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UN Envoy: Iraq Reconciliation Key to Sustaining Security Gains

The top U.N. Iraq envoy told the Security Council that recent security gains can only be sustained through political consensus among Iraqi leaders. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

U.N. Special Representative Staffan de Mistura told the 15-member council that the nature of the challenges in Iraq has not changed. He said that the success of initiatives on the security and political fronts are directly linked, but noted some positive momentum on both tracks.

"We cannot ignore recent improvements both in the security and political situation in Iraq," said Staffan de Mistura. "The notable decline in hostile activities can be credited to the cumulative effect of increased deployment of MNF-I [multi-national forces in Iraq] troops, the cease-fire declared by Moqtada al-Sadr [and we hope it will be reconfirmed and we all work for that], the role of the [Sunni Arab] Awakening Councils, and increased cooperation with neighbors on security-related issues. Let me add also the Iraqi fatigue. Many Iraqis are tired to see the violence has led nowhere and that is also helping the situation."

De Mistura singled out the Iraqi parliament's adoption earlier this month of a law allowing former members of the Sunni-dominated Baath party back into government jobs and entitling them to pensions, as a welcome step toward national reconciliation.

He said the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) would continue its work to help Iraq's government resolve internal boundary disputes; help returning refugees and internally displaced persons; and advancing regional dialogue.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who briefed the council on behalf of the multi-national forces in Iraq, pointed to a number of positive indicators on the security front, including a significant drop in civilian and coalition casualties, since the so-called surge began last January.

"Another striking trend is the reduction of ethno-sectarian attacks and deaths - both of which have decreased over 90 percent in the Baghdad security districts from January to December 2007," said Zalmay Khalilzad.

Those trends have been significant, but Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin warned that there are no guarantees they will continue.

"Declaring victory is premature," said Churkin. "There are no guarantees that the reduction in tensions noted in the report will continue in the future. The wave of violence that has swept the country recently confirms our fears."

That wave of violence continued Monday, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a funeral procession in a Sunni Arab town north of Baghdad killing and injuring more than two dozen people.