|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6511th Meeting (AM)
Unless Dividends Promised by New Power-Sharing Government in Iraq Delivered,
Democratic Gains May Be ‘Hollow’ to Ordinary Iraqis, Security Council Told
Top UN Envoy Says Iraqi Officials Taking Demands Seriously; Asks International
Community Not to Forget Iraq, as United States’ Forces Prepare to Leave Country
While Iraqi political leaders had formed a power-sharing Government in December 2010, ending a nine-month stalemate following national elections in March of last year, the Iraqi people were still concerned over the country’s lack of adequate employment, basic services and accountability, the United Nations top political official on Iraq told the Security Council today.
“Unless these demands are addressed, the political and democratic gains made thus far may seem hollow to ordinary Iraqis. This will be no easy task for the Government of Iraq,” Ad Melkert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said as he briefed the Council on the situation in that country.
Since February, Iraqi citizens had protested across the country to demand the dividends promised by the new National Partnership Government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he said. That included employment opportunities for youth, who comprised more than half of all unemployed Iraqis and more than 60 per cent of whom had only a primary school education.
Iraq’s elected officials were taking those issues seriously and had shown a renewed determination to act decisively, he said. Prime Minister Al-Maliki had asked Cabinet ministers to introduce within 100 days viable plans to create jobs and deliver services. His Administration had also announced cuts in defence spending and Government salaries, as well as steps to tackle corruption.
The United Nations was doing its part by proposing projects to foster youth employment, improved health and nutrition, solid waste management, public distribution of food rations, and access to water, as well as initiatives to encourage dialogue between Iraq’s Government and civil society to promote human rights, he said. UNAMI was working with Iraq’s Government and Council of Representatives to create an independent High Commission for Human Rights.
In addition, later this month, the United Nations, the World Bank and bilateral donors would meet with Iraqi cabinet members to review policy recommendations for Iraq’s socio-economic development and institutional capacity-building, he said.
Mr. Melkert expressed hope that this week’s appointment of an Iraqi Minister of Planning would foster socio-economic progress, but he was concerned over the lack of agreement on key security ministerial portfolios and how power-sharing agreements made during the political parties’ negotiations in November 2010 would be followed. He urged political leaders to set aside their differences and bring the Government formation process to a close.
Despite progress towards stability, security remained a concern, he said, pointing to the 25 security incidents reported last month and the 29 March terror attacks against a provincial Government building that killed 76 people and injured 100. “As US forces prepare to leave, Iraq should not be forgotten and the international community should stand ready to continue support,” he said.
Moreover, he said, Iraqi’s stability and long-term prosperity would depend on progress in resolving disputed internal boundaries and the status of Kirkuk province, where the Kurdistan Regional Government had deployed some 5,000 Peshmerga forces in February, without going through the Combined Security Mechanism, a framework between the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga forces intended to prevent tensions on the ground. The forces had since returned to their original position.
On 27 March, Government officials and representatives of the main political parties reached agreement to work with UNAMI on key border issues through a Standing Consultation Mechanism, a forum to sort out potential conflict, he said. They also had agreed to meet in April and May to discuss the status of Kirkuk and Ninewa provinces, the national census and the Combined Security Mechanism.
Iraq and Kuwait had made progress in resolving outstanding issues, he said. On 12 January, the Prime Ministers of both countries met in Baghdad for the first time since 1991. One month later, they met in Kuwait. Mr. Melkert expressed confidence that the expected reaffirmation of land and maritime boundaries pursuant to Council resolution 833 (1993) by Iraq’s Government was within reach.
Hamid al-Bayati, Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said that, during his presentation of the Platform for Ministerial Government, Prime Minister Al-Maliki had said that the goal of his National Partnership Government was to “build a federal, democratic, pluralist and unified Iraq with justice, equality and rule of law, which gets its strength from religious and intellectual diversity, and which cooperates in international and regional contexts, rejects aggression, terrorism, discrimination and sectarian division, and which respects human rights”.
He said the Government’s programme of work was based on a clear set of principles that included upholding the Constitution and maintaining the country’s political stability, expanding the base of participation in the political process, consolidating State institutions and building the rule of law. Under the work programme, the build-up of Iraq’s Armed Forces and the national reconciliation project would also be completed, while the principles of balance and efficiency would be adopted in the country’s management practices.
“It is time for Iraq to reap the fruit of the patience, sacrifices and suffering to live in a better reality in terms of basic rights and services,” he stated, while noting that, over the past two months, the country had witnessed a series of peaceful demonstrations that raised demands for improved services. Following the demonstrations of 25 February, Prime Minister Al-Maliki had recognized the protesters’ right to express their views, pledging that “nothing that is objected to or protested would be ignored”. In that regard, Iraq’s Council of Ministers had agreed to conduct an assessment of the work of all Government ministries after 100 days and to adjust work according to its outcomes.
Noting that Iraqi security forces had continued to assume their responsibilities across the country, he said Iraq had witnessed, in February, a marked improvement in the security situation. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister had emphasized the need to energize intelligence efforts to defeat all hostile plots. At the same time, work to enable displaced Iraqis to return to their place of origin would continue, he said, highlighting reports that an estimated 89,000 families had already done so during the first quarter of 2011.
Turning to economic issues, he said Iraq’s new budget — which was the largest in the Republic’s history — focused on providing services, fostering scientific development, generating jobs and raising the standard of living for all citizens, while also supporting the country’s reconstruction. Unemployment rates had recently declined from levels between 17 and 28 per cent to 15 per cent, while oil exports had increased to 2.2 million barrels a day in February and were projected to reach 6.5 million barrels a day by 2014. The Government was also working to increase the country’s storage capacity and to organize bidding rounds to attract investments in developing the oil industry. A fourth bidding round had been announced for November for the exploration of 12 new gas areas and the drilling of 10 new wells.
He stressed that, owing to a series of economic, investment and financial regulations issued by the Government, Iraq’s economy had seen a “marked improvement”, including an increase in per capita income and improved purchasing power. To address ongoing housing problems, the Iraqi National Investment Commission had recently proposed to build 1 million housing units for an estimated cost of $30 billion. That was the first stage in a plan to build 2 million units in the next five years, he said.
Outlining a number of visits from high-level Government officials from countries in the region and beyond, he underscored the work of Iraqi officials to promote bilateral relations at both regional and international levels, particularly highlighting an agreement to activate the work of joint Iraqi-Kuwaiti committees and to convene a meeting of the Iraq-Kuwait Joint Ministerial Committee. The latter, which was headed by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries and was intended to resolve all outstanding issues between them, had held its first meeting in Kuwait on 27 and 28 March.
He said that to strengthen its relations with Arab Countries, as well as its intention to play a leading role in supporting the Arab Joint Working System, Iraq had agreed to host the next Arab Summit in Baghdad in May. The summit would come at a crucial and sensitive time in the Arab world, as revolutions swept Tunisia and Egypt, events unfolded in Libya and demonstrations expanded in other Arab countries, he said, underlining the need to hold the summit without delay.
Turning to yesterday’s events at Camp Ashraf, where several thousand Iranians were living, he said he did not have specific information on what had taken place, but it was the position of the Iraqi Government that the people in the camp were refugees. As such, they would not be forced to return to Iran, but would be encouraged to go to a third country. He noted, however, that the people in the camp had reacted violently to actions by Iraqi security forces.
The meeting began at 10:12 a.m. and adjourned at 10:55 a.m.
The Council had before it the Second report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 6 of resolution 1936 (2010) (document S/2011/213) covering the period from 26 November 2010 to 31 March 2011. In the report, the Secretary-General notes that the new Government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was endorsed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives on 31 December 2010. Formed on the basis of a power-sharing agreement between Iraq’s main political blocs and hailed as a “national partnership Government”, it ended the nine-month political stalemate that followed national elections on 7 March 2010.
In the report, the Secretary-General says the formation of the new Government should enable Iraqi leaders to begin to tackle the major political, social and economic challenges facing the country. However, several aspects of the power-sharing agreement have yet to be addressed. Also, since late February, several protests have occurred across Iraq, with several violent demonstrations resulting in an estimated 20 people killed and 116 injured.
At the same time, the report finds, the political and security situation in the disputed internal boundaries remain of particular concern, which, together with the planned drawdown of the United States military, underscore the need to review the combined security mechanism through a comprehensive dialogue that addresses the root causes of tensions in northern Iraq.
Calling the adoption of Security Council resolutions 1956 (2010), 1957 (2010), and 1958 (2010) on 15 December 2010 an important milestone in Iraq’s exit from Chapter VII obligations, the Secretary-General says the main outstanding obligation relates to the issues of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and property, confirmation of the Iraqi Government’s willingness to continue the Iraq–Kuwait boundary maintenance project and actions to relocate farmers from the border area.
His Special Representative continues to engage relevant political figures and parties to facilitate negotiations on outstanding issues related to the Government formation process, while UNAMI continues to work with the Government and other Iraqi interlocutors to facilitate political dialogue on Iraq’s disputed territories, states the report. Among other activities, the Mission was also supporting the Independent High Electoral Commission in maintaining operational readiness.
The formation of the new Government also allowed the Mission and the United Nations country team to step up their engagement with their official counterparts in the areas of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and development, says the report. The reform of the public distribution system and the overall social safety net remain key agenda items for the Government, while water also remains a critical issue, with drought response and transboundary water resource management among the Government’s priorities.
In his observations, the Secretary-General says further steps should be taken to complete the government formation process, including appointments to key security posts. He calls for the establishment of the National Council for Strategic Policies, as agreed in the power-sharing accord. The recent demonstrations and ensuing violence show that Iraq was not immune to the wave of civil unrest affecting the region and underscore the urgent need to address the poor state of public services, high unemployment rates and the perceived failure to tackle corruption.
Expressing concern over the use of force by Iraq’s security forces in handling some protests, as well as reports of arbitrary arrests, detention and torture, and the ill-treatment of media personnel over those events, the Secretary-General calls on the Iraqi Government to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged violations and to ensure a measured approach that exercises maximum restraint in dealing with future protests.
He says possible mechanisms to achieving mutually acceptable solutions to the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories are being considered. Still, the overall security situation remains tenuous, particularly as some seek to reverse progress in reducing sectarian violence. He renews his call to the Government to do its utmost to protect all communities that continue to be targeted for their religious beliefs.
He remains concerned that, despite efforts to improve the status of Iraqi women, they remain underrepresented at the political and decision-making levels. He remains personally committed to ensuring that the United Nations supports all initiatives aimed at breaking the wall of silence surrounding violence against women.
Commending the decision to form a joint bilateral committee between Iraq and Kuwait to address issues of mutual concern between the two countries, he reiterates his call to Iraq to reaffirm its commitment to Security Council resolution 833 (1993) with respect to its land and maritime boundary with Kuwait and to take urgent steps to resume border maintenance work.
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