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UN remains ready for larger role in Iraq despite challenges


United Nations : Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Staffan de Mistura has said that the organisation remains ready to play a bigger role in Iraq despite challenges facing the country.

“We are not unaware of the risks or underestimate the challenges, but I believe that, including those who are critical, even resentful, over what they perceive to be the UN past record in Iraq, are ready and welcoming for an energetic, centre-stage role for the organisation,” de Mistura told the Security Council in an open briefing on UNAMI activities in the country Monday.

He said the political and security terrain remains daunting, “but this is the time, if any, to be proactive, where positive momentum has been gained.”

Iraq, he noted, cannot be left alone to tackle the structural, political and security challenges it faces. It requires the commitment of the UN, the unremitting assistance of the international community and the constructive re-engagement of its neighbours.

He said final agreement on the terms of reference as jointly submitted by the UN and Iraq for comments is essential so that the UN can provide resources in support of such a mechanism more effectively.

“The latter could further ensure the best use of the next meeting of neighbours in Kuwait attaching it to a concrete agenda item that concerns everyone,” he said.

He said the UN has a new and enlarged team in place, which will give UNAMI, “security permitting,” the opportunity to be helpful at the request of the Iraqi government at this “critical moment in time.”

On the political and security front, he said the situation continues to improve. “The notable decline in hostile activities can be credited to the cumulative effect of increased deployment of Multi-National Force in Iraq (MNF) troops, the ceasefire declared by Muqtada al-Sadr, the role of the Awakening Councils and “increased cooperation with neighbours on security-related issues.”

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, on the contrary, told the council on behalf of the MNF that Syria and Iran continue to endanger the security situation in Iraq.

He said despite security gains, “foreign terrorists still enter Iraq through Syria. Syria must do more to stem these flows, including instituting a stricter visa regime, detaining known facilitators, increasing information sharing with countries of origin and transit and further enhancing border security.”

He added that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps continues to “train, equip and fund Shiaa extremists” despite reported assurances to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki that Iran will stop doing so.

“Iraq has come a long way. But much work remains to be done. Looking ahead, we know that Iraq faces challenges in several areas. In 2008 the coalition will continue to develop ministerial capacity to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi forces,” Khalilzad said.

He called on the Iraqi leaders to foster an atmosphere of cooperation and compromise placing national interest above anything else. “They must work together to address issues such as corruption, terrorists financing and pass laws on provincial powers and hydrocarbons.”

Iraqi envoy Hamid Al-Bayati told the council Iraq looks forward to start a new chapter of friendly and normal relations with the international community beyond chapter VII of the UN Charter.

In light of the “significant” improvement in the security situation in the country, he invited all “brotherly and friendly” countries to re-open their embassies in Iraq.

He noted that his government was keen to reform the Iraqi economy “which was damaged by the wars launched by the previous regime against its neighbours which have exhausted and wasted Iraqi wealth,” stressing that the government has declared 2008 a year for investment and development.

For that, he said, the government and people of Iraq are requesting the council to reduce the percentage of the payment of compensation from Iraqi oil revenues from 5 per cent to 1 per cent. “The Iraqi government is working with our brothers in the state of Kuwait to reach suitable solutions in this regard that will serve the interests of both brotherly countries,” he said.

He added that his government was also working with other countries to resolve the issue of Iraqi debt according to measures of the Paris Club, citing the example of Serbia which cancelled the debt on Iraq.

He also expressed his government’s willingness to contribute to building the new UNAMI headquarters in Iraq to facilitate the fulfillment of its mandate according to council resolution 1770 which called last August for the expansion of UNAMI’s mandate in Iraq.

All council members participated in Monday’s debate to support UNAMI’s mandate in Iraq.

Al-Bayati later told KUNA he has “high expectations” for the meeting of Iraq’s neignbours in Kuwait in the next couple of months, “but what will be achieved remains to be seen.”