IRAQ’S POLITICAL TRANSITION INCREASINGLY THREATENED BY INTER-SECTARIAN VIOLENCE, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

15 March 2006
SC/8661

IRAQ’S POLITICAL TRANSITION INCREASINGLY THREATENED BY INTER-SECTARIAN VIOLENCE, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

15 March 2006
Security Council
SC/8661
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5386th Meeting (AM)

IRAQ ’S POLITICAL TRANSITION INCREASINGLY THREATENED BY INTER-SECTARIAN

VIOLENCE, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

Cites Notable Achievement of All Transition Benchmarks

In 2005, but Says Recent Developments Created Dangerous Political Vacuum

The 22 February bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra and its violent aftermath had demonstrated that Iraq’s political transition was increasingly threatened by inter-sectarian violence, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, said this morning in a briefing to the Security Council.

He said that, despite the notable achievement in 2005 of all the political transition benchmarks envisaged in resolution 1546 (2004), recent developments had made negotiations on government formation more difficult, creating a dangerous and elongated political vacuum.  To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, and to foster an environment in which all Iraqis could discuss the future of their country free of intimidation and fear, all efforts must now be directed at strengthening the momentum of the political process with a view to developing an agreed national compact that would be responsive to the aspirations of all communities.

While sectarian fissures had always been an integral part of Iraq’s political history, they had come to dominate and almost define the country’s politics and its future prospects, despite the fact that most Iraqis rejected that divide, he continued.  The calls by a large spectrum of Iraq’s political and religious leaders for restraint and peaceful dialogue and the quick government action to bring the situation under control were promising signs of the continuing existence of the potential for peaceful political solutions.

Stressing the need for more determined measures -- particularly with regard to de facto arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings -- he said that in the absence of such steps, efforts to strengthen national cohesion, mutual trust and national reconciliation might prove elusive.  The current situation clearly constituted a serious obstacle to the effective implementation of infrastructural and income-generating projects designed to address unemployment and the provision of basic services.  If not effectively addressed, ongoing violence would prevent donor programmes from having their desired impact.

In the current political and security environment, United Nations staff members remained at risk of becoming targets of violence, he said.  Staff security, therefore, remained overarching guiding principle of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  If a more robust role was expected of the United Nations in the next phase of Iraq’s political transition, there would be a concomitant need to enhance the necessary capacities within UNAMI.  One requirement would be for dedicated air assets to assure greater operational mobility and flexibility.  With the Multinational Force moving into strategic over-watch and the Iraqi security forces not yet fully formed, trained and tested, the safety and security of UNAMI staff and premises would require additional support.

Speaking on behalf of the Multinational Force, the representative of the United States said the Force continued to provide security for the United Nations in Iraq.  The UNAMI had made essential contributions to Iraqi progress, particularly to the elections and the formation of the Government, and it should continue to play the fullest role in the country.  Success would be achieved when the Iraqi people themselves could maintain security and stability, while continued progress in forming the National Unity Government would contribute to greater security and stability.  Iraq’s neighbours, especially Syria and Iran, must do more to prevent foreign fighters from entering the country.

He said insurgents and terrorists remained capable of carrying out attacks to destabilize the legitimately elected Government of Iraq.  While 80 per cent of attacks had been targeted against Coalition forces, the majority of victims were civilians.  While December 2005 had seen an increase in attacks in the lead up to the elections, the number of attacks had decreased from December to January, but risen again in February, owing to the destruction of houses of worship and religious sites.  And while the number of attacks had dropped, their severity had increased.

The Council also heard from the representative of Iraq, who requested an increase in the number of UNAMI staff operating throughout the country.  Iraq would need the Mission’s active participation as the political process continued to unfold in the constitutional phase, as amendments were considered and laws enforcing constitutional provisions were drafted by the first Parliament.  In a very real sense, the work of reconstructing Iraq’s political institutions was only now beginning, and the United Nations had much to offer in that respect.

On the human rights situation, he said the Government was committed to respect for human rights and the rule of law, even as it acknowledged that there was still room for improvement.  However, the Secretary-General’s report did not take into account the extent to which the current security situation had contributed to the Government’s inability to implement fully its human rights agenda.  It would have been appropriate for the report to note steps undertaken by the Government to improve the human rights situation, such as the presence for the first time in 46 years of a vibrant and robust civil society sector with unfettered access to a variety of governmental agencies.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:45 a.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Iraq.  Reporting on a quarterly basis on the activities of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the Secretary-General, in his seventh report submitted pursuant to resolution 1546 (2004), summarizes key political developments since 7 December 2005, particularly with regard to the December 2005 election, the Government formation process, and regional developments pertaining to Iraq (document S/2006/137).  He also provides an update on the activities of his Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, and assesses the security situation.

The Secretary-General remains gravely concerned by the security situation as demonstrated by the large number of casualties among civilians as a result of terrorist, insurgent, paramilitary and military action.  He also remains very concerned about the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence, particularly in ethnically mixed areas, to which the almost daily reports of intercommunal intimidation, murder and attacks against sacred buildings bear testimony.

He said that the role of militias and irregular armed elements remains disturbing in this regard.  The training of Iraqi security forces is an indispensable step towards improving the security situation.  He takes note of the Multinational Force in this domain.  Ultimately, the best way to address the security situation, beyond the training of Iraqi security forces, is to ensure a credible and inclusive political process and rapid improvement in the basic living conditions of the Iraqi people.

While UNAMI is seeking to step up its activities following the completion of the transition timetable, in the current political and security environment in Iraqi United Nations staff members remain at risk of becoming targets of violence, he says.  Staff security, therefore, remains the Mission’s overarching guiding principle.  Given the continuously changing environment on the ground, UNAMI must develop flexible plans for its operations and security arrangements.  Although the nature of the deployment of the Multinational Force is likely to change, the Mission’s need for a dedicated protection force for all its activities in Iraq remains.  Operational constraints, such as the lack of dedicated air assets, will also have to be addressed as a matter of priority.

The Secretary-General says he looks forward to continuing engagement with Member States on the practical steps that need to be taken to provide UNAMI with the necessary level of support to fulfil the long-term commitment of the United Nations to supporting the people of Iraq.  The development of a new integrated United Nations complex in Iraq will be essential in this regard.

The report finds that, with the certification of the results of the December election on 10 February, the transition timetable set forth in the Transitional Administrative Law and endorsed by resolution 1546 (2004) has been completed.  While Iraq has met all the key benchmarks of this timetable, it continues to face “formidable political, security and economic challenges”.  As demonstrated by the heinous bombing of the shrine of Imams Al-Hadi and Al-Askari in Samarra and its aftermath, sectarian violence has emerged as a main threat to Iraq’s security and stability.  Mutual trust and national reconciliation must remain the top priority in setting Iraq on an irreversible path towards a peaceful and democratic future.  The political and civil society leadership of Iraq must proclaim and implement their commitment to the unconditional respect for individual human rights and the establishment of the rule of law.  In this endeavour, Iraq will continue to require sustained international support in the years to come.

Sustained and enhanced efforts to promote an inclusive, participatory and transparent political process that responds to the aspirations of all of Iraq’s communities offer the best prospects for improving the overall security situation, consolidating the democratic process, and improving the welfare of the Iraqi people, the report stresses.  Recent calls for calm, restraint and dialogue by a diverse spectrum of Iraq’s political leaders give grounds for hope.  The need for sustained intercommunal dialogue and confidence-building measures to promote national reconciliation is all the more urgent now.  The United Nations will continue to do everything possible to support such efforts.

The report says that, in the coming period, the United Nations, therefore, will continue to make every effort to implement its mandate under Security Council resolutions 1546 (2004) and 1637 (2005), maintaining its core political, electoral and constitutional activities under paragraph 7 (a) of resolution 1546 (2004) while planning and implementing its reconstruction, development, humanitarian and human rights activities in a phased and integrated manner, as circumstances permit. The emphasis of its overall political strategy will be to institutionalize these processes and to promote national dialogue and reconciliation.

While the election held in December for the new Council of Representatives was the third national electoral event during the past year, it was the first election in which all Iraqi constituencies participated in large numbers as candidates and voters, the report notes.  The fact that the election generally met international standards and enjoyed a high turnout, despite an ambitious timetable and a very challenging political and security environment, is not a small achievement.  During the past year, the Independent Electoral Commission has built a considerable capacity of its own, which will be a solid foundation for the conduct of future electoral events.  As requested by the Iraqi Government, the United Nations will continue to provide electoral assistance in 2006.

The report says that, with the discussions on government formation under way, the country has embarked on the next important phase of its political transition.  The Secretary-General is encouraged that the new Council of Representatives is broadly representative of Iraq’s communities and includes a substantial percentage of women.  It is now incumbent on the parties represented in the Council to work with resolve towards the early formation of a full inclusive Government, which remains a major challenge.  Once established, the new Government will have a unique opportunity to demonstrate a responsible leadership by uniting to develop an agreed national compact that is responsive to the aspirations of all of Iraq’s communities.

The constitutional review process envisaged by the Constitution will be a key step in forging such a national compact, the report states further.  The Constitution provides for the early establishment of a Constitutional Review Committee of the Council of Representatives.  The Secretary-General hopes that the members of the new Council will use this process to reach a national consensus on a strong framework for the Iraqi State, which is an essential prerequisite for the country’s long-term stability.  On the basis of the preliminary consultations with a broad spectrum of political leaders, the United Nations, in close cooperation with the European Union and other international partners, is fully committed to supporting the constitutional review process and the effective implementation of the Constitution.

Also according to the report, the completion of the transition timetable should also encourage Iraq’s political and economic reintegration into the region.  Building on initiatives undertaken so far, there is a need to consider new ways to promote greater regional engagement between Iraq and its neighbours.  While countries of the region have legitimate concerns about the current situation in Iraq, they also have en essential responsibility to do everything possible to promote peace and stability there.  The Secretary-General remains supportive of the League of Arab States’ initiative to convene a Conference on Iraqi National Accord, which could potentially contribute to forging a broader national consensus in Iraq.  In addition, the time has come to take the necessary steps to normalize the international status of Iraq, particularly in the Security Council.

Noting that the focus of UNAMI over the past year has been on implementing the benchmarks envisaged in resolution 1546 (2004), the report says that, while political facilitation will remain a priority in 2006, the Mission intends to strengthen its activities in the other key areas of its mandate, particularly reconstruction and development.  One of the key priorities of the new Government will be tangible improvement of the quality of life for all assistance activities in seven key areas.  Those are focused on strengthening the management capacity in ministries, coordinating the provision of basic services, and supporting the restoration of public infrastructure.  The fifth meeting of the Donor Committee of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq, planned for June, should also be seen as an important opportunity in this regard.

The report finds that the human rights situation remains a cause of great concern.  In its latest bimonthly human rights report, UNAMI alerted the international community to issues of mass detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.  The Multinational Force and the Iraqi security forces have a particular responsibility to act in full accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.  While the Government has taken initial steps to address the situation, the development of mutual trust and national reconciliation efforts will prove elusive.  Once established, the new Government will have a particular responsibility to enhance its efforts in this regard.

Statements

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, said that, despite the notable achievement of all the political transition benchmarks in 2005 that had been envisaged in resolution 1546, Iraq continued to face enormous security, political and reconstruction challenges, given which the country’s progress in meeting transitional benchmarks was all the more remarkable.  Those achievements had provided a basis for the next phase of the political process, characterized by a fully sovereign and democratically elected Government.

He noted, however, that the bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February and its violent aftermath had demonstrated that Iraq’s political transition was increasingly threatened by inter-sectarian violence, exacerbated by the continuing insurgency and counter-insurgency, acts of terror and a deteriorating human rights situation.  While sectarian fissures had always been an integral part of Iraq’s political history, they had come to dominate and almost define the country’s politics and its future prospects.  It was fed by growing mistrust between the communities, despite the fact that in their daily lives and individual attitudes towards each other most Iraqis emphatically rejected and transcended that divide.  Unless Iraq’s political leadership undertook the responsibility to overcome the sectarian divide with the urgency it required, efforts to promote security and strengthen national cohesion would be severely undermined.

He said that the calls by a large spectrum of Iraq’s political and religious leaders for restraint and peaceful dialogue, and the quick government action to bring the situation under control, were promising signs of the continuing existence of the potential for peaceful political solutions.  The Office of the Special Representative had stepped up its engagement with political, religious and civic leaders with a view to encouraging greater intercommunal understanding, including through the Political Consultative Committee formed in response to the Samarra attack and its aftermath.  The UNAMI was also urging the Government, political and religious leaders and civil society to demonstrate that they would not be divided and defeated by the nefarious aims of those seeking to undermine the political process, and instead take measures to promote the rule of law and human rights.

Despite grounds for hope, the overall situation remained tense and volatile, and recent developments had made negotiations on government formation more difficult, creating a dangerous and elongated political vacuum, he said.  To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, and to foster an environment in which all Iraqis could discuss the future of their country free of intimidation and fear, all efforts must now be directed at strengthening the momentum of the political process with a view to developing an agreed national compact that would be responsive to the aspirations of all communities.

Emphasizing that Iraq’s stability was intrinsically linked to the stability in the region and vice versa, he said UNAMI remained engaged with regional countries and intended to step up efforts in the coming months.  Over the past 18 months, the Special Representative and his deputies had visited Syria, Turkey, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait.  A meeting was scheduled for 28 March with leaders at the eighteenth Arab Summit in Khartoum, where the regional situation as it related to Iraq would be discussed.  The establishment of a regional contact group would bring together Iraq’s regional neighbours to discuss how to improve stability in the country.

In addition to UNAMI’S mandated political activities, it was also seeking to strengthen its activities in other key areas, like reconstruction and development, humanitarian assistance and human rights, he said.  To that end, UNAMI was developing a phased approach that would integrate all its activities into its overall political strategy to promote national dialogue and reconciliation.  The urgency of activities under that part of the mandate had been demonstrated by the deteriorating human situation.  While the Government had taken initial steps, there was a need for more determined measures -- particularly with regard to de facto arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings -- in the absence of which efforts to strengthen national cohesion, mutual trust and national reconciliation might prove elusive.  The current situation clearly constituted a serious obstacle to the effective implementation of infrastructural and income-generating projects designed to address unemployment and the provision of basic services.  If not effectively addressed, ongoing violence would prevent donor programmes from having their desired impact.

In the current political and security environment, United Nations staff members remained at risk of becoming targets of violence, he said.  Staff security, therefore, remained UNAMI’s overarching guiding principle.  If a more robust role was expected of the United Nations in the next phase of Iraq’s political transition, there would be a concomitant need to enhance the necessary capacities within UNAMI.  One requirement would be for dedicated air assets to assure greater operational mobility and flexibility.  Despite many requests to Member States, UNAMI had been unable to secure the required dedicated air assets.  With the Multinational Force moving into strategic over-watch and the Iraqi security forces not yet fully formed, trained and tested, the safety and security of UNAMI staff and premises would require additional support.

JOHN BOLTON ( United States), on behalf of the Multinational Force, said that during the reporting period, Iraq had witnessed some of the most despicable attacks in recent memory.  The 22 February attack on the holy shrine in Samarra and ensuing attacks were heinous crimes and deliberate attempts to foment civil strife.  He joined Iraq’s political and religious leaders in their calls for calm.  There had been important developments during the period under review.  With the successful elections of December 2005, Iraqis had met all the political benchmarks set by the Transitional Administrative Law, save only the seating of the new Government.  The elections had seen an unprecedented voter turnout.

He said that insurgents and terrorists remained capable of carrying out attacks to destabilize the legitimately elected Government of Iraq.  More than 80 per cent of attacks were concentrated in four of Iraq’s 18 provinces.  Twelve provinces had experienced only 6 per cent of all attacks.  While 80 per cent of the attacks had been targeted against Coalition forces, the majority of the victims were civilians.  December 2005 saw an increase in insurgent attacks in the lead up to the elections.  The number of attacks had decreased from December to January, but had rose in February, owing to the destruction of houses of worship and religious sites.  Militias had continued to challenge the rule of law at the local and regional levels.  Attacks on Iraq’s infrastructure in December and January were higher than in recent months, but below the 2004 average.  While the number of such attacks had decreased, their severity had increased.

Iraqi security forces continued to grow and conduct independent operations every day, he reported.  The Multinational Force continued to train, mentor and equip the Iraqi security forces and hand over battle responsibilities, as conditions permitted.  Sixty-five per cent of Baghdad was under the control of Iraqi forces, which now numbered some 240,000 troops.  During the reporting period, the United States President had authorized a decrease in the number of United States troops in Iraq, reflecting the growing capability of Iraq’s security forces.  Several Coalition partners were considering and taking similar measures.  He provided several examples how forces from the Iraq’s Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior were carrying out security-related operations.

He added that the Multinational Force continued to provide security for the United Nations in Iraq.  The UNAMI had made essential contributions to Iraqi progress, particularly to the elections and the formation of the Government.  He echoed the call on UNAMI to play the fullest role in Iraq.  Success would be achieved when the Iraqi people themselves could maintain security and stability.  Continued progress in forming the National Unity Government would contribute to greater security and stability.  The international community, particularly Iraq’s neighbours and especially Syria and Iran, must do more to prevent foreign fighters from entering Iraq.  The Multinational Force remained committed to the tasks at hand and to ensuring success.

FEISAL AMIN AL-ISTRABADI ( Iraq) said the past three months had been critical to Iraq’s transition from dictatorship to a united, federal, pluralistic, constitutional democracy.  The elections were free, fair and transparent, and all of Iraq’s communities had participated in them.  Negotiations were now under way to form a new government.  There was a sense among Iraq’s political leadership that the formation of a National Unity Government would likely help to improve the security climate in the country, as it would allow all of Iraq’s various groups to become enfranchised.  As a first step towards achieving the formation of the Government, it was expected that Parliament would be convened for the first session tomorrow.

With respect to security, he said Iraqi police and security forces had assumed many of the functions previously performed exclusively by the Multinational Forces.  For example, major checkpoints in the capital were controlled by Iraqis, and it was Iraqi forces that patrolled the streets.  Effective Iraqi security and police forces must be trained as quickly as possible, so that Iraqis could assume all responsibility for Iraq’s security needs, thus eventually obviating the need for the continued presence of the Force.  An integral part of the political stabilization of Iraq must be the economic development of the country.  Iraq had too long been isolated from the world economy.  He called on the world community to continue its engagement in Iraq.  He was grateful for the pledges made by many donor nations, but called on them to redeem those pledges, and transfer the pledged amounts.

Iraq would also continue to need the active engagement of the United Nations, he stated.  To that end, he again asked for an increase in the number of UNAMI staff operating throughout Iraq.  The country would need active UNAMI participation as the political process continued to unfold in the constitutional phase, as amendments were considered and laws enforcing constitutional provisions were drafted by the first Parliament.  In a very real sense, the work of reconstructing the country’s political institutions was only now beginning, and the United Nations had much to offer in that respect.

Unfortunately, he said, attacks on and around houses of worship, bearing the hallmarks of supporters of the former regime, were not a new phenomenon.  But while previous attacks focused on the targeting of worshippers or individuals, late last month a new type of attack occurred:  terrorists had targeted the Holy Shrine in Samarra itself, a shrine holy to, and honoured by, all Muslims and, indeed, all Iraqis, regardless of faith.  The ultimate goal of that attack was to foment a civil war along confessional lines, to pit Shia against Sunni.  Yet, Iraqis from across confessional, ethnic and political lines stand united in their horror and condemnation of such attacks, as they condemned attacks on all houses of worship.

On the human rights situation in Iraq, he said that the Government was committed to the respect of human rights and to the rule of law, as it acknowledged that there was still room for improvement.  The Secretary-General’s report did not take into account the extent to which the current security situation had contributed to the Government’s inability to fully implement its human rights agenda.  It would have been appropriate for the report to note those steps undertaken by the Government to improve the human rights situation, such as the presence for the first time in 46 years of a vibrant and robust civil society sector with unfettered access to a variety of governmental agencies, including jails, prisons and courthouses.

He warmly welcomed the Secretary-General’s statement that it was time to normalize Iraq’s relationship with the Security Council by lifting those barriers to Iraq’s full reintegration into the community of nations.  He again asked the Council to review and rescind prior mandates imposed on Iraq’s previous regime, as they were no longer relevant.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.