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My thoughts after meeting Grand Ayatollah Sistani today


Briefing the media after my meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najjaf

Briefing the media after my meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najjaf

Today, I delivered a letter from the United Nations Secretary-General to His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani  welcoming his support for the protection of civilians in the current conflict, and his stance against sectarianism. This was my third meeting with the Shia religious authority, whom I hold in great respect. He is a humanist with a strong commitment not just to Iraq, but to preserving its multi-cultural, ethnic and religious richness. He has often spoken how democracy is the only way forward and of the need for everyone to abide by the Constitution. Over the last few weeks he has taken a firm stand calling on all to protect civilians in the conflict, particularly minorities.

In our two hour discussion we went through a host of issues related to the current situation in Iraq. Starting with the need to provide urgent humanitarian aid to those displaced by the fighting. I noted our particular concern with the fate of women and children. Today, Iraq has over 1 million displaced people. A very large number of them– some 300,000 are hosted in the three provinces of the Kurdish region. Tens of thousands have fled to Najaf and Karbala and further South, many are stuck in the ares of fighting.

The UN is mounting a mammoth effort to help the refugees. We have received substantial support from the Saudi Arabia in a historic first– His Majesty King Abdullah has donated USD 500 million to the UN’s humanitarian effort in Iraq. We are working closely with the authorities both in Baghdad and Erbil in order to increase our ability to reach as many affected people as possible.

We also discussed at length the constitutional process and the need to swiftly move to elect a new President this week, as well as a new Government soon after. His Eminence is acutely aware of all the constitutional deadlines and keenly follows the process. It is inspiring to see a religious leader who firmly believes in the separation of state and religion, speak so clearly of the responsibility of political leaders for the future of their country. We also agreed that the future Government should be acceptable to all communities and must quickly focus on a vision to save Iraq from terrorism, sectarianism and division. To many this may be an obvious truth, but it is a necessary discussion in country made up of a complicated ethnic and religious mix. In such an environment all politicians must be keenly aware that their statements reverberate across communal lines, therefore they must moderate the debate– not further radicalise it. The UN has consistently called and worked for reducing radicalisation and bringing all back to the political process, back to the constitutional framework. The problems that Iraq faces today– problems that could easily break the country apart, cannot be resolved except through dialogue and politics. Just a few months back the country went through parliamentary elections with over 62% of people casting their votes. In their infinite wisdom the people of Iraq did not give a full majority to anyone, therefore forcing politicians from all ends of the spectrum to work together. It was encouraging to see that the Shia Marjaiya share this understanding.

Last week the Speaker of the new Parliament was elected. It came after some weeks of internal debate between the parties, however the team they chose to lead the new Council of Representatives has hit the ground running. This week a new President should be elected. Slowly but surely the political wheels start turning. With every turn the chances of the people of Iraq to return to some semblance of normality increase. The UN stands ready to support this process with every means at our disposal. We will not leave Iraq alone at this crucial time. Speaking from experience, including my own country, I can vouch that if the international community looks away from a nascent democracy in transition– things start going wrong. Iraq needs the support of the world and the world owes the Iraqi people the support they require. They should not stand against terrorism, sectarianism and violence alone. Yes, most of the work needs to be done in-country, however the situation in Iraq remains intimately connected to the problems of the region. Resolving the Iraqi crisis through peaceful and political means can help reduce the tensions in the region. Allowing the crisis to continue unabated will spell disaster for the region.

So, despite the grim reality of over 5000 people killed since the beginning of the year and 1 million displaced I remain hopeful that the country has enough strength in itself to pull back from the brink. The election of a Speaker, the prospect of a new President, the negotiations for a new Government– all this should give us some hope. Most importantly and not just in the meetings in Najjaf today, increasingly I see a realisation that the legitimate concerns of all communities– Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and minorities should be addressed with a sense of urgency. Adopting fundamentally needed legislation related to the budget, revenue sharing, devolution of authority– this is just a glimpse of the list of laws that need to be discussed by the new Parliament. Looking into policies of social inclusion, addressing pockets of poverty, reforming the public administration and ensuring the rule of law and protection of human rights– again, all of these are challenges that the UN sought to address and will continue to work on with the Iraqis. Not to mention the coveted census and the unfinished constitutional agenda. Had all of these challenges been addressed throughout the last decade, maybe we would not be where we are today…

Categories: thoughts, UN Tags: , , ,
  1. 19/07/2014 at 22:09

    Трябва да спрат да избиват и гонят християните. Все ще се намери читав европеец, който ще направи от това кауза на непреимливост. В

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