26 February 2009
Security Council
SC/9602

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

Security Council

6087th Meeting (AM)


IRAQ SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL ‘WE HAVE GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM’


FOLLOWING RECENT SUCCESSFUL PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS

 


Says Challenges in 2009 Will Include Efforts to Foster National Reconciliation;

Iraq ’s Representative Says Elections ‘Turning Point’ in Progress towards Democracy


Fresh from success in holding its first fully Iraqi-led provincial elections ‑- a “daunting” logistical and operational undertaking, which saw an unprecedented 7.5 million people cast their ballots ‑- Iraq had emerged sovereign and rising to expectations two months into 2009, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, told the Security Council today.


“We have grounds for optimism,” he said, as he briefed the Council on his latest report.  The 31 January elections conducted in 14 of Iraq’s 18 governorates were marked by a “striking” lack of violence, a remarkable event in a country that had suffered so much conflict in recent years.  The polls sought to make new local representatives directly accountable, and were an encouraging sign that the Iraqi electorate was ready to have their concerns pushed for by local representatives.  Recognized as credible and transparent, with an unparalleled show of support, the elections should increase Iraqi’s confidence in their local institutions, he said.


They were, however, only a further step in fostering national reconciliation, he said.  A country could not truly attain sovereignty without confidence in its institutions, respect for the rule of law, and a unifying Constitution, which implied greater willingness to bridge tensions among all communities, notably Arabs and Kurds, whose lingering differences had stemmed progress on development of the oil law, revenue sharing and constitutional review.  Iraqi leaders should be encouraged to advance other issues relating to the definition on the nature of the Iraqi State, and the Constitutional Review Process, under way since 2005, should be completed.


Nonetheless, the elections had been a flagship of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) mandate, and 2009 would foresee continued electoral activity, which could culminate in national parliamentary elections as early as December.


Building on that, the representative of Iraq said the recent elections were considered a turning point in his country’s progress in building a new democracy.  The main message his people wanted to convey was that they placed emphasis on building a responsible democracy through the exercise of their rights in the context of public administration.  The success of the elections, seen in the 51 per cent voter turnout, demonstrated the improved capabilities of Iraqi security forces, and solid gains in the country’s overall security situation.


Moreover, Iraq had achieved a new security agreement with the United States to organize the future bilateral partnership between the two nations, as the mandate for the Multinational Force in Iraq had expired.  By the end of 2008, some 40,000 displaced families had returned to their places of origin, and one of the largest internally displaced persons camps in Najaf province had closed.


Among other Government efforts, he noted the 14 January ratification of a law providing for a High Commissioner for Human Rights, and attention to the human rights of Iraqi detainees in custody pending criminal cases, as shown by its creation of detention centres with provisions for full legal immunities.  His Government also strongly supported the review process of Security Council decisions relating to Iraq after resolution 661 (1990) ‑- a key step in the international community’s efforts to normalize relations between Iraq and its neighbours.


Picking up that thread, the representative of the United States said that, with shared strategic interests at stake, Iraq remained an issue of great importance for her country, and the new Administration would steer a new course.  Iraqi and American interests would be served by safely redeploying United States forces from Iraq, and she encouraged other countries to join in stabilizing the region and to deploy a broader range of tools.  With the end of the coalition’s mandate on 31 December, a sovereign Iraq now looked to the global community, and she encouraged States to help strengthen democratic institutions, bring displaced citizens back home, and deepen productive relations with neighbours.


She said the United States would move responsibly and safely to reduce its military presence, and the bilateral agreement between the countries would frame the path ahead.  Its comprehensive strategy in the Middle East would seek an end to Iran’s ambition to acquire an “illicit nuclear capacity”, and encourage both Iran and Syria to become constructive regional actors.


Drawing attention to upcoming challenges, the representative of Turkey said Iraqis will need to have resolved several issues by the time parliamentary elections were held at year’s end, including a review of the Iraqi Constitution; settling the question of internal administrative boundaries, notably in Kirkuk; and carrying out a peaceful transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi security forces once multinational forces withdrew, without creating a power vacuum.


The representative of the Russian Federation agreed, saying that problems with the elections included a low turnout of voters in Baghdad, which meant that almost half of the population had not yet taken a civic stand on the key issues.  The terrorist underground still existed, and much of the population rejected the presence of foreign forces, even when governed by certain rules and the status of forces agreement.  Other potentially explosive problems included serious human rights violations.


At the same time, the representative of France pointed out that the elections had taken place under conditions of plurality and calm.  The foreign affairs ministers of the European Union welcomed the elections as a victory for the Iraqi people, and France praised the fact that Iraqis were taking back the affairs of their country.  On the economic front, his country had cancelled €4 billion of Iraqi debt, and would provide contributions in all areas requested by the Government.


Also speaking today were the representatives of Burkina Faso, Mexico, Libya, Austria, United Kingdom, Uganda, Croatia, China, Viet Nam, Costa Rica and Japan.


The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 12:35 p.m.


Background


The Security Council met today to consider the report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 6 of resolution 1830 (2008) (document S/2009/102), the second report submitted pursuant to that resolution, which provides an update on United Nations activities since 6 November 2008.


Among the key political and security developments, the report notes that Iraq took a “significant” step forward with provincial elections, held 31 January in 14 of its 18 governorates, marking the successful culmination of months of political activity.  Voter turnout, estimated at 51 per cent, was encouraging, notably among the Sunni population, which had largely boycotted 2005 elections.  Implementation of a robust national security plan throughout the electoral period allowed Iraqis to cast their votes with confidence.  Generally, the period was marked by very low levels of violence, highlighting the improved capability of the Iraqi security forces.


During his 6 February visit to Iraq, the Secretary-General met with the Iraqi political leadership to discuss solidifying recent security gains, as well as with the Chairman of the Independent High Electoral Commission, the United States Ambassador to Iraq and Baghdad-based United Nations staff.  The Council of Representatives approved the final draft of the United States-Iraq bilateral security agreement on 27 November, placing United States forces under Iraq Government authority, and giving a December 2011 timeline for their withdrawal.


As for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), priority was given to work on Iraq’s disputed internal borders, notably with a parliamentary committee tasked, in part, with determining a power-sharing formula before provincial elections were held in the Kirkuk Governorate, and assessing property disputes before and after 9 April 2003.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative visited Kirkuk in December 2008, offering UNAMI assistance in technical expertise and Secretariat support in cases of disagreement.


The Mission continued to provide support to Iraq in relations with neighbouring countries and, in the area of constitutional support activities, hosted a 24 to 25 November round-table discussion on hydrocarbon management in the context of a federal system.  In the run-up to the elections, UNAMI led efforts to address the issue of minority representation, in the form of an amendment to the 2008 electoral law, and advised on encouraging representation of women in the governorate councils.


Regarding humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and development, the report notes that deliberations had begun on broader financial support for Iraq through the United Nations, as the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq and the United Nations Development Group Iraq Trust Fund were expected to close in coming years.  Total commitments to the Trust Fund had reached $1.36 billion as of 31 December 2008; total deposits were at $1.33 billion.  Iraq’s fiscal reserves had been strained by sharp declines in oil prices, undermining the Government’s ability to plan development investment and the lack of private sector growth compounded that challenge. While the trend in returns of internally displaced persons and refugees was positive ‑- with nearly 40,000 returnee families registered at the end of 2008 ‑- returnees were increasingly confronted with occupied homes and damaged properties.


Also during the reporting period, the Secretary-General concluded negotiations with the United States on 31 December for a new agreement which set out details for the United States’ continued provision of security support for the United Nations presence in Iraq.  The accord replaces a 2005 arrangement.


Among his observations, the Secretary-General praised the elections as “an important turning point” for Iraq, yielding a more representative and inclusive political process at the local level.  The onus would now be on those in the governorate councils to engage in constructive dialogue.  To achieve lasting peace, he hoped Iraqi leaders would build positive momentum towards national dialogue and reconciliation, which would require all to remain open to compromise.


In the area of human rights, the Secretary-General welcomed the 16 November passage of a law to establish the Independent Human Rights Commission, which marked the culmination of two years of intense advocacy work by the UNAMI Human Rights Office and its international partners.


He also noted that Iraq’s economic challenges would generate difficult choices for the Government in 2009, particularly as public funding for reconstruction and development activities appeared to be diminishing.  Consolidating UNAMI’s logistical support and security arrangements at locations in Basrah, Kirkuk, Najaf, Ramadi and Mosul would be vital to deepening United Nations outreach, and he encouraged States to continue supporting United Nations’ efforts to deliver on its mandate outlined in Security Council resolution 1830 (2008).


While implementation of the bilateral security agreement was a sign of the growing capability of the Iraqi security forces to maintain law and order, more could be done to end the sporadic violence that affected civilians.  The Secretary-General was saddened by the November 2008 rocket attack on the United Nations interim accommodation facility in the International Zone, which killed two support staff and injured 15 others.  Given such risks, staff security must remain a top priority.


Finally, the Secretary-General said the expansion of UNAMI and its increased activities under resolution 1770 (2007) were welcome developments.  Further, as requested by the Council, the United Nations was committed to preparing a report on facts relevant for the Council’s consideration regarding actions Iraq must take to achieve international standing equal to that which it held prior to the adoption of resolution 661 (1990), which placed economic sanctions on the country following its invasion of Kuwait.


Briefing by Special Representative of Secretary-General for Iraq


Briefing the Security Council, STAFFAN DE MISTURA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, said, over the past few months the “eyes of the international community” had been turned towards a country immersed in pre-electoral activity, as Iraqis prepared to vote in the first governorate elections in four years.


The end of 2008 had witnessed an acceleration of electoral activities, and a heightened state of preparedness by the Independent High Electoral Commissions (IHEC), with UNAMI geared towards buttressing the electoral process.  Two months into 2009, Iraq had emerged sovereign and rising to expectations.  On 31 January, provincial elections were conducted in 14 governorates, with 42,000 opened polling stations, in a “striking lack of violence”.  That was a remarkable event in a country that had suffered through so much conflict in recent years.


He said Iraqis had shown ability to run elections in what had been a “daunting” logistical and operational undertaking.  Some 7.5 million people turned out to cast their ballots, and 400 political entities, vying for 440 seats.  Those first polls sought to make the new local representatives directly accountable, and to rectify the sectarian imbalance of local councils in some areas.  They were an encouraging demonstration that the Iraqi electorate was ready to have their concerns democratically pushed for by local representatives.


Commending the IHEC for its resolute efforts, he said that, with intensive assistance from UNAMI, the Iraqi Commission had overcome each hurdle, met operational timelines, and come out of a contentious parliamentary debate over critical electoral legislation.


Following the release of provisional results on 5 February, final results were announced on 19 February, he said, and a possible final certification of results was being sought before the second week of March.  It was heartening that about one quarter of the 44 council members would be women.  Political parties would naturally contest their individual gains, but that should not take away from what by many accounts had been a broadly accepted election.  Recognized as credible and transparent, with an unprecedented international show of support, the elections should increase Iraqis’ confidence in their local institutions.


Much would now depend on elected leaders to work within their selected electoral system, he said.  They must prove that they recognized the need to expand the extent of their inclusive political dialogue, striking compromises.


The elections had been a flagship of the UNAMI mandate, he said, and 2009 would foresee continued electoral activity, which could include elections for the Kurdish National Assembly set for this summer, and culminate in the national parliamentary elections as early as December. UNAMI would provide technical assistance to the IHEC, and support the Government’s commitment to hold a census.


Elections were only a further step in fostering national reconciliation.  “This is a pressing need for Iraq, if Iraqis are to grab the chance in 2009 to experience real advances towards national sovereignty,” he said.  A country could not truly attain sovereignty without confidence in its institutions, respect for the rule of law, and a unifying Constitution.  That implied greater willingness to bridge tensions between and among all communities, and UNAMI was committed to supporting the Government in those efforts.


Of notable concern were lingering tensions between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq, which had been the cause of a lack of real progress on the oil law, revenue sharing or constitutional review, he said.  As UNAMI worked as an “honest broker” to promote a spirit of dialogue, it would shift its energy and emphasis on its initiative on the disputed internal boundaries and work on Kirkuk, including through the Article 23 Committee.  The latter was tasked by the Council of Representatives with finding a power-sharing formula prior to provincial elections in Kirkuk, and assessing property disputes.  Work in those areas was a means to helping to lower tensions.


During his trip to Kirkuk in December, he said there was momentum among the people of Kirkuk to explore locally generated options regarding Kirkuk’s administrative future.  Part of his trip involved discussing the work of the Article 23 Committee, criticized as having gotten off to a slow start.  Obstacles had since been removed to its work.  On 2 February, his political deputy facilitated the Committee members’ first visit to Kirkuk, and he had offered UNAMI’s assistance in the areas of technical expertise.


UNAMI had been, in parallel, working on its comprehensive review of the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Salahadin, Diyala and Ninewa.  The first four district reports were submitted to Iraqi leaders last June, while the submission of the remaining 11 was delayed, as UNAMI did not wish to take any initiatives in the run-up to the elections.  UNAMI was in consultation with the Iraqi Government to determine the appropriate finalization process for the whole package, which would constitute the most in-depth analysis thus far presented on those areas.  They would examine strategic features, socio-economic indices, and injustices of past regimes, among other things.  Those reports, presented by an objective third party, could be a serious contribution to building confidence in finding solutions, and providing “building blocks” for negotiations.


At the same time, the Iraqi leadership should be encouraged to advance other fundamental issues that were at the core of tensions, relating to the definition of the nature of the Iraqi state, he said.  Should groups feel that their interests were not taken into account by the Constitution, the Constitutional Review Process, under way since 2005, should be completed.  UNAMI was committed to supporting the establishment of independent bodies, the most significant development being legislation providing for the creation of a Human Rights Commission.


On international partnership, he noted that recent months had seen the opening of embassies by Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, among others, and UNAMI would continue its involvement in that area, notably through confidence-building bilateral initiatives.  On relations with Kuwait, UNAMI was helping on issues including border maintenance, the question of missing Kuwaitis and archives and compensation.  Regarding Iran, he welcomed the set-up of a joint committee to include ministries of defence, interior, environment, foreign affairs, and on demining work along the Iranian border.


Iraq was making progress towards economic and social recovery, and should be congratulated on reforms that led to the cancellation of the Paris Club Debt.  Iraqis would look to their leaders to provide better schools, jobs and electricity supplies.  The task at hand would challenge elected officials to their highest capacity.  Social services and a market economy must recover from a quarter century of hardship and conflict:  nearly one third of young people were unemployed, and safe water reached only 40 per cent of Iraqi homes.


Low oil prices would make it more important to prioritize development strategies:  the 2009 expenditure budget was 21 per cent lower than originally planned.  Those challenges could be met through a more efficient and transparent public sector and a stronger private sector.  Where needs were most acute, the United Nations would continue to provide humanitarian assistance through its Consolidated Appeal for Iraq and the subregion.  The International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq, which would close by 31 December, had seen $1.3 billion channelled through it since inception.


The United Nations and international community must now join forces to maximize investment in Iraq’s priorities for recovery, he stressed.  The International Compact could be the primary vehicle for all Iraq initiatives.  The United Nations agencies, funds and programmes would undergo review of their own assistance frameworks, to promote greater compliance with the Paris Declaration.


“We have grounds for optimism,” he said in closing.  The Iraqi Government was signalling that 2009 would be the year to show its ability to administer a State that enjoyed broad support and intended to deliver basic services and security guarantees.  Security had improved and Iraq had asserted its sovereignty.  With more sovereignty came more responsibility ‑- to all communities.  “This is the time to build on what has been achieved after the recent first fully Iraqi-led provincial elections”, he added.  It was now up to Iraqis to heal the wounds of the past and move ahead with a common vision.


Statements


HAMID AL BAYATI ( Iraq) said his people and Government were proud of their achievements in holding the provincial elections, which had seen the competition of 14,431 candidates, including 3,912 women, belonging to 401 lists competing for 440 seats throughout 14 provinces.  The 51 per cent turnout of the elections had been very good, compared to participation rates in local elections in other countries.  The provincial elections were considered a turning point in Iraq’s progress in the pursuit of building a new democracy.  His Government considered the success of the elections an important development and a strong push towards the promotion of reconciliation and coexistence between various components of the Iraqi people.


Regarding Kirkuk, he said that, in accordance with the provincial elections law, the elections there had been postponed and a parliamentary committee formed to study options for power-sharing between the components of Kirkuk and to research the issues of conflict of ownership and demographic change.  The committee hoped its report, when submitted to the Council of Representatives, would facilitate the process for provincial elections in Kirkuk.  The Iraqi political forces agreed on the substance of article 23 of the Elections Act, which confirmed the process to resolve the Kirkuk issue through constitutional and political means in order to preserve full rights to all components in the province.


The success of the elections was an important juncture in the political development of the new Iraq, he reiterated, adding that the Secretary-General had paid tribute to the circumstances surrounding the elections, saying they were “impressively free of violence”.  Mr. De Mistura had also said the election process had been well organized and expressed his admiration for the role of Iraqi security forces.  The main message that the Iraqi people wanted conveyed to the world was the emphasis they placed on building a responsible democracy through the exercise of their rights within the context of public administration, as stated in the Constitution.  The success of the elections demonstrated the great improvement in the capabilities of Iraqi security forces, as well as solid gains in the country’s security situation, thanks to the Government’s efforts to strengthen the political, security and law enforcement fields.  Anti-terrorism authorities in Iraq had overseen the destruction of 51 terrorist networks in 2008, and the Government was committed to supporting efforts of national reconciliation and political dialogue.


The Governments of Iraq and the United States had achieved a new security agreement to organize the future bilateral partnership between the two nations, he said.  The termination of the Multinational Force in Iraq (MNF-1) mandate was an important turning point for Iraq and the end of an era of the United Nations, as well as the contributing forces to MNF-1.  The Multinational Force had contributed vital support to the process of building security and stability in Iraq, and towards its transition to a sovereign, federal and united democracy.  The improvement in the security situation in Baghdad and other provinces had helped people to return to a normal pace of life in most areas.  Displaced families returning to their places of origin numbered about 40,000 by the end of 2008, and one of the largest internally displaced persons camps in the province of Najaf had been closed after the return of 300 families living there.


His Government was working tirelessly on the return of private property and assistance to returning displaced families, he continued.  Its continued efforts, in cooperation with international organizations and aid agencies, to secure full return of the Christian families displaced by violence in some parts of Nineveh province had led to the return of 2,400 of the 2,500 displaced families.  The Minister of Displacement and Migration had recently headed a delegation to Syria, in the first leg of a trip that would include stops in Egypt and Lebanon, with the goal of coordinating with those countries the return of displaced Iraqis on their territory.  In that connection, he referred to the recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which had pointed to the return of 220,000 Iraqis during 2008 and expected return of 500,000 Iraqis during 2009.


Among the Government’s other efforts, he also mentioned the ratification on 14 January of the law providing for a High Commissioner for Human Rights under the provisions of article 61 of the Iraqi Constitution.  The Government attached particular importance to the issue of human rights for Iraqi detainees in custody pending criminal cases, demonstrated by the creation of places of detention with appropriate provision for full legal immunities and procedures to ensure a fair trial.  On 22 February, the central Baghdad prison had been opened to the press as part of the Government’s policy to ensure the highest degree of transparency in the follow-up of conditions for detainees in Iraqi jails.


Continuing, he pointed to a clear improvement in the country’s economic indicators in the last few months and said that the rate of economic growth at the end of 2008 had amounted to 44.2 per cent and the inflation rate had decreased from 16 per cent in 2007 to 12 per cent in the last quarter of 2008.  Investment was a priority for the Government, which had allocated $12 billion of the national budget for investment activities for all the ministries and established a national monitoring mechanism to encourage them to spend the allocated investment funds in their projects.  In light of its obligations under the International Compact with Iraq, the Government had signed a number of bilateral agreements with Paris Club countries, in which they were to cancel nearly $45 billion of the national debt of over $52 billion.  A bilateral agreement and Memorandum of Understanding had also been signed with Greece and China, under which the debt to those countries was reduced by 80 per cent.  A social security network had been established to support orphans, widows, and the unemployed.  The Government had allocated 800 million dinars for that purpose and increased the number of small loans to 120,000 for 2009.  It had also allocated up to $697 million as an investment budget for the Ministry of Industry to rebuild many of the ministerial institutions to diversify the sources of national income.


New policies had been adopted with regard of the oil industry, he said.  Oil production had increased by 11 per cent in 2008.  The Government had also joined the International Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, to place a monitoring mechanism on its oil revenues and ways of spending them.  There was also progress in the area of basic services, with the number of people deprived of water and sewage systems reduced to 10 per cent in urban and 30 per cent in rural areas, for example.  In the area of education, the Ministry of Education had signed cooperation protocols with such support organizations as UNICEF.  That initiative supported the national plan for the building of schools, in which 291 schools had already been constructed, so far, and 374 restored.


He said the Government continued to monitor and coordinate the work of the committees on refugees, energy and security within the framework adopted at the Expanded Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Neighbouring Countries of Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh and Istanbul.  The past few months had seen mutual visits between a number of Iraqi and international officials.  This month, the French President and the German Foreign Minister had paid visits to the country.  The President of Iraq had visited Kuwait to participate in the Economic Summit of Arab States, and the Prime Minister had visited Iran and Turkey.  An Iraqi-Kuwaiti joint committee was to hold a meeting in Kuwait this month in order to ensure a common vision in solving the outstanding issues between the two countries.


Following the first review of the International Compact in Stockholm, the Government had taken many steps to enhance and support the policies to accomplish all the requirements through the shared monitoring matrix of 2008.  In the framework of positive cooperation with the United Nations and Kuwait, early next month during meetings of the Technical Subcommittee and in the presence of United Nations high-level coordinator Gennady Tarasov, his Government would hand over to Kuwait a large number of audiotapes and videotapes as a gesture of goodwill.  His Government strongly supported the process of review of Security Council decisions pertaining to Iraq after resolution 661 of 1990 that represented a key step in the support of the international community’s efforts to normalize relations between Iraq and its neighbours and contribute to the security and stability in the region.


MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) was encouraged by the positive developments in Iraq, noting in particular the success of democratic elections in the provinces, which marked a first step in the country’s political life.  Those elections were an “eloquent” test of the Iraqi security forces to guarantee the security of the people, and a “reassuring” indicator for upcoming legislative elections.  The lack of violence was a sign that Iraqis were taking back control of their destiny.  He also noted the 27 November conclusion of the bilateral agreement between the United States and Iraq.


On UNAMI’s activities, he was pleased the Mission was contributing to national reconstruction efforts, and its role had been decisive in the conduct of the elections.  In addition, UNAMI had succeeded in working on the settlement of internal border disputes, and the status of Kirkuk.  It also had worked to boost relations between Iraq and its neighbours.  On an economic level, he said the International Compact for Iraq was playing a crucial role in reconstruction, and he welcomed the creation of an aid strategy from the United Nations to Iraq for the 2008-2010 period.  However, the United Nations must continue to further back the Iraqi Government, which faced a budgetary deficit, to meet social and economic development challenges.  More than ever, that tier of development was critical.  Improvement in human rights was at the heart of UNAMI’s concerns, and he noted the creation of a law establishing the Independent Human Rights Commission.


With the decreasing role of multinational forces, which would lead to UNAMI’s enhanced role, he advised providing the Mission with a new operational base, provided with consistent logistical infrastructure to fully discharge its mandate.  He was pleased that UNAMI was working on that, and he urged the global community to support the Mission.  In closing, he encouraged Iraq to succeed, in all ways, in its national recovery.


CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said the Secretary-General’s report was important for two reasons.  First, because it was the first time the Council had been informed on the matter since the expiration of the Multinational Force mandate.  Bilateral, concrete fact was important, notably given the conditions under which the war in Iraq had developed.  The bilateral security agreement represented a success for the Government and people of Iraq.


Second, he said the report was being presented in the context of provincial elections, and he thanked the High Electoral Commission and UNAMI for their efforts.  Mexico was pleased that the electoral process had been carried out calmly, as pointed out by various international observers.  Provincial elections were, indeed, a triumph for Iraqi democracy.  Iraqis had opted for the ballot box to reduce political controversies and help establish national reconciliation.  The holding of elections favoured participation by the Sunni population, which had not participated in 2005.  He hoped the electoral process results would promote political dialogue.  Likewise, he hoped it would prepare a base for the holding of national elections in December.


Despite the progress made, he said there were significant challenges.  In security, the situation was different than that which existed in previous years.  There were attacks against civilians, Iraqi Armed Forces and United Nations staff, and he was confident that the Government would deal with that problem, while respecting human rights.  He welcomed news that 40,000 families had been repatriated to Iraq, and welcomed adoption of the law under which the High Commission for Human Rights was established.  He hoped that would lead to human rights advances, including in women’s rights.  On the overall strategy for promoting the rule of law, he said by strengthening institutions, political and economic success could be guaranteed.


As international aid for reconstruction unfolded, he said UNAMI’s work in fighting poverty, achieving the Millennium Development Goals and strengthening education and health would be more important.  It would be important that UNAMI, with relevant players, supported the 2.8 million internally displaced persons, and he welcomed the establishment of the cooperation mechanism, promoted by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to support refugees in an environment of dignity.  Constitutional revision was also vital.  The intermediary role of UNAMI regarding disputed internal borders and the status of Kirkuk should be continued.  Iraq had a promising future in 2009, which should be supported by the international community.


IBRAHIM O.A. DABBASHI ( Libya) noted the provincial elections in Iraq as a very important political development, which was a cause of optimism.  The rate of participation was very encouraging, particularly in view of the current participation by sectors of society that had boycotted the 2005 elections.  He also noted the improvement in the security situation and the capacities of the Iraqi security forces, and commended the efforts of the Special Representative and UNAMI in support for the elections, as well as the efforts to resolve the issue of internal borders in Iraq.  He also emphasized the importance of continued dialogue, including on the issue of hydrocarbons, and called on the Mission to continue its efforts to encourage dialogue and support national reconciliation.


Continuing, he congratulated Iraq over the fact that the Paris Club had cancelled a large part of the country’s debt and welcomed the fact that the United Nations and World Bank had established a forum for international partners of Iraq.  On the humanitarian level, he was satisfied by the return of a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons, which was a great achievement, but was still concerned over continued presence of millions of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries.  He hoped the Government would give priority to their return.  The decline in the incidence of cholera was also a source of satisfaction.


Despite the positive developments in 2008, he said, the vulnerable sectors in Iraqi society were still a source of concern, however.  Millions of Iraqis were still facing food insecurity; there had been an increase in the level of illiteracy in southern Iraq; and there were high rates of school dropouts and chronic malnutrition in the south.  Northern Iraq was still suffering from instability.  He urged the United Nations to concentrate on the areas where the weakest development indicators had been registered and the areas most affected by conflict.


There had been tangible progress towards ensuring human rights for Iraqis, including through the establishment of the independent commission for human rights, but he was still concerned over some incidents, including the killing of some political candidates and displacement of a large number of families in Mosul in 2007, as well as killings and attacks against the press, judges, lawyers and minorities.  He also expressed grave concern over the remaining 15,000 detainees with the occupying forces, who were being held without arrest warrants by the Iraqi justice system.  There was also concern over the general situation of detainees in Iraq, some deprived of freedom for months and years without a lawyer’s representation or being formally charged with a crime.


He welcomed the end of the mandate of MNF-1 and the fact that the Iraqi Government had taken the responsibility for security in the country.  He looked forward to the full withdrawal of occupying forces, whose continued presence would lead to continued disunity and instability and hinder national reconciliation.  The time had come for the Council to review its resolutions on Iraq, and restore its status as it existed before the imposition of the sanctions.  He looked forward to the Secretary-General’s report on that matter.  In conclusion, he expressed appreciation for the efforts of UNAMI and various agencies on the ground to reconstruct Iraq and called on all nations to support that country.


THOMAS MAYR-HARTING ( Austria) said that UNAMI’s support of the Independent High Electoral Commission and the Government’s diligent preparation of the provincial elections had contributed to their successful conduct.  Above all, however, the people of Iraq were to be congratulated for their active participation.  The Government’s security preparations had provided voters with an environment in which they were able to cast their votes with confidence and in relative security.  He deplored the assassinations of candidates and other acts of violence in the run-up to the elections.  The election day itself had passed in a peaceful atmosphere.


Continuing, he expressed hope that Iraqi leaders would seize the momentum created by the elections to overcome obstacles towards national reconciliation.  In that context, he welcomed the fact that UNAMI had been formally requested to continue to provide assistance to the Parliamentary Committee dealing with issues of power-sharing, property and demography regarding Kirkuk.  He strongly supported the Special Representative’s good offices and encouraged Iraq to make maximum use of the Mission’s support in the constitutional review process, in particular as regards hycrocarbon regulation.  That would facilitate foreign investment in that sector.


The European Union and its Members remained firmly committed to supporting Iraq, he said.  Noting recent gradual improvement in the security situation, he said that one must not lose sight of the persistent security risks that average Iraqis continued to face through indiscriminate attacks, including by suicide bombers.  The recent attack on pilgrims testified to that ever-present threat.  There were a multitude of challenges in the area of human rights.  The report highlighted the situation of detainees, including the transfer of United States detainees to Iraqi custody and paid particular attention to the situation of women, children and ethnic and religious minorities.  He also hoped that the return of a significant number of Christian families to Mosul was an indication of their growing confidence.  There must be no space for ethnic or sectarian violence and attacks.


He welcomed the Government’s commitment to strengthen the protection of human rights and the establishment of an Independent High Commission for Human Rights, which he hoped would soon become operational.  He also supported the work of UNAMI in the area of human rights, as well as the priority that United Nations agencies intended to place on countering violence against women, improving their access to justice and tackling the reform of discriminatory penal codes.  He also hoped that the forensic capacity-building the UNAMI Human Rights Office had offered to the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights would help to advance progress in clarifying the fate of Kuwaiti citizens missing since 1990.  He hoped the return of refugees and internally displaced persons could be sustained, and the Government of Iraq would actively promote returns initiatives.  Austria commended the humanitarian work of the United Nations and continued solidarity of neighbouring countries, in particular Jordan and Syria, with those uprooted by violence and conflict.


In conclusion, he welcomed the United Nations’ intention to devise a comprehensive rule of law strategy, in cooperation with other partners on the ground, as well as the efforts to assess compliance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  Together with its European Union partners, Austria continued to support the training of Iraqi law enforcement and security personnel in the framework of the integrated rule of law mission, EUJUST-Lex, which had been extended until 30 June 2009.  Since its start in July 2005, some 2,000 Iraqi criminal law experts had already been trained in 87 courses under the auspices of the mission.


JOHN SAWERS ( United Kingdom), paying tribute to the Permanent Representative of Iraq for his country’s progress, said the United Nations continued to play a vital role in Iraq’s development, a country that was increasingly in control of its destiny.  No country had taken more of the Council’s time over the past 20 years than Iraq, and it was “wonderful” to see it fully restored to its position in the international community.  Since the November report, Iraq had passed two significant milestones:  first on 31 December 2008, when the Government took responsibility for maintaining security throughout the country.  With violence at its lowest levels since 2003, the situation continued to improve.


Recent elections constituted the second milestone, elections which the Secretary-General had termed the first fully Iraqi-led.  The Independent High Commission had put in place mechanisms to ensure a free ballot, and Iraqi security forces worked to ensure a stable environment.  The elections were both competitive and inclusive, and freedom of expression was respected.  Indeed, democracy was taking root.  It would now be important for political leaders to prioritize national dialogue and reconciliation.  The United Kingdom strongly supported UNAMI efforts to work on disputed internal boundaries and the status of Kirkuk.  He looked forward to the report on Kirkuk at the end of next month, and welcomed the establishment of the High Commission on Human Rights.


The United Nations was doing vital work across all policy sectors, he said, highlighting economic development and humanitarian assistance.  The United Kingdom was encouraged by the intention to expand the United Nations presence, and awaited the report on the “Saddam-era resolutions”.  His delegation would look at all obligations imposed on Iraq with the intention of removing them, to restore its status prior to implementation of resolution 661 (1990).  Recalling the United Kingdom’s announcement that British combat troops would withdraw from Basra, he said the majority of forces would withdraw by July.  That drawdown marked a change in nature of his country’s commitment to Iraq, which, in the future, would be one of partnership and friendship across the board.  The United Kingdom strongly believed that a strong Iraq, taking its rightful place in the international community, would contribute to peace and stability throughout the Middle East.


JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France) said there had been significant progress in establishing a stable and prosperous country in which human rights were respected.  He congratulated the Iraqi Government, saying France would reinforce its contribution to Iraq’s stability.  Elections marked an important stage in democracy consolidation; they had been organized in conditions of plurality and calm.  The foreign affairs ministers of the European Union welcomed the elections as a victory, first and foremost, for the Iraqi people.  France welcomed the fact that Iraqis were taking back the affairs of their country, as well as the role of UNAMI and the Independent High Commission for Elections.


The European Union foreign affairs ministers had stressed that progress was needed to improve living conditions, which meant continued positive commitment by the Government and neighbouring States, he said.  On disputed internal boundaries, he said attention would be paid to that by the Secretary-General, and UNAMI also must continue to advise the Government on that issue.  Success would depend on working in a spirit of compromise.  Regarding economic growth, he said people expected results.  France had cancelled €4 billion of Iraqi debt, and would provide contributions in all areas requested by the Government.  Efforts must continue on human rights, particularly for prisoners.  The visit of the French President to Iraq had shown France’s support for restoring sovereignty to Iraq.  Recalling the request made for the Secretary-General to prepare a report on Iraq recovering its status prior to resolution 661 (1990), he said Iraq could count on France in those efforts.


RUHAKANA RUGUNDA ( Uganda) said that, from the briefings, it was clear that significant progress had been made in Iraq, including the holding of provincial elections in January.  Those elections had been more representative and inclusive of various sectors of the Iraqi society, and he encouraged the Iraqi people to build on those achievements.  To that end, he commended the leading role of UNAMI.  He also noted from the report that a number of political leaders in Iraq had indicated their willingness to play a role in the national dialogue.


Despite the progress made, some key challenges remained, including developing effective security; delivery of reconstruction, development and humanitarian assistance; promoting the protection of human rights and national reconciliation, as well as judicial and legal reform; eradication of terrorism and violence; and facilitation of the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.  In that connection, he noted with satisfaction the increasing return of Iraqis to their country.


Despite numerous challenges, the Government continued to make commendable efforts to meet its development targets, including the Millennium Development Goals.  He welcomed the cancellation of Iraq’s debt by the Paris Club and the establishment of the partners’ forum.  No doubt that would go a long way in helping Iraq to meet the targets of the International Compact.  He also welcomed the contributions to the Iraqi Trust Fund and called upon the Government and its international partners to ensure that approved projects were implemented expeditiously, while ensuring that they created an impact on the reconstruction and improved the standards of living in the country.


BAKİ İLKİN ( Turkey) said Turkey, as a neighbouring country, had a particular interest in Iraq’s stability.  Turkey enjoyed good relations with all segments of the Iraqi population, whether Arab, Kurd or Turcoman, and wished only to bring a message of goodwill and cooperation.  Turkey had sent observers to monitor the provincial elections, which, despite certain shortcomings, had helped to redress a gap in representation in Iraqi politics; and reinforced the democratic process.  It had been a good first step on the path to security and stability.


He said that, by the time Iraq held its parliamentary elections at year’s end, Iraqis needed to have resolved several remaining challenges:  reviewing the Iraqi Constitution, with an eye to unifying the country; settling the question of internal administrative boundaries, in particular Kirkuk; and carrying out a peaceful transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi security forces once multinational forces withdrew, without creating a power vacuum.  Iraq must also adopt a hydrocarbon resources law, in a way that encouraged investment and helped all Iraqis benefit from Iraq’s strategic energy resources.  They must also reach an accord on income-sharing to strengthen the sense of Iraqi nationhood and unity.  To tackle those objectives successfully, Iraqis must resolve to live together in peace, regardless of ethnic or religious background.


He noted that Iraq’s success had direct implications for the entire region, and neighbouring countries had a stake in that success.  Turkey was doing its part by helping Iraq tap its vast energy resources and exporting them to world markets, and by providing humanitarian and reconstruction aid.  The Heads of State and Government of both countries were completing reciprocal visits to boost relations, and Turkey had established two consulates-general in Iraq ‑- in Mosul and Basra.  On the issue of the PKK, which he said was using northern Iraq as a springboard for terrorist attacks against Turkey, he expressed pleasure in seeing central and local Iraqi authorities showing greater signs of cooperation on the issue.  Also, a trilateral mechanism to deal with the matter, set up by Turkey, Iraq and the United States, had made an encouraging start.  He urged continued support from the United Nations in providing overall assistance to Iraq, such as in forging consensus on Kirkuk, supporting the constitutional process and providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.


NEVEN JURICA (Croatia) expressed appreciation for the successful holding of elections in January, paid tribute to UNAMI’s contribution and saluted the serious and indispensable work of the Independent Electoral Commission in that regard.  The elections marked a crucial moment in the development of democracy in Iraq.  Together with major security gains, that should be translated into lasting stability and general improvements for the people of Iraq.  Held in an atmosphere largely free of violence, the election period could be seen as a testament to the improvement of the security situation.  The Iraqi forces had demonstrated increasing capability to uphold order.  Another important achievement had been the bilateral agreement between Iraq and United States, and it was important to ensure that the transfer of responsibilities did not result in a security gap.  Iraq could count on the continued support of the international community.


He was glad to note that Iraq had remained high on the United Nations list of priorities, he continued.  The increased activities of UNAMI had proven to be fully justified:  the Mission had, among other things, promoted national reconciliation, assisted with the elections, promoted regional dialogue, promoted human rights and supported development.  The creation of the Independent Commission on Human Rights was a tangible measure of its achievements.  UNAMI had rightly identified federalism among the priority issues.  Another one related to the internal boundaries and the status of Kirkuk.  The Iraqi Compact remained a framework for international engagement.  The dialogue with, and constructive engagement of, Iraq’s neighbours remained a critical component of stabilization.  He saluted UNAMI’s continued support for regional dialogue.  As United Nations engagement in Iraq was expanding and deepening, he expressed support for the Special Representative and his team.


LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said recent provincial elections had constituted a “major milestone” in Iraq’s peace and reconstruction process, and a significant step towards having Iraqis govern their country.  He appreciated UNAMI’s assistance to the electoral preparations.  He hoped leaders would now seize the positive momentum, and continue to promote inclusive dialogue so that the reconciliation process could move forward.


While the improved security situation was encouraging, he said the country still faced challenges.  China welcomed the increase of Iraqi Security Forces, and hoped its capacity-building would be accelerated, so they could take over security for the country.  To consolidate progress, and speed the recovery and reconciliation process, he urged honouring aid commitments, and promoting engagement with the country under the International Compact for Iraq.


Under the leadership of the Special Representative, and pursuant to Security Council mandates, he said UNAMI had made progress in such areas as humanitarian assistance, development and reconstruction.  China supported a continued major role in the Iraqi reconstruction process.  He trusted that the Government would honour its commitments in good faith and ensure the safety of UNAMI personnel.


LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam) remarked on several “significant” developments in Iraq, ranging from the low level of violence and criminality and improved capability of the Iraqi security forces, to the continued return of internally displaced persons and refugees.  He was heartened by the success of the provincial elections of 31 January, and expressed hope that Iraqi leaders would develop some momentum towards national dialogue and reconciliation.  Also encouraging was the increased international presence in Iraq, particularly of countries in the region, and in the Iraqi Cabinet’s decision to allocate $25 million towards the reconstruction of the UNAMI headquarters.  Those developments seemed to signal Iraq’s strengthened international status and an enhanced sense of Iraqi self-confidence.


He pointed out, however, that the situation was still fragile.  In November 2008, the United Nations facility in the international zone was attacked by rockets, and religious pilgrims were also attacked in early January and mid-February.  In general, Iraqi society was beset by unemployment and a widening imbalance in the delivery of social services.  Living conditions for the most vulnerable people in society had deteriorated.  The situation was in danger of further deterioration due to the financial crisis and a fluctuation in oil prices.  Now that the governorate council elections were concluded, it was crucial that Iraq used the months ahead to lay the groundwork for national reconciliation.  To that end, he called on Iraqis to set aside their partisan interests to jointly pursue national unity, development and prosperity.


He then commended United Nations staff for their efforts in a number of areas:  strengthening local governmental institutions; advancing political dialogue; resolving the status of Kirkuk and other disputed internal boundaries; extending electoral assistance; supporting the constitutional review process; and facilitating regional dialogue in line with Council resolutions.  He noted that those efforts were in line with the United Nations Assistance Strategy for Iraq 2008-2010.  He also welcomed Iraq’s participation in broad international reconstruction frameworks, such as the International Compact, the International Reconstruction Fund Facility and others.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that there had been undoubted progress in Iraq, but it was too early to succumb to euphoria.  Recent positive developments in Iraq included the improved security situation, the strengthening of the military security forces of Iraq and consolidation of the power of the Government on the ground.  It was gratifying that the January elections had taken place without serious disruptions.  It was also important that they had taken place with the growing participation of various political, ethnic and religious groups. That was a testament to the progress in Iraq.


Problems had occurred, however, including a low turnout of voters in Baghdad, which had hardly reached 40 per cent, he continued.  That meant that practically half of the population had not yet taken a civic stand on the key issues.  The elections had also not encompassed the refugees and internally displaced persons.  The report also showed that the terrorist underground still existed in Iraq.  A significant segment of the population rejected the presence of foreign forces, even when governed by certain rules and the status of forces agreement.  In that connection, he looked forward to the holding of a popular referendum on 31 July, which would formalize the Iraqis’ attitude towards those agreements.


The remaining major and potentially explosive problems included serious violations of human rights and the situation for prisoners in detention centres, he said.  He believed the Government of Iraq would be able to overcome those challenges, in close cooperation with UNAMI.  An important step had been the establishment of the independent commission on human rights.  It was also necessary to:  delineate the responsibilities of the federal centre, and the regions; address the issues on the establishment of autonomous regions and administrative borders, including in Kirkuk; and agree on amendments to the Constitution, which would give an opportunity of participating in the management of the country to the representatives of all groups.  The finalization of those complex objectives required compromises and genuine dialogue to seek appropriate solutions.  He wished the Government every success in doing so.


JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said he was pleased that the security environment in Iraq had made it possible to hold elections that were marked by encouraging levels of participation and only a “small number of incidents”.  He commended UNAMI’s work, together with the Independent High Commission, to ensure the safety of Iraqi citizens, efforts which constituted the best of its recent work.  Costa Rica was confident subsequent processes to promote reconciliation and improve the legitimacy of institutions would be successful.  He welcomed the improved economic situation, saying that the financial support Iraq was receiving should be provided in an environment that promoted private investment at the local level.


Costa Rica supported the Secretary-General’s proposals for the international community to focus on areas in which human and economic indicators were deficient, notably the food situation in the south.  Reconciliation efforts should be supported by the creation of democratic institutions.  The creation of capacity in the judicial area was a priority that required an institutional framework.  He was concerned at the persistent human rights violations, and action was needed to reduce the number of so-called “honour crimes”.  He also recognized steps, including the establishment of the Human Rights Commission.  In closing, he congratulated Iraq on its progress in reconciliation and normalization of relations with neighbouring countries.


SUSAN RICE ( United States) thanked Iraq’s ambassador for his important remarks, and the Iraqi Government for the positive progress made.  With shared strategic interests at stake ‑- and the future of millions of people in the balance ‑- Iraq remained an issue of great importance for the United States, and the new Administration would steer a new course.  United States and coalition troops, all focused on building a future of peace and security, had performed “magnificently”.  Iraqi and American interests would be served by safely redeploying United States forces from Iraq, encouraging other countries to join in stabilizing the region and deploying a broader range of tools.  With the end of the coalition’s mandate on 31 December, a sovereign Iraq now looked to the global community, and she encouraged States to help strengthen democratic institutions, bring displaced citizens back home, and deepen productive relations with neighbours.


The United States would never forget the enormous price the United Nations had paid in Iraq, she said, noting the commitment of former Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, and others, who had dedicated themselves throughout their careers to the fight for a more decent world.  She saluted the United Nations’ work.  Under the leadership of the Special Representative, UNAMI had expanded its presence ‑- its work as far-ranging as it was important ‑- on such issues as addressing disputes over internal boundaries, and ensuring elections were free and fair.  She offered full support to UNAMI.


Recalling the recent provincial elections, held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, she said that free and peaceful vote marked a “heartening” moment in the evolution of Iraqi democracy.  Elections were unmarred by significant violence.  The Independent High Electoral Commission had risen to the challenge, and she congratulated both the Government and people of Iraq who deserved the most credit.  She had been moved by the efforts of the Iraqi police officers who helped people cast their ballots.


She next drew attention to areas where more work was needed:  helping the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, who constituted one of the largest refugee populations in the world.  They were faced with rising food prices and rents, on one hand, and dwindling personal resources on the other, all of which heightened the spectre of poverty and despair.  She urged taking in the desperate, helping non-governmental organizations provide havens to those in need, and assisting Iraq in creating safe conditions for those returning.


She said the United States would continue to support Iraq’s development, and move responsibly and safely to reduce its military presence.  The bilateral agreement between the countries would frame the path ahead.  The carefully managed commitment to ending the war did not diminish the United States’ support for a democratic Iraq that was a “force for peace in a turbulent region”.  The United States and Iraq were working to establish a foundation for future cooperation and a partnership that would benefit their free and sovereign peoples.


The drawdown of forces in Iraq would give United States flexibility in Afghanistan, she said, adding that the United States would pursue a comprehensive strategy in the Middle East.  It would seek an end to Iran’s ambition to acquire an “illicit nuclear capacity” and its support for terrorism, and encourage Iran and Syria to become constructive regional actors.  “This is a new course, but it is the right one for the stability of Iraq”, and for the well-being of all, she said.


YUKIO TAKASU ( Japan) said Japanese observers to the governorate elections had expressed high regard for the work of the Independent High Electoral Commission and the general smooth conduct of voting.  Japan hoped that the success of those elections would augur well for Iraq’s democratic process in the future, and that there would be an ever higher turnout for the national election and remaining governorate elections.


On the security situation, he welcomed the larger role of the Iraqi security forces and expressed appreciation to the United States and others for providing security support.  However, disturbing incidents were still taking place, which he condemned.


Turning to rehabilitation, reconstruction and development, he reported that Japan was providing $1.6 billion in grants, some of which would go towards the supply of electricity and medical services.  It had pledged another $3.5 billion to rehabilitate large-scale infrastructure, in addition to $6 billion in debt relief measures.  Japan understood that the sharp decline in oil prices would pose a challenge to Iraq’s economic growth and its ability to provide social services.  For that reason, the international community would stand ready to provide support.  However, in turn, the Iraqi Government was expected to address the undertakings required of it by the International Compact.


He pointed out several challenges facing Iraq, such as the constitutional review process and the national election.  Also, he urged that a solution be found to the issue of Kirkuk, with assistance from UNAMI, saying that political issues were best resolved through a political process.  Another important issue was the question of normalizing Iraq’s relationship with the international community, and helping the country achieve the international standing it enjoyed prior to the adoption of Security Council resolution 661 (1990).  Japan welcomed the constructive interaction between Iraq and its neighbours, and called on the Iraqi Government, as a responsible partner, to work constructively in search of solutions to outstanding problems.


Responding, Mr. DE MISTURA acknowledged the many positive and constructive comments of the Council members and said he looked forward to being able to continue reporting on progress.  There would be ups and downs, but he was encouraged that Iraq would continue on the road to stability and development.


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For information media • not an official record