17 December 2003


NEW YORK, 16 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council meeting on Iraq today:

We meet three days after the capture by coalition forces of Saddam Hussein.  His capture is not just a symbol of the downfall of the former regime in Iraq.  It is also an opportunity for a new beginning in the vital task of helping Iraqis to take control of their destiny -- of helping them to create a secure, stable and independent Iraq, which can once again take its proper place in the region and in the international community.

The task of restoring the effective exercise of sovereignty to Iraqis, in the form of a provisional government, is urgent.  While there may not be time to organize free, fair and credible elections for this purpose, it is essential that the process leading to the formation of a provisional government is fully inclusive and transparent.  Every segment of Iraqi society should feel represented in the nascent institutions of their country.  No one should feel excluded, pending the subsequent holding of free elections for a constituent assembly and parliament.  Iraqis must have real ownership of the process by which they are governed.

Let me also say that it is right that Mr. Hussein should be held to account for past deeds, through a procedure that meets the highest international standards of due process.  Accounting for the past will be an important part of bringing about national reconciliation -- a process that is vital to Iraq and to all Iraqis.

The United Nations is ready to play its full part in helping Iraqis resume control of their destiny and build a better future.  The report before you sets out my thinking on this in considerable detail.

The Security Council, in resolution 1511 of 16 October 2003, resolved that the United Nations should strengthen its vital role in Iraq.  But the Council was also mindful of the fact that, owing to persistent security concerns, few international UN staff could continue to operate inside the country for the time being.

Our challenge, therefore, has been to find creative ways of intensifying our engagement despite our diminished capacity on the ground.  The report before you explains how we have attempted to meet that challenge, and how we propose to do so in the coming months.

As my report makes clear, despite the temporary relocation of international staff outside the country, the UN has not disengaged from Iraq.  Far from it.  Nor does it mean that we will not return in full force when circumstances permit.

Meanwhile, however, our on-the-ground engagement in important political and human rights work has suffered tremendously as a result of the 19 August bombing, which decimated the Office of the Special Representative, the core part of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

The Office needs to be reconstituted.  I have started that process with the appointment of Ross Mountain as my Acting Special Representative.  He will head our efforts to establish a core of UNAMI based outside the country.  He will also lead our planning for the mission’s eventual and incremental return to Iraq as soon as circumstances permit.

We cannot say with any certainty when circumstances will indeed permit the return of international staff to the country on a permanent basis.  But there is much that we can do, and are already doing, from outside the country.

I myself remain in close contact with Heads of State and Government, Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors, trying to help forge international consensus on the way forward.  To this end, I convened on 1 December a meeting of members of the Security Council and States in the region.

For its part, the core team of UNAMI based in the region will keep abreast of key developments on the political and human rights fronts, and explore avenues of UN assistance, while preparing the ground for UN involvement in the longer-term.

Meanwhile, as my report indicates, we need much greater clarity on what is expected of the United Nations by Iraqis and by the coalition in terms of assistance to the political transition.  This is not, as some have concluded, a formula for the United Nations to stand aloof from the process.  The stakes are too high for the international community just to watch from the sidelines.

Rather, I have called for clarity because, in taking the difficult decisions that lie ahead, I need to weigh the degree of risk that the United Nations is being asked to accept against the substance of the role we are being asked to fulfil.  I therefore need to know how responsibilities will be allocated and who will be taking what decisions.  Above all, I need to know what the Iraqis expect of the United Nations, and whether we will be in a position to meet those expectations.

Iraq is likely to remain a difficult environment.  We should not expect that the end of the occupation and formation of a provisional government will automatically bring about an end to insecurity, even though we should expect some improvement.  Events of the past three days should remind us that we must remain prudent in our assessments.  There is no panacea.

But a credible and inclusive transition -- one that broadens the base of support for the provisional Iraqi government -- offers the best hope of stability, and of political mobilization by Iraqis against the violence.

At every step along the road, there will be formidable challenges.  But these challenges will not be insurmountable if a genuinely national Iraqi agenda is forged, and if it is supported by a united international community, including Iraq’s neighbours and key States in the region, who have a crucial role to play.

Political, financial and military assistance will be required for some time to come.  As emphasized in my report, the Iraqi people need to be reassured that the international community -- current Coalition and non-Coalition members alike -- will respond generously to their requests for help.  And they need to be confident that this commitment will be maintained down the road, when a provisional government has been formed and the situation in Iraq may no longer dominate news headlines.

The 26 million people of Iraq have endured decades of war, sanctions, tyranny and misery.  They are now living through a process that will define the future of their country.  For their sake, and for the memory of those who have given their lives to help the people of Iraq, that process must be made to succeed.

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