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Iraq: UN Envoy Says 'Climate Of Fear' Remains Entrenched

The Iraqi charge d'affaires said terrorists will work to prevent the elections from happening The UN's special envoy in Iraq says the country's political transition remains fragile and has expressed concern about meeting the timetable for elections. Envoy Ashraf Qazi told the UN Security Council that Iraq's political process must be broadened and include some of the groups involved in an ongoing series of attacks. Qazi was joined by the Iraqi and U.S. envoys to the UN in appealing for contributions to a UN protection force to safeguard the election planning process.

United Nations, 15 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- At a time of surging violence in Iraq, special representative Ashraf Qazi has cast new doubt on the UN's ability to help prepare for elections within four months.

Qazi told the UN Security Council at the core of the security problems is a fractured Iraqi society. "Serious differences within Iraqi society have yet to be politically and effectively addressed," he said. "The transfer of sovereignty to the interim government has not been accompanied by an improvement in the security situation. This is the central challenge facing Iraq today. The main victims of the violence in Iraq are Iraqi civilians. The climate of fear remains entrenched."
Iraq is supposed to hold elections by the end of January to elect a provisional government. For that timetable to be met, voter registration should get under way shortly.

Qazi offered the UN's help in facilitating a political dialogue but acknowledged his mission's impact has been limited by security concerns. The UN mission has only 35 staff to Iraq and they are confined to a zone patrolled by U.S.-led troops.

UN officials say there is a need for hundreds of UN experts to help in Iraqi election planning and reconstruction. But Qazi said security conditions limit their deployment.

He indicated the Iraqi Election Commission, interim government, and National Council may have to assume a major part of the burden for planning elections. "At all times security has to be the overriding guiding principle for the number of international staff that can be deployed in Iraq," he said. "That is why it will be essential for the Iraqis to own their political process."

Qazi, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, and Iraqi charge d'affaires Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi stressed the importance of establishing a UN protection force as soon as possible. No countries have so far officially agreed to provide forces to that unit, which is called for in a Security Council resolution passed in the late spring. Al-Istrabadi said there have been some offers of help but declined to name the countries.

Iraq is supposed to hold elections by the end of January to elect a provisional government. For that timetable to be met, voter registration should get under way shortly.

Al-Istrabadi told the Security Council the escalating attacks in Iraq are aimed at undermining any elections. "It is a fact that Iraq needs the technical support of the UN to hold elections," he said. "We know that. The UN knows that. The countries represented at this table and beyond know that. And so do the terrorists. They are determined, at any cost, to prevent this vital assistance from going forward. They must not succeed."

He said the number of UN staff in the country is inadequate. "More is needed on a going-forward basis than the administrative expertise provided up to this point," he said. "However, invaluable it has been. The daunting job now begins, for instance, of doing the fieldwork to set up registration sites and to register voters."

Danforth acknowledged the latest series of attacks pose a setback to the transition process. He said expanded UN activities in Iraq would spur the democratic process and help end the cycle of violence. "Only the rule of law backed by well-trained Iraqi forces, supported by a thriving infrastructure and economy and energized by a free and fair elections process, can defeat those who wish to destabilize the country," Danforth said.

Danforth said the United States remained committed to helping Iraqis meet the elections timetable.

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