17 February 2005
In Briefing to Security Council, Under-Secretary-General Says Elections Mark Significant Step Towards Democracy in Iraq
Immediate Challenge Is to Form Transitional Government Broadly Representative of Countrys Society
NEW YORK, 16 February (UN Headquarters) -- Nobody could fail to have been moved by the way that Iraqis had gone to the polls on 30 January, with courage, determination and confidence in the future of their country, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, told the Security Council this morning.
Briefing the Council on the situation in that country, he said that the elections marked a significant development in Iraqs transition to democratic government. The next key steps were the building of a constitution, the referendum due in October and then the holding of general elections. Iraqis looked to their leaders to deliver on a promise of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Iraq with which all Iraqis could identify.
Iraqs most immediate challenge was to form a transitional government that was broadly representative of the countrys society, and to find ways to bring together all Iraqi constituencies in a national effort to define the future of their country, he continued. The prospect of a referendum just eight months from now should serve as an important incentive for an inclusive, participatory and transparent constitutional process, given that a two-thirds vote for rejection in three governorates would block adoption of the new constitution.
Meanwhile, Iraqis would expect the Transitional Assembly and Government to deliver on matters of immediate concern to them, he continued. As a matter of priority, Iraqis needed to be able to go about their lives without fear of terrorism, violence and insecurity of all types. It was also important to step up reconstruction, development and humanitarian activities.
The challenges ahead were real, but so were the opportunities, he said. In fulfilment of its mandate, and circumstances permitting, the United Nations would spare no effort to meet the expectations of the Iraqi people through the current critical period of their history.
Addressing the Council following the briefing, Iraqs representative said that the people of Iraq had demonstrated to the world their refusal to yield to terrorists, and that they were capable and determined to take the necessary risks for their freedom. They had also proven, once again, that they alone possessed the will to determine their future, and to choose the path that met their aspirations. Iraq had successfully passed the first gate in its march towards democracy, and was determined to proceed and accomplish the remaining stages that were prescribed in the Transitional Administrative Law.
Expressing appreciation to the Council for its efforts to support the Government and people of Iraq, help Iraq get back on its feet and take its natural position as a responsible member of the international community, he also expressed hope that that effort could be consolidated through rapid removal of the punitive measures and restrictions that had been imposed on Iraq as a result of the reckless policies of the previous regime.
The meeting was called to order at 10:18 a.m. and adjourned at 10:43 a.m.
Briefing by Under-General for Political Affairs
KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the elections in Iraq on 30 January -- for the Transitional National Assembly, 18 governorate councils and the Kurdistan National Assembly -- had been a momentous event for Iraqis and the international community. Although only a first step, it had marked a significant development in Iraqs transition to democratic government, as outlined in Security Council resolution 1546. Despite attempts at violent disruption, Iraqis had turned out in large numbers to exercise their right to vote. The successful conduct of the elections had rightly been met with positive responses both inside and outside Iraq, including from the Council.
The elections had met recognized standards in terms of election organization, regulations and procedures, he continued. The number of serious irregularities and complaints conveyed to the Independent Electoral Commission had been relatively few, and all complaints were being investigated and addressed by the Commission. The results announced on 13 February confirmed an overall turnout of more than 8 million voters for the Transitional Assembly. The final allocation of seats would follow the final certification of results by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI), demonstrating how wide the spectrum of political representation had been. The system of proportional representation with a single national constituency had been chosen precisely to facilitate a wide range of representation. But it was clear that turnout had been low in areas with a high percentage of Sunni Arabs.
The election had been an important staging post, successfully reached, in the long and difficult process of political transition, he said. He was proud of the role played by the United Nations, pursuant to its mandate based on resolution 1546. The United Nations Electoral Assistance Team had been able to work effectively with the members of the Independent Electoral Commission to ensure that all the necessary preparations were put into place within a very tight time frame.
From the level of participation, it was clear that the majority of the Iraqi people were committed to the political transition process in the country, he said, but regional variations had been significant, and the turnout among Arab Sunnis had been markedly lower than for other communities. That issue needed to be addressed if there were to be more complete participation in the constitution-making and the referendum. The security situation remained fragile and challenging, as demonstrated by the resumption of daily attacks against Iraqis and foreigners alike. However, he hoped that the elections would mark a watershed, and that success in making the political transition more inclusive would have a positive impact on the security situation.
He said it was important for the Iraqis to understand that failure to engage in national dialogue and reconciliation could bring strife far more damaging than the compromises either side would have to make under an agreed peace. Key to forging such a national understanding was the drafting of a new constitution. Iraqs most immediate challenge was to form a Transitional Government that was broadly representative of the countrys society, and to find ways to bring together all Iraqi constituencies in a national effort to define the future of their country. The prospect of a referendum just eight months from now, should serve as an important incentive for an inclusive, participatory and transparent constitutional process, given that a two-thirds vote for rejection in three governorates would block adoption of the new constitution.
Iraqis knew that the new constitution would affect their lives and those of their children for a long time to come, he said. Some difficult questions were bound to arise, pertaining to the future character of the State and the relationship between Iraqs diverse communities. It would be important that the new Iraqi leadership signalled clearly that each of the countrys communities would have the chance to participate in shaping the future of their country. Similarly, all Iraqi constituencies ought to see that they had an interest in articulating a clear and reasonable agenda that would contribute constructively to Iraqs constitutional debate.
Prominent political leaders in Iraq had already signalled their sensitivity to the fact that certain constituencies, including among Arab Sunnis, were likely to find themselves under-represented at the Transitional Assembly due to the low turnout in some regions. Those leaders had indicated their determination to assuage any fears of political alienation, including by raising the possibility of inviting representatives of groups who had not taken part in the elections, or had been unable to do so, to participate both in the Transitional Government and in the constitution-drafting process. Conversely, some political elements that had urged a boycott or postponement appeared now to be insisting that their views must be included in any dialogue and that they had the right to participate fully in the drafting of the constitution.
Meanwhile, Iraqis would expect the Transitional Assembly and Government to deliver on matters of immediate concern to them, he continued. As a matter of priority, Iraqis needed to be able to go about their lives without fear of terrorism, violence and insecurity of all types. The better and faster Iraqi security forces could be trained, the sooner they would be able to assume their responsibilities and fully take charge of the countrys security. It was also important to step up reconstruction, development and humanitarian activities. The United Nations had a mandate to assist in all those areas. The Organization was already actively engaged in doing so and intended to intensify its engagement as circumstances permitted. In the weeks and months ahead, the new transitional institutions would need the active support and engagement of the international community.
The transition must be and be seen to be as an Iraqi-owned and led process, he said. Iraq had the human and material resources to take charge of its own destiny. The United Nations had considerable experience of supporting and facilitating transitional processes under difficult conditions. Where the international community and the United Nations could best contribute to that process was in helping to create enabling conditions for all Iraqis to share and succeed in the political and economic reconstruction of their country. Various international actors should work in a complementary manner with the Iraqis and each other. There was a general expectation that the United Nations would play a proactive role in supporting the constitution-making process. In conformity with resolution 1546, the Organization was ready to offer any needed technical assistance and public information support, as well as political facilitation.
The developments in Iraq had potentially important implications outside the country, he said. Some of the issues to be negotiated among Iraqis touched on the security interests of neighbouring countries. Thus, it was important to make every effort to normalize Iraqs relations with the region and the international community at large. It was especially important that Iraqs sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity be respected. A sovereign Iraq naturally aspired to regain its rightful place in the community of nations. The Secretary-General, for his part, intended to continue to foster greater regional and international convergence in support of Iraqs political transition and the United Nations role.
The challenges ahead were real, but so were the opportunities, he said in conclusion. In fulfilment of its mandate, and circumstance permitting, the United Nations would spare no effort to meet the expectations of the Iraqi people through the current critical period of their history.
SAMIR SHAKIR MAHMOOD SUMAIDAIE (Iraq) said the Iraqi people had demonstrated to the world their refusal to yield to terrorists, and that they were capable and determined to take the necessary risks for their freedom. They had also proved, once again, that they alone possessed the will to determine their future, and to choose the path that met their aspirations. Iraq successfully passed the first gate in its march towards democracy, and was determined to proceed and accomplish the remaining stages that were prescribed in the Transitional Administrative Law.
Hailing all those who contributed to the successful holding of the elections, including the Iraqi Electoral Commission and the United Nations, he noted that the electoral venture had not been perfect, and had been accompanied by some minor failures. However, that could not detract from the magnitude of what had been accomplished under difficult circumstances. It was regrettable that some parties had chosen not to participate in the elections, despite great efforts exerted by the Interim Government to convince them otherwise. The Government was determined to overcome those difficulties and include all communities in both the constitutional and electoral processes. The Interim National Assembly was on course to select a government that represented the Iraqi people with all their diversity.
He looked forward to the Assembly achieving the next important task -- writing Iraqs constitution -- in an inclusive manner that would ensure the participation and involvement of the Iraqi people, reflecting its rich mixture of cultures and beliefs. The challenges that would face the newly elected Iraqi Government were enormous. Among them was rebuilding the Iraqi army and police to protect Iraqs internal and external security. Iraq had become an arena for terrorists and forces of darkness whose destructive objectives cut across the most cherished aspirations and interests of the Iraqi people.
Another challenge would be the reconstruction of Iraq and activating its economy, which would require the support of the international community, he said. Iraqs infrastructure was in ruins and would need enormous efforts to be repaired. It was essential for the Government to provide the basic services and employment opportunities that would make life more tolerable for its citizens, thereby helping to bring about social stability. That would largely depend on reviving the economy. In that connection, he called on Iraqs friends to deliver on their pledges made at the Madrid Donors Conference in October 2003.
He assured the Council that Iraq was living in a new era that stood for the principles of democracy, freedom of expression, respect for human rights, adherence to international law and building sound relations with its neighbours, based on mutual respect and non-interference in their internal affairs. Consistent with that vision, the country was endeavouring to restore Iraqs natural role in the international community. He appreciated the efforts exerted by the Council to support the Government and people of Iraq, help Iraq get back on its feet and take its natural position as a responsible member of the international community. He hoped that effort could be consolidated through a programmed and rapid removal of the punitive measures and restrictions that had been imposed on Iraq as a result of the reckless policies of the previous regime.
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