‘TREMENDOUS PROGRESS’ MADE IN IRAQ SECURITY, BUT HARD-WON GAINS VULNERABLE, GOVERNMENT STEPS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN ACHIEVEMENTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

13 June 2008
SC/9356

‘TREMENDOUS PROGRESS’ MADE IN IRAQ SECURITY, BUT HARD-WON GAINS VULNERABLE, GOVERNMENT STEPS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN ACHIEVEMENTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

13 June 2008
Security Council
SC/9356
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5910th Meeting (AM)

‘TREMENDOUS PROGRESS’ MADE IN IRAQ SECURITY, BUT HARD-WON GAINS VULNERABLE,

GOVERNMENT STEPS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN ACHIEVEMENTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

United States Briefs on Behalf of Multinational Force;

Iraq’s Foreign Minister Says Corner Turned in Fight against Insurgency, Terrorism

While highlighting that recent efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Multinational Force had markedly improved Iraq’s security situation to its best level in four years, the United States representative, speaking on behalf of the Multinational Force, warned this morning that the Iraqi Government must take complementary steps to sustain such achievements.

“Tremendous progress has been made, but these hard-won gains are vulnerable, and the Government and people of Iraq still have some distance to go,” he told the Security Council during a meeting on the situation in Iraq.  Civilian deaths due to violence had dropped 75 per cent since July 2007, while all other major violence indicators were markedly lower compared to pre-surge levels.  The Iraqi Security Forces had assumed command and control of Iraq’s Army.  However, for many Iraqi families, the effects and threats of violence continued to be a daily concern and the continued presence of foreign fighters, notably from Syria and Iran, was worrisome.

He said Iraq’s steps forward must include action to support the delivery of humanitarian aid and essential services to all its citizens, including Iraqi refugees.  He called for sustainable job creation and continued progress on political reconciliation, as well as in budget execution, so Iraq could take increasing responsibility for reconstruction and development.  Credible provincial elections would also help facilitate reconciliation and the creation of representative provincial Governments.  The United States and Iraqi Governments were negotiating a long-term relationship that would recognize that transition, he said.  He urged Iraq’s neighbours and the entire international community to pitch in and help the Iraqis finish the job.

Hoshyar Zebari, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq, said that, indeed, his country was striving to make that transition a success.  The Iraqi Security Forces had grown to almost 600,000 strong and had assumed primary responsibility for more than half of Iraq’s 18 provinces, winning the trust of the Iraqi people.  With the support of the Multinational Force, Iraq had “turned a corner” in the fight against the insurgency and terrorism.  At the same time, the Government continued to monitor the vigilance of military and security leaders in preventing civilian casualties and respecting international humanitarian law during their operations.  Such security and political gains had “led the Iraqi people to pull together to reverse a potentially devastating decline into sectarian war”.

Iraq was also negotiating bilateral strategic agreements with the United States to provide the framework for security arrangements that would address Iraq’s security needs covered in the current Multinational Force mandate, Mr. Zebari said.  Those agreements -- which should reflect the progress in developing the Iraqi Security Forces -- would entail transparent processes, subject to approval by the elected Council of Representatives, and would preserve the sovereignty and national interests of Iraq and its people.  Overall, there was a renewed sense of optimism for the nation.  “We have proved we can be successful in Iraq and my Government is confident of recovery,” he said, calling on the family of nations to “stand with us in solidarity and hope”. 

Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues, who briefed the Council on the latest activities of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said urgent steps were needed to pursue political dialogue and reach lasting solutions.  Important talks on the return of the leading Sunni bloc, Tawafuq, to the Government was a good indication of progress in that regard, and he was hopeful that similar efforts would create positive momentum towards national reconciliation.  The Mission was doing its part to advance that process by helping with political facilitation, the resolution of disputed boundaries, constitutional and electoral assistance, human rights and humanitarian reconstruction and development assistance.  Last week, it had presented its first analysis of Iraq’s disputed internal boundaries, focusing on four specific districts in the north.

Iraqi ownership of the process to end internal boundary disputes, particularly the status of Kirkuk, was essential, he stressed.  UNAMI had set up a presence in Kirkuk to build confidence among divided communities to resolve administrative and jurisdictional issues.  The Mission was also helping the Iraqi High Electoral Commission plan for the upcoming voter registration update and governorate council elections, as well as supporting the ongoing constitutional review process -- an important way for Iraqi communities to reach national political agreement of the main elements of their future State.

Warren Sach, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller for the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, speaking in his capacity as the Secretary-General’s designated representative of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, said the results of the 2007 audits indicated that the overall financial system of controls in place in Iraq’s spending ministries, the United States agencies handling of outstanding commitments using resources of the Development Fund for Iraq and Iraq’s administration of Fund resources remained deficient.

The Board -- set up to ensure that the Development Fund was used transparently to benefit Iraq’s people and that export sales of Iraq’s petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas were consistent with prevailing international market best practices -- had found incomplete record keeping at the Ministry of Finance, he said.  It had also discovered the lack of a comprehensive oil metering system, the sale of oil and oil products outside of the Fund, incomplete contract information associated with the United States agencies’ contracts and bartering.  Moreover, he expressed concern that Iraq’s spending ministries had implemented less than 15 per cent of the Board’s previous recommendations.  He urged the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, with the help of the Committee of Financial Experts, to set up a concrete plan of action to ensure implementation.

Several Council members also took the floor to laud Iraq’s recent security gains, as well as its efforts to build an autonomous defence, establish a legitimate State and authority, and defeat Al-Qaida.  Its advances towards national reconciliation, notably on the amnesty law and the revising of legislation on de-baathification, were also commended, as were Iraq’s improved collaboration with neighbouring countries.  However, the overall humanitarian situation, and the fact that the number of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons remained high, was worrisome.  Council members agreed on the need for the continued presence of the Multinational Force in Iraq during the transition period.  But, some expressed hope that the current Multinational Force mandate would be the last.

The representatives of Italy, Panama, Libya, Burkina Faso, Croatia, South Africa, United Kingdom, China, Belgium, Costa Rica, Viet Nam, Indonesia, France and the Russian Federation also spoke.

The meeting began at 10:40 a.m. and adjourned at 1:05 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Iraq.

Briefings

ZALMAY KHALILZAD (United States), speaking on behalf of the Multinational Force in Iraq, said the security environment in Iraq continued to improve thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Multinational Force.  All major violence indicators were markedly lower compared to pre-surge levels.  The Iraqi Security Forces had made important strides in capability and proficiency, and had now assumed command and control of all of Iraq’s Army divisions.  Iraqi and coalition forces had achieved those security gains even as coalition forces had been drawing down from surge levels. 

While the progress was encouraging, he said, challenges remained and for many Iraqi families the effects and threats of violence continued to be a daily concern.  Advancements in security must be expanded and consolidated, and complemented by commensurate gains in national reconciliation and governance.

Total security incidences had fallen to their lowest level in more than four years, notwithstanding a temporary increase in violence associated with recent Iraqi military operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul, he said.  Civilian deaths due to violence had fallen by 75 per cent since July 2007 and monthly high-profile attacks, such as care bombs, had decreased in May 2008.  However, suicide bombers remained a threat, increasing from October 2007 to February 2008, before declining in March and April 2008.  High-profile attack explosions for May 2008 were down more than 70 per cent from the peak in March 2007.

The number of deaths due to ethno-sectarian violence was now at the lowest level in the past several years, illustrating the growing inability of the terrorists to reignite the cycle of ethno-sectarian violence, he said.  During the last two weeks of May 2008, there had been no confirmed ethno-sectarian deaths in Baghdad.  At the same time, he remained concerned by the presence of foreign fighters in Iraq.  Syria must do more to halt the operation of foreign fighter networks within its territory, which continued to supply the overwhelming majority of suicide bombers responsible for the deaths of innocent Iraqis.  Iran must also cease the training, equipping and financing by the Iran Republican Guards Corps-Quds Force of violent Iraqi elements, who had challenged Iraq’s security and the authority of the Iraqi Government and its security forces.  He called on Iran to follow through on its pledge to respect the sovereignty of Iraq and the integrity of its borders, which to date it had not done.

More than 559,000 personnel now served in the Iraqi Security Forces, an increase of more than 19,000 personnel since the last report to the Council in April, he said.  As of 1 May 2008, 147 Iraqi Army combat battalions were conducting operations, which represented an increase of 24 combat battalions since his last report.  Among the formed battalions, 65 per cent were rated as able to take the lead in operations, as well as to plan, execute and sustain operations with minimal or no assistance from coalition forces.  Both the Iraqi Air Force and the Iraqi Navy were gaining proficiency, as well.  Over the past nine months, the Iraqi Air Force sortie rate had increased by almost 750 per cent and the number of Iraqi Navy patrols had grown by approximately 250 per cent.

The Iraqi National Police also continued to increase its proficiency, he said, noting that there were now 44 National Police battalions authorized, including the National Emergency Response Unit.  In the last three months, there had been a significant increase in Iraqi-led operations.  Iraqi Security Forces continued to grow and improve, but at varying rates.  In many areas throughout Iraq, Iraqi Special Operations Forces, Army battalions, National Police and Special Police units operated independently of, or side by side with, coalition forces. 

More than 30 countries currently played a critical role in enhancing Iraq’s security, whether by participating as a coalition member, supporting the training mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or contributing to the operations of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), he stressed.  Coalition members other than the United States contributed some 10,000 forces to the Multinational Force, as well as 450 personnel to support UNAMI.  It was important to recognize that Iraqi and coalition forces had achieved security gains.  By the end of May 2008, three United States Brigade Combat teams, two United States Marine battalions and a Marine expeditionary unit had left Iraq without replacement.  Australia had also withdrawn its forces from Dhi Aar province in early June.

As of mid-May 2008, he said, the Iraqi Ground Forces Command had assumed command and control of 12 Iraqi Army divisions, including 50 brigade headquarters and 164 battalions.  Operational commands had expanded to include the provinces of Ninewa, Karbala, Samarra, Basra and Diyala.  Iraq’s Government continued to assume greater provincial security responsibility through the Provincial Iraqi Control process.

Finally, he wanted to highlight that the United States and Iraqi Governments were now in the process of negotiating a long-term relationship that would recognize that transition and the increasing ability of Iraqi Security Forces to assume greater responsibility for security and stability.

“It is clear that the recent improvements in the security situation throughout Iraq are significant,” he said.  “Nonetheless, the Government of Iraq must intensify the implementation of complementary measures to sustain these gains.”  Those measures included action to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance and essential services to all Iraqi citizens, including Iraqi refugees; continued improvement in budget execution to advance Iraqi responsibility for reconstruction and development; the generation of sustainable employment; and continuing progress on political reconciliation.  Credible provincial elections would also play an important role in facilitating reconciliation and the formation of representative provincial governments.

“We can, and we must, help Iraq succeed,” he said.  “This struggle for the future of Iraq is vital, for it will shape the future of the broader Middle East, and the future of the broader Middle East will affect the stability and security of us all. Tremendous progress has been made, but these hard-won gains are vulnerable, and the Government and people of Iraq still have some distance to go.”  He urged Iraq’s neighbours and the entire international community to pitch in and help the Iraqis finish the job.

IBRAHIM GAMBARI, Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues, briefed the Council on the latest activities of UNAMI.  He said that, at the recent Stockholm Conference on the Iraq Compact, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had said that, if one word were to be used to describe the situation in Iraq today, that word would be “hope”. There was, indeed, new hope that the Iraqi people and Government had started to overcome daunting challenges and work together at rebuilding their country, after decades of dictatorship, neglect and conflict.  The Secretary-General’s recent report had noted security improvements in many parts of Iraq, and that encouraging trend was continuing.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of the Government of Iraq and other stakeholders, there had been steady progress in improving the capacity of Iraqi Security Forces, curbing the activities of militias and other armed groups, and strengthening of the rule of law in Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and other places.  At the same time, he stressed that the situation remained fragile.  “Ordinary Iraqi’s continue to face the threat of violence in the form of terrorist attacks, sectarianism or criminal acts, and violations of human rights continue to occur,” he said, adding that the delivery of essential services must also be urgently improved to help the average Iraqi family cope with daily life.

In order to secure the gains that had been made on the economic and security fronts, urgent steps were needed to pursue political dialogue and reach lasting solutions.  He said there were indications that some progress was being made in that regard, including important talks on the return of the leading Sunni bloc, Tawafuq, to the Government.  He was hopeful that those and other efforts would create positive momentum towards national reconciliation.  For its part, the United Nations remained committed to carrying out its mandate under Security Council resolution 1770 (2007).  UNAMI had stepped up its efforts to assist Iraq in a number of areas, including political facilitation, the resolution of disputed boundaries, constitutional and electoral assistance, human rights and humanitarian reconstruction and development assistance.

He went on to say that, last week, UNAMI had presented its first analysis regarding Iraq’s disputed internal boundaries, focusing on four specific districts in the north of the country.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General had stressed the need for Iraqi ownership of the process and said that the UNAMI was determined to help the parties concerned find an acceptable process to resolve the disputes, bearing in mind that the Iraqi Government alone had the sovereign responsibility to make decisions on such a complex matter.  UNAMI was also looking at ways to promote confidence-building measures in communities that remained divided and suspicious of each other’s intentions.

Central to any efforts to address disputed internal boundaries was the issue of resolving the status of Kirkuk, he continued.  To that end, UNAMI had recently established a presence in that city and would continue to engage all the parties there to work towards resolving administrative and jurisdictional issues.  “This is no easy undertaking, and it will require time, patience and hard decisions and compromises on the part of the Iraqi leadership,” he added.

He went on to touch on other issues, including UNAMI’s work with the Iraqi High Electoral Commission on planning for the upcoming voter registration update and governorate council elections before the end of 2008.  UNAMI was also supporting the ongoing constitutional review process, which it believed was an important mechanism where Iraqi communities could work towards national political agreement on the fundamental elements of the Iraqi State.  He also stressed the importance of international and regional support to the Iraqi people as they faced the challenges ahead.  Indeed, such support was essential for stability, and there were hopeful signs that progress was being made in light of the outcome of the 29 May Stockholm conference and expanding contacts, dialogue and agreements with Iraq’s neighbours, including Kuwait and Turkey.

On human rights and humanitarian matters, he said that, in recent weeks, UNAMI had focused its monitoring and advocacy activities on addressing the needs of civilians living in areas where intense fighting had taken place.  The Mission hoped to gain access to detention centres to better assess the plight of detainees, which could possibly include minors.  Although much had been accomplished in Iraq, much remained to be done in the areas of human rights and the rule of law.  To that end, he told the Council that UNAMI was helping the Government draft legislation and establish important institutions, including a national human rights commission, among others.

He said that UNAMI was also redoubling its efforts to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons.  The Mission believed that, together with the Government of Iraq and the wider international community, the United Nations could help host countries, especially Jordan and Syria, cope until safe and voluntary return was possible.  For its part, the United Nations was developing a programme for refugee return to ensure that the Iraqi Government and aid agencies were ready when conditions were ripe for such returns to take place.

He said the Secretary-General remained committed to seeing the United Nations do more in Iraq under resolution 1770 (2007). Indeed, despite security challenges, UNAMI continued to expand its presence and activities.  A trust fund had been established in 2004 to accept and administer contributions from Member States in support of the Multinational Force.  Currently there were only enough funds to cover its operating costs until the end of August.  The Secretary-General appealed to Member States to contribute to the Fund to ensure its operation through the end of the year and, possibly, beyond.

“Despite progress in many areas, it should not be forgotten that Iraq is still a country in transition, recovering from three conflicts during the past 30 years,” he said, recalling the heavy burdens of war, dictatorship and neglect that had led to the immense suffering of the people.  Although their personal security had improved in many parts of the country, daily life remained a constant struggle.  “Now more than ever, urgent steps need to be taken to broaden national reconciliation process and find solutions that will support a sustainable peace,” he said, stressing that that would require courage, brave leadership and often painful decisions and compromises.  But, the ultimate reward would be a peaceful, prosperous and stable Iraq.

Addressing such fundamental issues as the sharing of resources, the future federal nature of the Iraqi State and resolution of disputed internal boundaries required wisdom, patience and strong political will, he continued.  It was ultimately up to Iraqis to make the right choices and build sustainable and lasting peace.  “This is not just a challenge for the leadership of Iraq, but for all its communities,” he said, pledging the support of the United Nations during that process.

WARREN SACH, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller for the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, speaking in his capacity as the Secretary-General’s designated representative of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, briefed the Council on the Board’s work.   He said the Board’s mandate had been extended under resolutions 1546 (2004), 1637 (2005), 1723 (2006) and 1790 (2007).  Resolution 1790 also extended the immunity of the Development Fund for Iraq until 31 December 2008.

From its inception to 31 December 2007, the Fund had been informed that about $106.3 billion had been deposited in the Fund from the sale of oil and oil products, he said.  A total of $10.4 billion had also been deposited in the Fund from the balance of the oil-for-food funds held in escrow by the United Nations, and a further $1.5 billion had been deposited as proceeds from frozen assets.  The Board had helped to ensure that the Fund was used transparently for the benefit of Iraq’s people and that export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas from Iraq were made consistent with prevailing international market best practices.

The Board had provided independent and international oversight of the operations of Iraqi oil export revenues and of the use of the Fund’s resources, thus functioning as the Fund’s audit oversight board, he continued.  Its members included representatives from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Iraqi Government, the United Nations and the World Bank.  The Board also continued to involve the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit and the Committee of Financial Experts.  Since his last briefing, the Board had met twice, bringing the total of meetings to 23 since December 2003.  It had approved the appointment by Iraq’s Government of independent public accountants as the external auditors.  It had reviewed the periodic audits results and requested and approved special audits.

Under its mandate in 2007 and 2008, the Board had overseen two audits of the Fund covering the calendar years 2006 and 2007, he said.  The audits, conducted by Ernst & Young, covered oil export sales to ensure that such sales were consistent with prevailing international market best practices; the accounting for the proceeds from oil export sales; the Fund’s financial statements; and disbursement procedures for Fund resources to ensure that funds were used for the intended purposes.  At its meeting in May 2008 in Kuwait, the Board had received a presentation on the draft audit report of the Fund covering the period 1 January to 31 December 2007.

While highlighting some improvements in various areas, especially the access to spending ministries, the report also highlighted the previously identified weaknesses in internal controls, he said.  Those weaknesses included incomplete record keeping at the Ministry of Finance; lack of a comprehensive metering system; sale of oil and oil products outside of the Fund; incomplete contract information associated with the United States agencies’ contracts; and bartering.

The Board had also been briefed by the auditors during the May 2008 meeting on the status of implementation of the previously identified recommendations, he said.  A less than 15-per-cent implementation rate of audit recommendations had been reported with respect to the spending ministries.  The Board was concerned about the rate of implementation of the prior recommendations and it urged the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, with the help of the Committee of Financial Experts, to set up a concrete plan of action to ensure implementation of the recommendations.  The Board’s Iraqi representative, the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit President and Committee of Financial Experts had briefed the Board throughout 2007 and during the last two meetings in 2008 on progress in implementing earlier Board recommendations and in strengthening the overall framework for public financial management in Iraq.

The Board welcomed progress in 2008 to strengthen the financial and administrative controls over the use of Fund resources in the spending ministries, he said.  The Board had recommended in 2004 the expeditious installation of a comprehensive oil metering system in Iraq, in accordance with standard oil industry practices.  Oil metering was a key factor in achieving financial transparency and accountability over oil resources in Iraq.  While the Iraqi Government supported oil metering, progress had been slow.

Further, the Board continued to be concerned that barter transactions were not accounted for in the Fund as required by Council resolution 1483 (2003), he said.  While noting some reduction in bartering since 2004, following the allocation of Iraqi budget funds to import light petroleum products, the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization had continued to undertake bartering in 2007.  The use of bartering made it difficult to determine whether fair value had been received for Iraq’s oil export revenues.

The results of the 2007 audits indicated that, while many efforts had been made, the overall financial system of controls in place in the spending ministries, the United States agencies handling of outstanding commitments using Fund resources and the Iraqi administration of Fund resources remained deficient, and financial management resources needed to be pursued further, he concluded.  The Board, at its May 2008 meeting, had been provided an update on the status of the procurement for the 2008 audit of the Fund.  Given the satisfactory work performed by the current auditors, the representative of Iraq had sought the Board’s approval to negotiate with Ernst & Young for a third term.  The Board had unanimously approved the recommendation.

Turning to the previous request for a briefing of the Council in Washington, D.C., he said the matter had been put before the Board.  The Board reiterated its earlier position that, as had been the practice, individual Board representatives should brief their respective organizations in an individual capacity.  The Board agreed such a briefing should be given by the Secretary-General’s representative to the Board.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq, said the five-year milestone in his country’s democratic transition had just passed, and although Iraq continued to endure profound challenges, it had made commendable and significant accomplishments in the security, political and economic fields.  At the same time, however, he acknowledged that the gains, while tangible, remained fragile and that the Government’s top priority was to consolidate and capitalize on what had been achieved.

He told the Council that Iraq was experiencing the lowest levels of overall violence, including the number of terrorist attacks, since March 2004.  “Our country has stepped back from the brink of civil war and the Iraqi people and communities have encouraged a number of initiatives to protect our civilians and our livelihoods,” he said, adding that Al-Qaida had been routed from its strongholds with the help of local communities, and that there had been widespread support for the Government’s programme to demobilize unlawful militias.  Further, the Iraqi Security Forces continued to strengthen its capacity, skill and confidence with clear and positive improvements in training and professionalism.

The Iraqi Security Forces had increased in size to nearly 600,000 strong and had primary responsibility for more than half of Iraq’s 18 provinces.  Their efforts had won the trust of the Iraqi people, he said, and with the support of the Multinational Force, they had “turned a corner” in the fight against the insurgency and terrorism in Iraq.  At the same time, the Government continued to monitor the vigilance of military and security leaders in preventing civilian casualties and respect international humanitarian law during their operations.

He said the Government had taken concerted action to make improvements in security, political and economic areas towards strengthening national reconciliation and imposing the rule of law.  In April, senior Government officials had issued a 15-point statement calling on all parties and political blocks to dissolve and disarm their militias.

Further, the Government had successfully imposed the rule of law in Basra, “a city where State authority had been challenged by militias, criminals and armed groups”.  The Government’s willingness to confront illegal elements head on in Basra, as well as in Sadr City and Baghdad, was evidence of its increasing confidence and ability to boost security.  It had also demonstrated the progress of the Iraqi Security Forces, with support of the Multinational Force, to take on increasingly difficult missions.

To consolidate those security gains, the ongoing challenge for the Government was the equitable provision of essential public services to raise the Iraqi people’s standard of living.  Electricity, water, sanitation, health care and fuel were key priorities, he said, adding that the Government was tackling those issues, while at the same time dealing with enormous humanitarian challenges caused by the international and external displacement of Iraqis.  There was a crucial need to ensure those persons a safe, dignified and sustainable return home to communities with access to basic services and support.

He stressed that the improvements in security and gains in the political arena had “led the Iraqi people to pull together to reverse a potentially devastating decline into sectarian war”.  The people had also rejected extremist attempts to incite conflict and civil strife.  He went on to say that the political progress and critical strides on the Government’s ambitious legislative agenda had also led to the consolidation of reconciliation.  Among others, the Government had successfully passed key legislation, including the justice and accountability law and the regional powers law, as well as the largest budget in the country’s history, nearly 40 per cent of which would be devoted to rehabilitating public infrastructure and services.

Even with those and other improvements and advances, including strengthened ties with Iraq’s neighbours, economic progress and steps to ensure smooth provincial elections set for October, he stressed that security continued to be the Government’s foremost concern.  Indeed, it was the prerequisite for progress in all areas.  So, even though Iraq’s own security forces were better trained and equipped, they still fell “short of being able to independently assume full responsibility for the maintenance of security in all Iraqi territory”.  To that end, he welcomed the continued support and assistance of the Multinational Force, whose contribution towards establishing security and stability in Iraq and the self-sufficiency of national military had been vital.

He told the Council that Iraq was currently in the process of negotiating bilateral strategic agreements with the United States to provide the framework for security arrangements that would address Iraq’s security needs covered in the current Multinational Force mandate.  Those agreements should reflect the progress achieved in the development of the Iraqi Security Forces, he said, adding that the transition from multilateral to bilateral arrangements would entail transparent processes, subject to the approval of the elected Council of Representatives and preserve the sovereignty and national interests of Iraq and its people.  “Finally, there is a renewed sense of optimism for my country.  We have proved we can be successful in Iraq and my Government is confident of recovery,” he said, adding that it would be another important year for the people of Iraq and he called on the family of nations to “stand with us in solidarity and hope”.

Statements

MARCELLO SPATAFORA ( Italy) said that the Foreign Minister of Iraq had offered the Council a clear, positive picture of the current situation.  He welcomed progress made in building an autonomous defence, establishing a legitimate State and authority, and defeating Al-Qaida.  He expressed hope that Iraq would follow through on the decision to ban all militias.  He applauded the ongoing contribution of the Multinational Force to establish Iraqi security capacity.  He also supported Iraq within the framework of the training mission of NATO.  He welcomed the positive steps made towards national reconciliation, including on the amnesty law and the revising of legislation on de-baathification.

He supported improvements in funding to help activate the country’s enormous resources.  The upcoming provincial elections were a meaningful step to push forward the democratization process.  Some countries had decided to open embassies in Baghdad.  That was a good sign.  Debt relief according to the Paris principles was crucial.  He expressed hope that countries in the region would cooperate and comply, in that regard.  Italy fully supported the United Nations broader mandate in Iraq and it welcomed its role in addressing disputed internal boundaries.  He encouraged the Iraqi Government to further measures to address refugees abroad and internally displaced persons, and to facilitate their return home.

ALFREDO SUESCUM ( Panama) said that, five years after the Council had given the Multinational Force approval to contribute to peace and security in Iraq, it was vitally important that the Council evaluate objectively the goals achieved and lessons learned.  He took note of progress in the security situation, including some elements mentioned during the current meeting’s briefings.  He recognized the work of the Multinational Force in providing training and equipment to the Iraqi Security Forces, so that they would be able to fully assume responsibility for security in the future.  It was necessary to continue to build up UNAMI.  He expressed great concern over the humanitarian situation on the ground and stressed the importance of the presence of humanitarian staff.

He also expressed concerned over the difficult circumstances referred to in last UNAMI report about due process of people who had been detained.  Still, there were some reasons to be encouraged.  The Compact with Iraq existed and Iraq’s neighbours had an impact that went beyond Iraq’s borders.  Those neighbours needed to redouble their efforts to assist Iraq, as did the international community.  The current security situation in Iraq made it difficult to establish a monitoring structure for how funds were being used.  He called on the Government of Iraq to analyse carefully the explanations made in the interim report.  He expressed hope that, after the end of next year, the presence of foreign troops in Iraq would be on the basis of bilateral negotiations, not on the basis of Council resolutions.  He recognized the right of States to cover the needs of their people and expressed hope that the political, economic and social life in the country would be improved with the involvement of and for the benefit of all Iraqis.

GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya) said his delegation had been satisfied with the progress that had been achieved in Iraq on the political, security and economic fronts.   Libya was also pleased that steps were being taken to increase cooperation and collaboration among Iraq’s neighbours.  There was no doubt that real challenges remained, but Libya believed the country would overcome all obstacles.  He noted that his delegation had hoped that the mandate of the Multinational Force would not have to be extended through the end of the year, but after today’s briefing it was clear that that could not be the case, despite major improvements.

All Iraqi parties must be convinced that they had the opportunity to participate in rebuilding the country and sharing in the country’s national resources.  He hoped that the coming elections would be a further statement of the country’s desire to move away from ethno-sectarianism and towards national reconciliation.   Libya was concerned by the humanitarian situation of Iraqi detainees, including those being held by the coalition forces, many of whom were children.  It was vital for the situation of those detainees to be addressed at the earliest possible moment.

Libya was also concerned about the return of Iraqi refugees, which was a key element towards insuring overall reconciliation in the country.  He added that Iraq needed massive investments to rebuild and ensure its future.  He hoped that all States would live up to their obligations, because everyone knew that stability in Iraq was crucial to stability throughout the region.

MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) said commendable progress had been made in Iraq towards national reconciliation, and recent talks between political and religious leaders had been critical to reducing tensions and opening up political opportunities.  That had also led to security improvements.  At the same time, it was clear that much work remained to ensure stability in the country.  To that end, he was seriously concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, especially since the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons was very high.  He was also very concerned about the situation of women and children, and called on all parties to respect international humanitarian and human rights law.

He went on to say that Iraq had been making strides on the economic front, and that the Government was increasingly mastering the State budget, despite its huge debt burden.  The Government was also pressing ahead with reconstruction and broader development.  To that end, Burkina Faso welcomed efforts to improve the transparency of the Development Fund for Iraq.  He reiterated that, despite all that, challenges abounded, and Burkina Faso, therefore, supported the maintenance of the Multinational Force, as well as efforts to help the people of Iraq take full control of their country.  The Security Council and the wider international community must stand by Iraq.  Such broad support would be a comfort to the Iraqi people, as they pressed ahead with their efforts to rebuild their country and promote national reconciliation.

NEVEN JURICA ( Croatia) said he was encouraged by the Iraqi Government’s commitment to expand on the achievements made thus far.  Macroeconomic indicators pointed to positive upward trends in the economy.  He looked forward to seeing a vast transformation in infrastructure development resulting from that economic improvement.  Several important milestones had been achieved in 2008, notably concerning de-baathification reform, amnesty and the budget.  He expressed hope for similar advances concerning the constitutional revision process.  He noted the importance of the provincial elections to be held by year’s end.  He noted the marked improvements in security, which was a prerequisite for improvements in other sectors.  He supported the efforts of the Multinational Force to support security, the rule of law and to help combat terrorism.  That would require the building of impartial, non-sectarian security forces.

Iraq was undergoing a phase of critical transformation and it was moving in the right direction, he said.  UNAMI and the Multinational Force were well placed to help Iraq to overcome remaining challenges.  That required advancing the political dialogue and supporting constitutional review, among other things.  He commended the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq to expand the Mission’s presence during difficult circumstances.  He took note of the recent reports proposing a series of specific confidence-building measures.  The Iraqi Government had the sovereign responsibility to decide on the review process.  He supported the Compact created one year ago.  The ultimate goal should remain Iraq’s full integration into the international community.  It was unacceptable that such efforts were jeopardized by armed groups.  Stability, normalization of the situation, reconciliation and consolidation of democracy remained shared goals.

BASO SANGQU ( South Africa) welcomed the progress by the Iraqi authorities.  However, he expressed concern that the overall security situation in Iraq remained fragile.  It must be all inclusive, focusing on improving the political situation, as well.  He commended the Iraqi leadership’s efforts to try to improve security.  He supported the renewal of the Multinational Force.  He also noted the assertion by the Iraqi Government that this could be the final mandate of the Multinational Force.

He remained concerned over repeated findings of the internal auditors that requirements concerning the Development Fund for Iraq had not been acted upon.  The Fund must be used in a transparent manner to repair Iraqi infrastructure, for disarmament and to build up the civilian administration.  The International Advisory and Monitoring Board had only been allowed to scrutinize a small number of contracts.  As much as $23 billion may have been lost, stolen or not accounted for in Iraq.  The Council had a responsibility to ensure that development funds were used for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom) said progress was under way in Iraq, including concerted efforts by the leaders of the country to promote national reconciliation, improve security, with cross-party support to uphold the rule of law, and ongoing efforts to hold provincial elections in the coming months.  In order to build on that progress, it was necessary for all Government parties to take forward development initiatives and drive political processes.  They must also agree on the necessary legislation to ensure the elections took place that year and to pass hydrocarbon initiatives.  She added that the longer legislation was delayed, the longer broader development for Iraq would be delayed.

She went on to say that it was clear Iraq wanted to build broad partnerships with the international community, including its neighbours.  To that end, the United Kingdom welcomed the recent decisions taken by the Governments of Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to appoint ambassadors to Iraq and hoped those moves would serve as an important example to others in the region and beyond.  The United Kingdom also encouraged all parties to engage with the United Nations and participate in efforts to reach agreement on disputed areas.  The Government must also decide on a new location for a new UNAMI compound in Baghdad and donate towards its construction.

She said that the United Kingdom’s policy in Iraq had been to help people to get to the point where they could take control of their own security and development.  To that end, all four southern provinces in Iraq where the United Kingdom operated were now under Iraqi control, with two transfers of operation scheduled to take place in July.  Such initiatives showed that Iraqis were ready to take decisions for themselves and take responsibility for those decisions.  The Government’s crackdown on armed movements in Basra was clear example of its desire to counter the actions of those wishing to destabilize the country.  The United Kingdom would stand by its obligations to support the training of security forces in Basra and elsewhere.  It would also stand by the Government as it faced the challenges of rebuilding the nation.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said Iraq had made notable political, security and developmental progress.  Indeed, improvements in security and political matters were keys to wider progress throughout the country.  To consolidate the gains of the improved security situation, it was imperative to continue all efforts to advance national reconciliation.   China hoped that all parties in the country would continue to work closely with the Government, and that the Iraq authorities themselves would listen to all political views and come to consensus decisions on all mattes of concerns.

The Government should also work towards the holding of smooth provincial elections this year.   Iraq had vast natural resources and it must be allowed to use those resources to promote development and reconstruction.  Moreover, the Iraq Compact commitments must be translated into firm action.  The international community must take seriously Iraq’s efforts to take ownership of the Development Fund for Iraq and ensure its transparency for the benefit of all the people of the country.  Finally, China continued to support the work of UNAMI.

JAN GRAULS ( Belgium) said the security situation had improved.  Iraq had made efforts to construct a stable, democratic and prosperous State.  But violence continued to strike the civilian population, causing many to flee their homes.  During the first international review conference of the International Compact with Iraq, Belgium had reiterated the important role of the international community in improving the daily lives of the Iraqi people, assisting refugees and internally displaced persons and helping in terms of broader economic and social issues.  There were positive trends, but Iraq also faced serious challenges, including providing access for all to water, food, electricity, health care and education.  The Iraqi leadership must apply the principles of good governance for the benefit of all citizens.  The International Advisory and Monitoring Board had stated that Iraq had had fulfilled some obligations concerning the audit.  He encouraged Iraq to intensify and accelerate efforts to overcome the shortcomings expressed in the audit report.

Efforts of the Iraqi authorities to take control over security must constitute the pillar on which the State was built, he said.  Security efforts must be accompanied by a strengthening of the rule of law.  Iraqi security forces must be strengthened.  The mandate of the Multinational Force must not be ended now.  It was necessary to finalize, as soon as possible, the preparation of credible provincial elections and to strengthen Iraqi political institutions.  He fully supported the step-by-step method proposed by the United Nations to help the Iraqi authorities resolve the disputed internal boundaries.  Proposals must be facilitated by political agreements that would lead to the future organization of the country as a whole.  He supported resolution 1770 and said it was necessary to continue to work within its relevant boundaries.

SAÚL WEISLEDER ( Costa Rica) welcomed efforts by the Iraqi Government and the international community to promote the rule of law and economic prosperity in the country.  He encouraged Iraqi’s Minister for Foreign Affairs to work to improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people and to work towards a democratic future.  He supported all efforts to consolidate peace and development in the country and the region.  He expressed concern over the need for human rights protection and for alleviating the serious humanitarian crisis.  Realistic and sustainable strategies must be made to deal fairly with all ethnic and religious groups.  That would facilitate the reconciliation process.  The Council must recognize the work of International Advisory and Monitoring Board and the Development Fund for Iraq and the corrective measures needed to address the irregularities in the Fund’s application.

The United Nations was playing a strategic role in alleviating the human rights situation, he said.  He condemned the use of force and violence to achieve political aims, irrespective of where and by whom such terrorist acts were committed.  Such acts must be eliminated.  He regretted the loss of life due to the Multinational Force, as stated in the 15 March report of UNAMI.  It was unacceptable for civilians to be used as human shields, and to not take all possible measures to deal with terrorist groups.  The protection of civilians was a central objective and one of the main reasons why the United Nations was present on the ground.  He lauded the fact that Iraq had signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  He urged it to ratify its Optional Protocol.

LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam) said Iraq’s tremendous progress over the past five years in many areas, such as improved relations with neighbours, deserved full encouragement.  More progress remained to be made in many areas, including in the ending of sectarian violence, strengthening social welfare development and promoting the rule of law.  Many formidable challenges remained in the areas of security, humanitarian concerns, reconstruction and national reconciliation.  The united, prosperous and stable Iraq that was the fervent desire of the Iraqi people would contribute to the peace, security and stability of the region.

The efforts of the Iraqi Government and other parties in consolidating peace and security, promoting sustainable development and strengthening national reconciliation were all worthy of support, he said.  Yet, the role of the United Nations, regional countries and the international community were also worthy of support in such areas as ensuring respect for the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and non-interference in Iraq’ internal affairs.  They were also important for helping Iraq strengthen its political process and regional dialogue and in promoting economic reconstruction and humanitarian relief.  UNAMI should continue its mandate.  The International Advisory and Monitoring Board should continue to enhance its audit and oversight capacity to ensure all resources from the Development Fund were transparently and efficient disbursed in the service of the Iraqi people’s best interests.

MARTY NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said 2008 was a critical year in the partnership between Iraq and the Multinational Force, as the mandate had been extended as the basis of a final request from Iraq’s Government.  Thus, he believed training and capacity-building should be given greater emphasis in the support and assistance of the Multinational Force for Iraq, so as to help Iraq be more self-reliant in meeting its own security needs.

Atrocities, however, could not be fully addressed through a security approach, since they were rooted in the complexities with which the Iraqis still grappled, he continued.  A “soft power” approach that promoted inclusiveness and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms must be found and adopted.  Also, since the violence had caused serious displacement of people in Iraq and that could contribute to instability, a national strategy should be developed to address the challenges posed by the internally displaced and the refugee situation.

He said that UNAMI electoral assistance would be particularly important as Iraq prepared to parliamentary and provincial elections.  The Mission should strengthen its collaboration with the Independent High Electoral Commission.  In closing, he said three elements were key in contributing to the early solution of the conflict in Iraq.  The first was the need for all-inclusive reconciliation among Iraqis involving the current Government.  Second, the international community must participate in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.  And finally, an enhanced, mandated United Nations capacity should be deployed, with the consent of the Iraqi people, as foreign troops drew down.

JEAN PIERRE LACROIX ( France) said his country’s Foreign Minister had recently visited Iraq and witnessed first hand the improvements in the security situation.   France hoped that such improvements would continue and lead to broader progress. To that end, development and national reconciliation must be inclusive and not bow to forces wishing to sow division. The process of constitutional revision must continue apace, he added in that regard.  He went on to say that the situation of human rights remained a concern, especially the situation of women and children, refugees and internally displaced persons.

On economic matters, he welcomed recent moves by the Government to consolidate budgetary resources, which should allow it to move ahead with reconstruction. The Government must also work towards enhancing transparency in order to attract foreign investors, which would also help with reconstruction efforts.  Urgent initiatives were required to address the situation of refugees and displaced persons.  Further, the regional committees set up to deal jointly with boundary, refugee and energy and resources issues must achieve results.

On the mandate of the Multinational Force, he said the Council should consider thinking about the role of that mission in the longer term.   France supported the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq.   France would shortly take over the presidency of the European Union and wanted to ensure Iraq that it would continue to work with the Iraqi Government and people in that spirit.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that his delegation had supported the most recent decision to extend Multinational Force through December 2008.  To a certain extent, it played a stabilizing role in Iraq, but with recent improvements in the security situation, it was clear that the current state of affairs could not continue indefinitely.  True sovereignty and stability would only come to Iraq when the Iraqi Government was given full control over all decisions that were made about the country, including its security.

To that end, he hoped that the bilateral security arrangements currently under discussion between the United States and Iraq would not become an instrument to enshrine a foreign presence in Iraq.  Such an occurrence would only leave a negative impression on the Iraqi people and undermine the gains that had been made.  Indeed, a timetable for withdrawal would provide an important impetus for the Iraqi Government to achieve national reconciliation and agreement on outstanding issues.  He said that the Russian Federation supported the sovereignty and integrity of Iraq, and was comfortable that Iraqis were able to decide their owe fate.  The presence of foreign troops must not undermine the country in any way.  Finally, he said that the humanitarian situation of prisoners in the country, especially women and children, was a matter of grave concern and needed to be addressed as soon as possible.

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