the significant reincorporation into the Government of various political blocs, stressed, however, that the Security Council must take into account the Secretary-General’s observation that the situation was still critical, requiring a redoubling of efforts by the Government and all segments of Iraqi society, as well as the continued cooperation of the international community.  Panama appreciated UNAMI’s efforts to assist in the development of an inclusive electoral system that would make it possible to hold fair and transparent elections.  A peaceful Iraq also required the achievement of important common goals such as a law on hydrocarbons, and the definition of internal common borders.


He also welcomed the recent regional and international dialogue and the reopening of foreign embassies in Iraq.  Those events reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to the “cause of Iraq”.  Still, the humanitarian situation remained critical and deserved the greatest attention.  Panama urged UNAMI and the Government to strengthen their response to the basic needs of the most vulnerable people, both within and beyond the country’s borders, and to guarantee safe and voluntary returns.  The human rights situation remained alarming, and the Council must pay more attention to the report prepared by UNAMI.  Panama was especially concerned about the serious situation of children, gender violence and the excessive use of force against civilians, and the situation of detainees.


JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX ( France) said disarming militias was an important objective for the full restoration of Iraqi authority, and it was important to bolster Government efforts in that regard.  The first challenge was the crucial process of national reconciliation and constitutional review, which should be inclusive and earn the cooperation of all Iraqi political leaders.  As a matter of urgency, their statement of intent must be translated into action.  The Mission must continue to advise the Government and help in preparing the elections.  Also welcome had been the efforts of neighbouring countries.


The Iraqi Government should live up to its financial commitment for the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons, while respecting the human rights of all Iraqis, he said, expressing particular concern about the rights of detainees.  France called on all stakeholders to step up their efforts in that regard.  Together with the European Union, France would continue to help build a law-based Iraq.  Any gains were also dependent on the regional process, and France welcomed the involvement of neighbouring States, while reiterating its full support for a one-year renewal of UNAMI’s mandate and stressing the need for a safe environment for its staff.


BONGIWE QWABE (South Africa), noting the enhanced cooperation among political groups and between Iraq and neighbouring countries, said that, those developments notwithstanding, fundamental challenges remained, including civilian casualties which remained “unacceptably high”.  The human rights situation also remained serious and the dire humanitarian situation continued to have a negative impact on the stability of Iraq and the region.  A recent report by Refugees International indicated that more than 2 million Iraqi refugees lived in neighbouring countries and almost 3 million Iraqis were internally displaced.  The continuing delay in finalizing the electoral and hydrocarbon laws, which were central to the equitable representation and distribution of natural resources, was a further destabilizing factor.


She welcomed UNAMI’s initiatives to establish a process for addressing disputed internal boundaries and supported the Mission’s efforts to help the Iraqi people and Government strengthen institutions for representative Government, promote political dialogue and national reconciliation and engage neighbouring countries.  The work of the United Nations in Iraq bore testament to the international community’s determination to help the Iraqi people move beyond the current crisis.  The United Nations had a particularly important role to play with regard to national reconciliation as it not only enjoyed good relations with all parties across the political spectrum, but also brought to the table its considerable experience and best practices gained from operating in other conflict situations.  However, an expanded role for the Organization, as foreseen in resolution 1770 (2007), could only be realized “as circumstances permit”.  The safety of United Nations personnel must be an overriding consideration.


PAUL ROBERT TIENDREBEOGO ( Burkina Faso) welcomed the improvement in the overall security situation, but pointed out that significant challenges remained.  While the cooperation of communities, the building up of security forces and the return to Government of political parties that had previously boycotted the political process were among the positive developments.  Among the challenges was the need to dissipate the risks of disagreement over the constitutional review, the draft electoral law and hydrocarbon legislation.  The delicate question of internal borders should also be resolved as soon as possible.


On the regional level, he welcomed the high-level contacts and reopening of diplomatic offices in Baghdad and urged the international community to support the regional dialogue and the International Compact for Iraq in rebuilding and developing the country.  However, despite efforts to resolve internal borders, hold elections and the drop in attacks against the international zone, the situation was still worrying in terms of the human rights and humanitarian situation.  The Government and all parties involved must guarantee the observance of human rights, fight impunity and improve the overall humanitarian situation.  In view of the remaining challenges, Burkina Faso supported the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate.


GIADALLA ETTALHI ( Libya), while welcoming the positive political developments, warned anew that the stability of the security situation was contingent upon national reconciliation and the conviction of all Iraqis that the opportunities presented to them, particularly in terms of governance and wealth-sharing, was far removed from sectarian and ethnic considerations.  The security situation was also contingent on an end to occupation and a firm belief in the Iraqi Government’s authority over the country.


He said the level of violence had risen, drawing attention to recent operations by the Multinational Force and the Iraqi security forces, which still caused numerous civilian casualties.  According to the Secretary-General’s report, the human rights situation remained serious, and Libya was concerned about the detainees and rounded-up suspects who apparently included children.  In fact, the Multinational Force had detained 21,000 individuals in the last few days under the pretext that the United Nations mandate gave it the right to detain anyone deemed a security threat.  Widespread abuses and attacks against children persisted, as did attacks against hospitals.  More than 1,500 children remained in detention for alleged connection with armed groups, according to the Secretary-General’s report.


Refugees and internally displaced persons still faced very difficult circumstances, he said, adding that the rate of returns was very low.  No genuine efforts had been made to create the appropriate conditions for their return.  Some reports referred to 2.5 million internally displaced persons and more than 2.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries.  That issue deserved the Council’s particular attention, and it was to be hoped that future reports would contain details in that regard.  Libya was also concerned about the delay in passing the electoral law and the continuing dispute over Kirkuk’s status.


Council President JAN GRAULS (Belgium), speaking in his national capacity, welcomed the Iraqi authorities’ desire to extend UNAMI’s mandate and noted the positive developments in the areas of security, national reconciliation and regional dialogue, and more generally, the increased assumption of responsibility by the Iraqi authorities.  However, that progress did not eclipse the magnitude of the remaining challenges.  Progress should be consolidated, first by advancing the political dialogue further.  Belgium welcomed the increased involvement of political parties.


He said the internal border issue indicated ongoing difficulties in power- and wealth-sharing, and welcomed UNAMI’s willingness to provide technical assistance and mediation.  Belgium echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal for the speedy adoption of the electoral law, and his assessment of the increased capabilities and autonomy of the Iraqi security forces.  The recent fatal attacks should impress upon all stakeholders the vital need to comply with the rule of law and to respect the fundamental rights of civilians.


Commending Iraq’s willingness to deepen the dialogue with its neighbours and the international community, he said the country’s long-term stability required that progress be reflected in the day-to-day lives of the Iraqi people, including the more than 4 million who had been forced to flee their homes.  Belgium welcomed the willingness of the Iraqi authorities to take ownership of the reconstruction projects, under the increased involvement of the United Nations, and their intention not to seek renewal of the Multinational Force mandate as they sought to conclude a bilateral agreement.  Belgium intended to contribute €250,000 to a special trust fund to finance United Nations security in Iraq.


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For information media • not an official record