19 September 2006

Iraqi State in Danger of Breaking Down amid Civil War if Alienation, Violence Persist, Secretary-General Warns at High-Level Meeting

Decrying "Heartbreaking" Sectarian Strife, He Calls for Brave Choices by Government; Support from Neighbouring States, International Community

NEW YORK, 18 September (UN Headquarters) -- The following is the text of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement at the High-level meeting on Iraq today in New York, 18 September:

Let me start by thanking all of you for joining me for this important meeting.

More than two years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1546, Iraq has made important progress in its political transition.  Through two national elections, the constitutional process and a constitutional referendum, Iraqi citizens have consistently demonstrated their commitment to a peaceful, democratic and prosperous country.  The United Nations itself has worked closely with three successive Iraqi Governments, and the international community, to help Iraq reach its transitional milestones on time.

It is thus absolutely heartbreaking that, despite these achievements, the everyday life of Iraqi people is dominated by the constant threat of sectarian violence and civil strife.  Permit me to make special note, because of President Talabani's presence here, of the tragic violence in Kirkuk on Sunday.

Iraq and its leaders are now at an important crossroads.  If they can address the needs and common interests of all Iraqis, the promise of peace and prosperity is still within reach.  But, if current patterns of alienation and violence persist much longer, there is a grave danger that the Iraqi State will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war.

Against this background, I felt that beyond my periodic reports to the Security Council, the latest of which was discussed last week, it was important to take stock of progress under resolution 1546, and to discuss the way forward.  Given the serious situation in Iraq, it is evident that much more needs to be done.

To make the right choices -- the brave choices -- Iraq needs the support of its neighbours, and of the international community.  The most immediate task is to broaden support for the kind of action -- at the national, regional and international levels -- that can bring Iraq back from the brink.

At the national level, the new Government's most basic challenge remains the development of a truly national agenda responsive to the needs and aspirations of all Iraqi constituencies.  Such an undertaking would obviously include measures to improve security, but it must also promote peaceful dialogue, political compromise and national reconciliation.

As a first step, Iraq's Government, and its broader political leadership, need to step up efforts to reach out to one another and defuse rising sectarian tensions.  Prime Minister al-Maliki's National Reconciliation Plan and Baghdad Peace Initiative are welcomed steps in this direction, as are his initial steps to broaden the Government's support base.

A strong push for consensus on outstanding constitutional issues, such as federalism and revenue sharing, can greatly reinforce the Prime Minister's confidence building measures.  Therefore, I hope the Council of Representatives will initiate the constitutional review as early as possible.

To be effective, any national dialogue must mirror closer regional cooperation.  That is why the United Nations supports the efforts of the League of Arab States to convene a Conference on the Iraqi National Accord in Baghdad.

Many of Iraq's neighbours have legitimate concerns about instability inside that country.  Iraq must remain sensitive to these apprehensions.  The neighbours, for their part, must also be responsive to Iraqi security needs.

To this end, periodic meetings of the foreign and interior ministers of the States neighbouring Iraq have proved useful.  Just today, a meeting of interior ministers is being held in Saudi Arabia, while the next foreign ministers' meeting is scheduled later this week here in New York.

Meetings should, of course, end in results.  That is why Iraq and its neighbours need to strengthen dialogue and step up efforts to improve border security, and engage in concrete confidence-building measures.

Peace in Iraq will ultimately depend on domestic resolve and regional cooperation.  But, it will not come about without ever more urgent international engagement.  The international community may not be able to ensure Iraq's success, but it can guarantee failure, if it does not come through in time with sufficient support.

The International Compact with Iraq is designed to insure against this.  It is an opportunity for the international community to build a strong partnership with Iraq and the wider region.  On the basis of Security Council resolution 1546, and at the request of the Government of Iraq, the United Nations is co-chairing this process with the Government.  [Deputy Prime Minister] Barham Saleh, Iraq's co-chair for this initiative, is also with us today.

Since its launch on 27 July, considerable work has already gone into the Compact, which will provide the framework for a defined, prioritized and benchmarked economic programme for the next five years.  The recent preparatory meeting held in Abu Dhabi on 10 September has given the Compact further direction and content.

Yet, it remains a work in progress.  Indeed, the need to complete the Compact in good time -- ideally by the end of the year -- must be balanced by the equally great need for it to be well-developed, substantive and sustainable.  A broad consultative process both inside and outside Iraq, to ensure adequate buy-in of the Compact, is indispensable.

Finally, Iraq remains under a number of obligations imposed by the Council under Chapter VII.  Since the country now has a sovereign, constitutionally-elected Government, I hope Council members will find a means to address this situation as early as possible.

At this critical time, Iraqis of all ethnic and confessional groups must unite to build a better future for themselves and for their country.  As they work to do so, they should be able to count on the active support of Iraq's neighbours and the international community.

This meeting offers us a promising chance to promote that support, and decide how best to fulfil our shared responsibilities towards Iraq and its people.  If we reenergize our efforts and our commitment, we can still help build a country at peace with itself, with its neighbours and with the wider international community.

* *** *