The top U.N. envoy in Iraq said Tuesday there are grounds for "cautious optimism" about the country's future if its leadership is united and there is a stronger spirit of cooperation in the region.
Ad Melkert told the U.N. Security Council that the key to consolidating and further strengthening "the indisputable gains" in Iraq is the successful implementation of the power sharing agreement reached last November.
That agreement was signed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi who leads the Sunni-backed Iraqiya party, and the Kurdish region's President Massoud Barzani. But bickering among Iraq's political leaders has kept the government, seated in December, from appointing new defense, interior and national security ministers.
In his final appearance at the council before stepping down as the secretary-general's special representative, Melkert reiterated Ban Ki-moon's call on Iraq's political leaders to put aside their differences and "move swiftly to agree on the way forward."
Leaders of the main political blocs met July 10 to step up efforts at consensus and look at ways to implement the November agreement. They also discussed the expiration of the agreement that requires U.S. troops to leave by Dec. 31 and the unresolved issue of whether the government wants any U.S. troops to stay next year.
"However, indications in my most recent meetings do not provide ground for optimism about a breakthrough any time soon," Melkert said.
On the positive side, Melkert said Iraq's elections in March 2010 met international standards, a government was finally formed, and "parliament is taking an increasingly important role in decision-making." Iraq's economy also continues to grow at a rate of over 10 percent with oil revenues at a higher than expected level, he said.
But Melkert said there also have been setbacks, most notably waves of kidnappings and assassinations targeting civil servants, political office holders, academics, doctors and activists, "undoubtedly impacting state and society building at this crucial time."
"These and other acts of violence that unfortunately have not subsided in recent months emphasize once more the need for determined, jointly shared political action against the perpetrators wherever they may derive their support from," he said.
Nonetheless, Melkert said, "in most of what I have witnessed in Iraq there is ground for cautious optimism, provided that determined leadership within the country and a stronger spirit of cooperation in the region with Iraq prevail."
Steady economic development in Iraq will reinforce regional and international stability, he said.
At the same time, Melkert said that addressing major political, social and economic challenges "could significantly contribute to reducing the space for extremism, including by distributing Iraq's wealth more fairly among its people."
Melkert said Iraq in key respects "is at the heart of fundamental changes in the region" because its system of government incorporates a power-sharing constitution, guarantees participation of women and minorities and has seen regular elections.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati echoed this view, telling the council that "the Arab world is witnessing a wave of political changes and reform movements that proves the rightness of Iraq's political direction, in terms of achieving political change and adopting democracy, elections and peaceful transition of power as a way of governing."
If Arab nations had followed Iraq in deepening democracy, expanding political participation and promoting women's role in society, he said, "maybe we could have avoided many of the implications happening in the Arab arena now."