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Outgoing UN envoy sees hope for Iraq

Outgoing UN envoy sees hope for Iraq

Outgoing UN envoy sees hope for Iraq.

Baghdad, March 5, 2015 (AFP) – Sectarianism is receding in Iraqi politics and hope is growing that the country can remain united, said Nickolay Mladenov, who left Thursday after 18 months as the top UN envoy.

In an interview with AFP, he praised Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for his efforts in averting Iraq’s breakup, which had looked imminent following a massive jihadist offensive in June last year.

Critics say sectarian policies under the previous prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, were partly to blame for marginalising Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and allowing the Islamic State group to take over swathes of land almost unopposed.

Mladenov said much had been achieved in the six months Abadi has been in office, despite the huge challenges that remain.

“The key change is that now there is hope that Iraq can reconstruct itself in a more inclusive way that allows the country to move forward,” he said.

IS jihadists still control two and half provinces in Iraq and more than two million people have been forced to flee their homes since the start of 2014.

But the Iraqi government is more inclusive, he said, and enjoys broader regional and international support, with a coalition of 60 countries helping in the fight against IS.

“Today you see a clear unity of purpose between the (Shiite) prime minister, (Kurdish) president and (Sunni) speaker of parliament both on security and on the major political challenges of the country — it’s encouraging,” Mladenov said.

“It used to be more acceptable to be sectarian, now it’s less acceptable to be openly sectarian in your speeches,” he said. “This changes the nature of the political environment, slowly but surely.”

With IS proclaiming a “caliphate” over nearly a third of the country in June and the Kurds aggressively expanding their borders in the jihadists’ wake, Iraq was experiencing what the UN and others had described as an “existential threat”.

“Abadi is the right man for Iraq,” Mladenov said.

“He is a consensus-builder. Some accuse him of being slow at taking decisions but the fact that he wants to ensure that all the decisions are taken on the basis of consensus is good for the country,” the outgoing envoy said.

While he could see an opportunity for real improvement, he admitted that many hurdles would have to be cleared.

“I’m optimistic about Iraq yet I’m paranoid that a lot of things can go wrong,” said the Bulgarian diplomat, who has been appointed UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Source: AFP World News / English

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