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  UN News // IRAQ

28 July, 2008


The United Nations envoy to Iraq has strongly condemned today’s bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk which have left dozens of civilians dead and hundreds more injured, and follow a deadly attack on Sunday in which seven pilgrims were shot to death in Mada’in.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Staffan de Mistura, described these attacks as “vicious crimes committed against the defenceless by those who will stop at nothing in their quest to reignite sectarian and ethnic conflict,” in a statement issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Mr. de Mistura extended the sincere condolences of the UN to the bereaved families and wishes for a full and speedy recovery for the wounded.

He called for unity among all Iraqis and a rejection of violence.

In a related development, UNAMI has condemned the killing of Soran Hama, a journalist with Levin magazine in Kirkuk, who was murdered a week ago by gunmen in front of his house.

“UNAMI is alarmed that journalists in Iraq continue to be targeted undermining the integrity of the press and freedom of expression in the country,” the Mission said in a statement.

It called on the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough and prompt investigation into the murder, apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

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12 June, 2008


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that some 300 ethnic Arab Iraqi refugees in Jahrom camp in southern Iran have been waiting since last year for security clearance from the Iraqi authorities before they can return, while another 200 refugees in the camp have also expressed interest in returning to their home country.

Complicated clearance procedures have delayed repatriation for some refugees – until recently applications were sent via Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad for processing. In addition, there have been sporadic closures of the borders at Shalamcheh and Mehran since April for security reasons.

“I used to work in a cement factory for shelter construction,” 50-year-old Iraqi Abdul Karim told the UN refugee agency. “After I registered for repatriation, I sold all my equipment, thinking it would take one to two months. Now we're hearing that security clearance has not come. How long should we wait? My children and I have no jobs. We didn't know it would take this long,” he added.

Mr. Karim is among hundreds of thousands of mostly Shia Muslims who fled persecution under the late President Saddam Hussein's regime and sought refuge in Iran between the 1970s and the early 1990s. Many returned home in the second half of the 1990s.

The fall of the Baathist regime in 2003 led to another wave of returns from Iran, most of them ethnic Arabs.

“Unlike the gradual nature of the influx, repatriation took place overnight,” said Shokrollah Kazemifar, the director-general of Iran's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs in Ahwaz, south-western Iran, near the Iraqi border. “Once they decided to go, they demolished their homes and took everything.”

Gaitrie Ammersing, UNHCR's protection officer in Ahwaz, noted several reasons for this: “Some refugees say the security situation and job opportunities are gradually improving in southern Iraq. They also tell us it is now much easier to obtain Iraqi documents upon return.”

Others say it is getting harder to survive in Iran. “Life is hard here. I work nearby but it's not always easy to find jobs,” said Attaye Heidari, who has lived in south-western Iran's Bani Najjar camp for the last 16 years. “I'm hard pressed and thinking about return. I believe life will be better in Basra.”

More than 18,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran have been assisted home since November 2003, mostly to areas such as Baghdad and the southern governorates. Numbers peaked in 2004, with over 12,500 returns. Some 230 have repatriated from Iran to the north and south of Iraq so far this year.

The UN refugee agency does not encourage returns to Iraq at the moment, due to the fragile security situation. But it provides some assistance to those who insist on going. This includes interviewing them to make sure return is voluntary and providing a cash grant to help them with transport and initial reintegration costs. And recent developments may help speed their return.

“A new Iraqi consul has been set up in Ahwaz, which should expedite the process instead of going through Amman and Baghdad,” explained Carlos Zaccagnini, UNHCR's representative in Iran, during a recent visit to the camp. “It will cost US$25 for each family to apply for security clearance there.”

There are an estimated 54,000 registered Iraqi refugees living in Iran today, the large majority of them living outside camps, in urban areas.

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8 October, 2007


Nearly six million Iraqi children are going back to the classroom this week in what the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) calls a “remarkable achievement” while cautioning that more needs to be done to support the effort.

The damaging toll of displacement and the pervasive insecurity in Iraq have cost many of the country’s schoolchildren their education: according to figures released by Iraq’s Ministry of Education, only 40 per cent of final year students in Iraq (excluding the Kurdistan Region) passed their high school exams during the first examination session of 2007, compared to last year’s pass rate of 60 per cent, UNICEF said.

The same figures showed that just 28 per cent of Iraq’s graduation-age population took their exams at all – 152,000 out of approximately 642,000 children aged 17 – although a supplementary exam session currently under way should increase the rate.

UNICEF Representative for Iraq Roger Wright stressed that, despite the low numbers, each and every completed test must be viewed as a success for Iraqi children – many of whom braved severe risks to reach exam centres.

“Iraq’s schools are in urgent need of support, both in terms of access to schooling and the quality of learning children receive,” Mr. Wright said. “Well-educated children represent a chance to lift Iraq into a future of security and hope.”

A 2006 survey by the Iraqi Government, supported by UNICEF, showed that in the previous year, even before the intensification of violence and displacement, one in six Iraqi children did not attend primary school. Reports from communities suggest attendance has since declined further in many areas, due to increased insecurity, clampdowns on security, and the threat of direct attacks on schools and teachers.

Displacement has placed an additional burden on Iraq’s school system, UNICEF said, pointing out that more than 220,000 school-aged children have had to flee their homes since early 2006. Many were initially unable to attend schools in their new areas for lack of clear policies on mid-year re-enrolment and may have missed months of schooling.

Throughout the summer, UNICEF has been supporting Iraq’s Ministry of Education to enhance children’s education prospects for this coming year. The agency and its partners are helping to restore damaged school infrastructure and add extra classrooms and water/sanitation facilities. Teachers are also being trained to provide psycho-social care for the many children affected by anxiety and loss.

For the first time in Iraq, UNICEF is promoting, together with local communities, a home learning curriculum for children forced to stay at home because of displacement or insecurity, while 20,000 out-of-school children are now enrolled in a special Accelerated Learning Programme to help them finish their education.

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11 September, 2007


Many Iraqis fleeing violence in their home country have found their entry into Syria cut off because of new visa restrictions which went into effect yesterday, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

With the exception of certain professional categories – for commerce, science, transport and education – Iraqi refugees must apply for visas at the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad’s Al Mansour district, the scene of frequent sectarian violence. UNHCR has been told by Iraqis that travelling to the district to apply for visa poses great danger to them.

“The regulations effectively mean there is no longer a safe place outside for Iraqis fleeing persecutions and violence,” the agency’s spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. “An estimated 2,000 Iraqis flee their homes daily inside the country, so we are increasingly concerned about their fate as their options for safety are reduced.”

The Government has not released the exact details of the new visa rules. Although UNHCR is appealing for Iraqi refugees to be granted a visa on humanitarian grounds, Mr. Redmond noted that it is too early to ascertain whether Syria is making exceptions to the new policy for people escaping violence and persecution.

The spokesman acknowledged that Syria “of course has been extremely generous in accepting some 1.4 million Iraqis with only limited international support,” adding that UNHCR has received assurances from Government sources that the country will not deport Iraqi refugees residing in Syria.

According to the agency, over 4.2 Iraqis have fled their homes, with 2 million in neighbouring countries and 2.2 million displaced within Iraq.

Meanwhile, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and Egyptian film star Adel Imam arrived today for a two-day mission in Syria to see first-hand the difficulties faced by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families uprooted by conflict.

He is scheduled to hold meetings today with the Syrian First Lady, Government officials and the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Mr. Imam will also meet with Iraqi refugees at the UNHCR registration in Douma and at health clinics.

The Goodwill Ambassador’s visit is taking place just as the school year is kicking off in Syria, where the Government recently announced that it will allow Iraqi children to enrol in public schools.

In another development, UNHCR today welcomed Chile’s decision to receive 100 Palestinian refugees living in destitute conditions on Iraq’s border with Syria and Jordan for several years.

The agency has repeatedly called for a human solution for Palestinian refugees – some received preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein and have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003 – who fled to Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled but an estimated 15,000 still remain in the country, mostly in Baghdad.

In July, Brazil announced it would resettle 117 Palestinian refugees, and this process will begin shortly. Nearly two dozen Latin American nations signed an agreement to resettle refugees, and the Palestinians are the first from outside the region to benefit from the programme.

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17 August, 2007


United Nations staff members across the globe today solemnly commemorated the fourth anniversary of the bombing at Baghdad’s Canal Hotel, where nearly two dozen people were killed and scores more injured in the deadliest attack against the world body’s civilian personnel in history.

In Addis Ababa, Baghdad, Bangkok, Geneva, Nairobi, New York, Santiago, Vienna and other locations, staff members gathered in remembrance of the 19 August 2003 truck bomb attack against the UN headquarters in Baghdad, which took the lives of 22 and wounded more than 150. Among those killed was Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq and head of the UN mission in the country.

A UN spokesperson, stressing that the Organization has “vigorously pursued the coordination of an accurate account of the tragic crime,” said all elements of that account are now complete.

The UN will share the account as soon as possible with the families of victims and other concerned parties, Michele Montas said.

“This was the first time the United Nations was deliberately targeted on such a massive scale,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the UN Headquarters ceremony. “The bomb detonated at our Baghdad headquarters robbed us of our best and brightest and injured many more, but it also shattered any illusion that the UN’s ideals and impartiality permitted us to operate above the fray in Iraq.”

The Security Council’s recent decision to strengthen the mandate of the UN mission in Iraq “is an opportunity to carry forward the work of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his colleagues,” the Secretary-General said, adding that he understood the “fears and concerns” of staff members about the move.

“Any such measure remains strictly subject to conditions on the ground,” he stressed. “Your safety is and always will be a paramount concern.”

“At the same time, the terrorists who struck so cruelly in Baghdad must, one day, be brought to justice,” he said, standing before a memorial to the victims and a frame holding the tattered UN flag which survived the bombing. “There can be no impunity for such murderers.”

The Secretary-General said his thoughts are with the survivors of the Baghdad bombing, and the families of those who died, and also paid tribute “to the brave men and women who continue to serve the United Nations, in Iraq and beyond.”

UN staff members around the world gathered and observed a minute of silence to honour the memory of the victims. Wreath-laying ceremonies were held in Geneva and New York, while staff in Santiago held a candle-lighting ceremony.

At the Geneva ceremony, the Director-General of the UN Office there, Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze, stressed that time only strengthens the resolve to ensure that the lives and contributions of those who perished were not forgotten. “We vow to take forward their quest for peace as the most appropriate tribute to their memory,” he said, adding that by “building on their legacy, we continue to assist the Iraqi people.”

Mr. Ordzhonikidze said the adoption last week of Security Council Resolution 1770 to renew and strengthen the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) “demonstrates the Organization’s unwavering commitment to helping the Iraqi people to shape a prosperous and peaceful future.”

He paid tribute to the victims’ deep sense of commitment to the noble cause of peace and to the service of who needed them the most. “Let us all be inspired – not just today, but every day – by their drive and dedication, by their sense of responsibility, by their steadfast belief in the values and principles of this Organization, and by their determination and ability to act upon this belief.”

In Nairobi, 100 staff members gathered outside the main entrance of the Sergio Vieira de Mello Library located in the UN headquarters complex for a commemorative ceremony.

Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and acting Director-General of the UN Office at Nairobi, read the Secretary-General’s message before the minute of silence was observed.

Following a speech by the President of the Staff Union, Michael Mwangi, Eric Falt, the Director of the UN Information Centre in Nairobi, which organized the ceremony, requested that staff who had been given single-stem flowers place them in the Pond of Remembrance located just off the main entrance of the library.

The Sergio Vieira de Mello Library is but one of several lasting tributes to the victims of the bombing. Officials from the American University in Cairo (AUC) set up the Nadia Younes Memorial Fund, which honours the legacy of the late Egyptian UN staffer who was killed in the attack by supporting education and opportunity for students.

Among its projects, the Fund has supported the Nadia Younes Conference and Meeting Room at AUC’s Model United Nations Centre, the Nadia Younes Annual Lecture, and the Nadia Younes Award for Public and Humanitarian Service.

Jean-Selim Kanaan, a national of Egypt and France who was among the victims, was awarded France’s Legion of Honour for his work in helping the world’s weak and oppressed, while the UN renamed annual training programme for young journalists in honour of Reham Al-Farra, the first female daily political columnist in her native Jordan who was also killed in the Baghdad blast.

In addition to these four individuals, various tributes have also been paid to each of the other victims: Emaad Ahmed Salman Al-Jobory, Raid Shaker Mustafa Al-Mahdawi

Leen Assad Al-Quadi, Ranilo Buenaventura, Rick Hooper, Reza Hosseini, Ihssan Taha Husain, Christopher Klein-Beekman, Martha Teas, Basim Mahmood Utaiwi, Fiona Watson, Saad Hermiz Abona, Omar Kahtan Mohamed Al-Orfali, Gillian Clark,

Arthur Helton, Manuel Martín-Oar, Khidir Saleem Sahir and Alya Ahmad Sousa.

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16 August, 2007


The Security Council today condemned this week's series of coordinated bombings in northern Iraq that killed hundreds of people and left many more wounded, urging the country's people to end their continuing sectarian violence.

Media reports say that at least 200 people and possibly as many as 400 were killed as a result of Tuesday's blasts in two villages in Ninawah province, apparently aimed at the Yazidi religious community in that area.

Council members joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who issued his own statement yesterday, in condemning the attacks “in the strongest terms” and extending their condolences to the victims and their families, Ambassador Pascal Gayama of the Republic of Congo, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month, said in a statement to the press.

Mr. Gayama said the attacks “were aimed at widening the sectarian and ethnic divide in Iraq.”

He also reaffirmed the 15-member panel's support for Iraq's people and Government “as they rebuild their country,” and reiterated the need to “promote national dialogue, reconciliation and broad political participation to ensure unity, peace, security, stability and the cessation of sectarian violence.”

The press statement also reiterated the Council's call on UN Member States to prevent the transit of terrorists to and from Iraq and to refrain providing arms or financing that would support terrorists.

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23 May, 2007


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for $42 million to help Iraqi children, who the agency said have reached a critical point due to violence and displacement.

The appeal was launched in Amman, Jordan’s capital, by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, UNICEF’s first-ever Eminent Advocate for Children.

“For many Iraqi children, the long-term future may be unclear, but their present needs – for education, for health care, for clean water and proper sanitation – are clear and must be met – now,” she said.

Since the start of the war, close to 15 per cent of Iraq’s population or around 4 million people – half of whom are children – have fled their homes. Over the next six months, UNICEF seeks to provide critical relief for 1.6 million children who have been displaced and are living inside Iraq and in the neighbouring countries of Jordan and Syria, which are shouldering the burden of hosting Iraqi refugees who have left their homeland.

“We believe that Iraq is at a watershed,” Daniel Toole, the agency’s Acting Deputy Executive Director and Director of Emergency Programmes, told reporters in New York. “Iraqi children need help now.”

UNICEF has put $10 million of its own reserves towards jumpstarting relief activities, working closely with other UN agencies to organize immunization campaigns and provide clean water.

Currently, less than one third of all Iraqi children have access to safe water, due to the breakdown of the country’s water and sanitation systems. As the summer approaches, fears of high levels of diarrhoea and dehydration are increasing. Last week, the first cases of cholera – all of them affecting children – were reported, raising concerns over a possible serious outbreak.

Another key area to be targeted by the funds is education. Statistics from two years ago showed that 75 per cent of children regularly attended school, while enrolment has dropped to 30 per cent, which Mr. Toole, who recently returned from a visit to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, blamed on the insecurity.

Parents are afraid to send their children to school given the high levels of violence in Iraq, and the educational system is “missing teachers.”

“If you travel around Iraq, you see schools that are empty and schools that are terribly overcrowded and so many, many children are no longer attending school,” he observed.

Further exacerbating conditions is the exodus of professionals, including doctors and teachers, leaving Iraq. “Children will bear the brunt of the brain drain,” Mr. Toole said, since they are left with fewer adults to train them and ensure their health.

He praised the efforts of the Governments of Jordan and Syria for welcoming the Iraqi refugees as guests, and also for pledging to assist Iraqi children in their countries by providing education and health services.

At the same time, he stressed that the violence must cease immediately, while acknowledging that UNICEF is unable to bring about an end to the hostilities.

“We cannot solve the problem of school attendance if parents are afraid to send their children to school,” he stated.

Queen Rania also said what Iraqi children need, above all, is a resolution to the crisis. “That has to be our ultimate hope.”

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18 May, 2007


United Nations Secretary-General today urged Iraqi leaders to compromise on the Constitution in the interests of the country as a whole.

As Iraq’s Constitutional Review Committee prepares to submit the results of its deliberations to the full parliament, Mr. Ban’s spokesperson issued a statement emphasizing the importance of the process to achieve national reconciliation in Iraq.

Core issues dealt with by the Committee lie at the heart of how Iraq’s system will function, involving a balanced division of powers between the federal government and the regions as well as a system for the fair distribution of oil revenues throughout the country.

“Striking a compromise on the core constitutional issues at the heart of Iraq’s system of governance is essential for establishing stability in the country,” Michele Montas told reporters in New York.

“The Secretary-General hopes that Iraqi leaders will embrace this opportunity by rising above narrow sectarian interests, remaining open to compromise, and fostering consensus,” she said, pledging the UN’s full commitment to a national dialogue towards a Constitution than can be supported by all Iraqis.

The statement also lauded the Committee for carrying out its work “responsibly in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

On Monday, Mr. Ban’s top envoy to Iraq also called for compromise on the Constitution.

In the absence of a conclusion, Special Representative Ashraf Qazi warned that “the review process has the potential to be extremely divisive exercise.”

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the process offers an opportunity to address the real gaps and problems in the current constitutional text, and that improving the system of governance would be beneficial to all.

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07 May, 2007


Just back from the official launch of the International Compact on Iraq, a five-year plan for peace and development, the top United Nations envoy on the issue today said he will travel to Riyadh to discuss aid to the war-torn country with Saudi officials.

“There are all kinds of negotiations going on, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Kuwait and Iraq, Bulgaria and Iraq in terms of the details of their commitments,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser for the International Compact with Iraq and Other Political Issues, Ibrahim Gambari, briefing reporters in New York on last week’s launch in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

At that meeting, the Compact was endorsed by 70 countries, with $30 billion in specific financial commitments announced. The plan obliges the Baghdad Government to work to meet basic needs, protect the rights of all citizens and ensure the optimal use of the country’s resources for the common good.

National reconciliation, improved security, better governance and continued economic and social reforms are expected to help unlock Iraq’s own development potential. International partners, in turn, pledge to provide financial, technical and political support to help meet these challenges on the basis of mutual commitments.

Responding to press questions on the participation of countries in the region, Mr. Gambari said, “The Saudis have a sense of what is owed. The Iraqis have a slightly different sense of how much is owed. Then there is official debt and debt owed to private people and they are trying to sort all of that out.”

Saudi Arabia has invited Mr. Gambari and Sinan Mohammed Rida Al-Shabibi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq, “to see how we can promote the reconciliation of some of these issues where there are differences of opinion between Iraq and the Saudis,” the envoy said.

Co-chairing the official launch last Thursday, Mr. Ban pledged the world body’s full support for the five-year plan. “The United Nations stands ready to assist the Government of Iraq in the implementation of the Compact,” he said.

“We cannot leave Iraq on its own to meet the enormous challenges that it faces. The international community as whole, and in particular Iraq’s neighbours and regional countries, must work together to help Iraq build a peaceful, unified and prosperous country.”

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13 April, 2007


The United Nations Security Council today condemned in the “strongest terms” the deadly terrorist attack on Iraq’s Parliament, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and urging all States to cooperate with Iraqi authorities.

Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom, which holds this month’s Council Presidency, read out a statement reaffirming the 15-member body’s view that all terrorism is unjustifiable and constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace.

“The Security Council underlines the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice, and urges all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Iraqi authorities in this regard,” he said.

“[It] further reaffirms the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts,” he added.

States “must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.”

Thursday’s attack has also been roundly condemned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as by his Special Representative to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi. Mr. Ban said it had “targeted Iraq’s elected officials and attempted to undermine one of the country’s sovereign institutions.”

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06 March, 2007


Condemning blasts in Iraq today targeting Shi’as on a religious pilgrimage, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the country’s leaders to use their influence to protect civilians and promote dialogue among all communities.

“The Secretary-General is outraged by the series of bomb attacks in Iraq today on Shi’a pilgrims who were making their way to the holy city of Karbala,” a spokesperson for Mr. Ban said in a statement.

“He condemns these heinous acts, which appear to be aimed at provoking sectarian strife,” spokesperson Michele Montas said of the attacks, which reportedly killed scores of innocent Iraqis.

Appealing for “maximum restraint in the face of these criminal actions,” Mr. Ban also called on the country’s political and religious leaders “to exert their influence to protect civilian lives and to promote mutual respect and dialogue between all Iraqi communities.”

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12 February, 2007


More than 5,000 Iraqis, fearful of being deported under Syrian immigration regulations, queued up outside the United Nations refugee agency office in Damascus today to register.

“We hadn’t expected a crowd quite that big, so all staff – including our drivers – dropped what they were doing and became involved in distributing applications and scheduling appointments,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative Laurens Jolles said.

Iraqis first began lining up outside the downtown building on Saturday night, hours after UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres ended a visit to the Syrian capital where he heard the concerns of some of the up to 1 million displaced Iraqis in the country and received assurances from the Syrian government that they would not be forced back across the border into their violence-torn homeland.

By this afternoon, UNHCR had handed out registration application papers to several thousand and arranged follow-up appointments. “The huge crowd we have seen over the last two days is an example of how Iraqis are worried and anxious about their stay in Syria and the need to be reassured with regards to their residence permits,” Mr. Jolles said.

UNHCR has significantly increased its capacity to register the thousands of Iraqis approaching the Damascus office and created three hotline numbers that Iraqis can ring if they or their immediate family members are facing deportation.

“We are approaching UNHCR because we are so afraid that we will be deported back to Iraq as our visas expired and they [the Syrian government] want us to leave for Iraq for one month,” one Iraqi man waiting in the queue said. “We are living with the fear of someone knocking on our door and taking us back to Iraq. Many of my neighbours were deported because they overstayed their visas.”

The Government has begun stricter implementation of regulations. People from Iraq get a 15-day permit on arrival after which they must apply for a three-month permit that can be renewed once. Before the expiry of their residence permits, they have to leave the country for one month before they can enter again. Various categories of people, including students and businessmen, are exempt.

In former times, many Iraqis drove to the border and had their passports stamped with an exit visa and then re-entered Syria on the same day. Concern is widespread. Fighting back tears, a 35-year old woman explained that when she approached the immigration authorities, she received an exit stamp on her passport which means that she has to leave Syria in three days.

“I am a widow with four children. How can I go back to Iraq? This is a death sentence for me and my children,” she said.

An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis are currently displaced within their country, while another 2 million are believed to have fled to nearby nations, mainly Syria and Jordan. Last month, UNHCR launched a $60 million appeal to fund its programmes this year to help hundred of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people affected by the conflict.

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16 January, 2007


Nearly 6,400 Iraqi civilians were killed in the November-December period, slightly less than in the preceding two months, as rampant and indiscriminate killings, sectarian violence, extra-judicial executions – and impunity for the perpetrators – continued virtually unchecked, according to the latest United Nations rights report released today.

It puts the total civilian casualty figure for the year 2006 at 34,452 dead and 36,685 injured.

“An unprecedented number of execution-style killings have taken place in Baghdad and other parts of the country, whereby bodies were routinely found dumped in the streets, in rivers and in mass graves – most bearing signs of torture with their hands and feet bound, and some were beheaded,” the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) human rights report for the period says of “the modus operandi” of both Sunni and Shiite groups.

Without significant progress on the rule of law sectarian violence will continue indefinitely “and eventually spiral out of control,” thwarting efforts by the Government in the political, security or economic spheres, according to the report, which stresses the urgent need to fight impunity and seek accountability for crimes.

In virtually every sphere, and building on earlier reports, the latest study amounts to a litany of abuses ranging from attacks on women, minorities and professional groups to forced displacements, to the activities of the police and security forces and the United States-led Multi-National Force (MNF-I).

According to information made available to UNAMI, 6,376 civilians were killed in the two month period – 3,462 for November and 2,914 for December – compared with 7,054 for the previous two months, when October’s toll reached a new high of 3,709. Despite the “slight reduction… it is evident however that violence has not been contained,” the report warns.

It notes that law enforcement agencies do not provide effective protection. Increasingly militias and criminal gangs act in collusion with, or have infiltrated the security forces, while operations by security and military forces, including MNF-I, continue to result in growing numbers of individuals detained and without access to judicial oversight.

“Armed operations by MNF-I continued to restrict the enjoyment of human rights and to cause severe suffering to the local population,” the report says, citing use of facilities protected by the Geneva Conventions, such as hospitals and schools, as military bases, allegations that MNF-I snipers killed 13 civilians in one week in Ramadi, and lack of access to basic services, such as health and education, affecting a larger percentage of the population.

The report reiterates previous calls to security and military forces to respect fully international law and to refrain from any excessive use of force.

It notes that since the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra in February, some 471,000 people have been forcibly displaced. It calls the situation in Baghdad “notably grave,” with insurgents including foreign terrorist groups remaining particularly active.

“No religious and ethnic groups, including women and children, have been spared from the widespread cycle of violence which creates panic and disrupts the daily life of many Iraqi families, prompting parents to stop sending their children to school and severely limiting normal movement around the capital and outside,” the report says, also citing a “dramatic increase” in abductions in recent months.

It notes a rapid erosion of women’s rights in the central and southern regions. “Women are reportedly living with heightened levels of threats to their lives and physical integrity, and forced to conform to strict, arbitrarily imposed morality codes,” it says, with cases of young women abducted by armed militia and found days later sexually abused, tortured and murdered.

“Female corpses are usually abandoned at the morgue and remain unclaimed for fear of damaging the family honour,” it adds. “More than 140 bodies were unclaimed and buried in Najaf by the morgue during the reporting period.” In a suspected honour crime case, a secondary school student was publicly hanged in east Baghdad by armed militia and her brother shot dead when he tried to rescue her.

In the north it cites “honour killings” with 239 reportedly women burning themselves in accidents or suicide attempts the first eight months of 2006. “Most victims of suspected honour crimes suffer horrific injuries which are unlikely to have been accidentally caused whilst cooking or refuelling oil heaters,” it says.

Attacks have also continued or escalated against minorities such as Christians, homosexuals, and the thousands of Palestinian refugees who are seen as having supported the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.

“Killings, threats, intimidations, and kidnappings are becoming the norm for Palestinians in Iraq. Many of these actions are reportedly carried out by the militias wearing police or special forces uniform. Most of the victims are found dead or simply disappear,” the report says.

“The ability of new security plans to effect real change in Iraq will depend on a comprehensive reform program that can strengthen the rule of law and deliver justice for all Iraqis,” it stresses.

“It is essential that the State and the Government of Iraq are seen as united in their efforts to contain and eventually eradicate sectarian violence, to ensure the rule of law and, through that, remove the popular basis of support for the perpetrators of this violence.”

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14 November, 2006


Condemning the kidnappings of scores of people at the Iraqi Higher Education Ministry as “a nefarious crime,” the top United Nations official in the violence-wracked country today called on the authorities to take immediate action to free the victims.

In a statement issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Ashraf Qazi warned of the dangerous effects that the kidnapping of the ministry employees and visitors could have on Iraq’s development.

“Mr. Qazi described the kidnappings, which were conducted in broad daylight, allegedly by uniformed perpetrators, as a nefarious crime that could dangerously and negatively effect progress and development in Iraq, a country long known for its literary and scientific tradition,” the statement said.

“He called on the Iraqi authorities to immediately and inexorably pursue those responsible, free the abductees and ensure the sanctity of higher education.”

Mr. Qazi’s call was echoed by UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chief Koïchiro Matsuura, who said the international community, working with the Iraqi authorities, must deploy all possible means to bring “this intolerable situation” to an end.

“I call on the hostage-takers to release their captives immediately. These people are innocent. They must be freed, safe and sound,” said Mr Matsuura, who was speaking from Cairo where he is attending the annual meeting of the High Level Group on Education for All.

“Iraq needs its intellectuals and academics now more than ever. But over recent months they, and the education system as a whole, have been deliberately targeted in a campaign of bloodshed and violence being waged by people whose sole aim is to prevent Iraq’s reconstruction as a peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation,” he added.

The Iraqi Ministry told UNESCO that between 100 and 150 men at the Departments of Scholarships and Culture and Reconstruction, Sunnis and Shiites, were abducted. According to the Ministry of Higher Education, at least 155 education professionals have been killed in Iraq since 2003.

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4 October, 2006


Continuing his consultations with Iraqi leaders, the top United Nations envoy in the violence-wracked country today discussed the latest political and security developments with President Jalal Talibani.

A day after holding talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Ashraf Qazi briefed Mr. Talibani on his recent trips to Abu Dhabi, New York and Washington, as well as the high-level meetings convened by Mr. Annan on the International Compact with Iraq (ICI).

The ICI was launched in July in an effort to end the killings and bring stability to Iraq and Mr. Annan has warned that without greater global support, Iraq will fail to attain peace.

“President Talbani expressed his appreciation for the United Nations partnership with Iraq on the ICI and looked forward to the implementation phase of commitments made by both Iraq and the international community,”
the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in a statement.

Mr. Talibani informed Mr. Qazi of progress made on the various initiatives, including the ‘Pledge to Stop the Bloodshed’ announced by Mr. Al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders on Sunday, “which would hopefully bring down the level of sectarian violence,” the statement added. The two also discussed the human rights situation.

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2 October, 2006


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki today briefed the top United Nations official there on various initiatives that he hopes will combat terrorism and bring down the level of sectarian violence in the war-torn country.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Ashraf Qazi discussed a wide range of issues with Mr. Al-Maliki, including his recent trips to Abu Dhabi, New York and Washington, as well as the high-level meetings convened by Mr. Annan on the International Compact with Iraq (ICI).

The ICI was launched in July in an effort to end the killings and bring stability to Iraq and Mr. Annan told a high-level meeting of partner states last month that without greater global support, Iraq will fail to attain peace.

Mr. Al-Maliki expressed to Mr. Qazi his appreciation for the UN partnership with Iraq on the ICI and looked forward to an even closer engagement with it, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported.

The latest political and security developments in Iraq were also discussed.

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22 September, 2006


The President of Iraq today called on national leaders attending the General Assembly’s annual debate to support the International Compact for development in his country.

“We are hopeful that the international community fulfils its obligations by providing the required resources to deal with the key priorities and achieve a common vision in the framework of an economic transformation process for the sustainable development programme,” Jalal Talabani said.

He also welcomed the role being played by Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi. “Iraq values the effective role of the UN,” the President said, voicing hope that UN agencies carry out development and reconstruction activities.

But he voiced anger at the violence continuing in the country. “We say it openly: our people’s patience is nearing its end, particularly when it sees the blood of its innocent sons and daughters being spilled and defiled, its infrastructure destroyed and its mosques and ‘Husseiniyas’ ruined, and the rebuilding of its armed forces and security services impeded to prevent completing our sovereignty,” he said.

“It is difficult for our political leadership to keep quiet forever.”

Also addressing the Assembly, Omani Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah voiced concern about the deteriorating security situation and internal violence inside Iraq, and called on all the Iraqi parties to support their national Government.

He also said that fighting terrorism requires a balance between security requirements and a commitment to human rights conventions. The international community could not endanger the security and stability of States under the pretext of combating terrorism, he said.

Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al-Khalifa, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, said terrorism posed the greatest threat to international peace and security today. “There must be greater efforts exerted by the international community and more coordination on all levels to confront this scourge,” he said.

On the issue of Iraq, he welcomed efforts by that country’s Government to end the violence. “There is no doubt that the pivotal role that Iraq’s neighbouring countries have played in reinforcing their good neighbour policy through cooperation in controlling the borders and non-interference in the internal affairs supports the efforts of the Iraqi Government in this direction,” he said.

Morocco’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Benaissa, welcomed the “outcomes of the political process in which all Iraqi parties and influential political components have taken part.” At the same time, he voiced hope “that an end be put to the ongoing tension which continues to bring suffering to the Iraqi citizens.”

In addition, he called for Iraqis to agree on the time and venue of a conference on the Iraqi National Accord “which may allow them to lay down the foundations for the completion for institutional reforms, thereby ensuring the sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and stability of their country.”

He also reiterated Morocco’s commitment to peace in the Middle East. “The
realization of this objective is dependent on the withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied Arab territories and the establishment of a Palestinian State, with Al Quds as its capital, living side by side, in peace and security, with the State of Israel.”

Prince Saud Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia agreed that “resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must be placed into its appropriate context by reconciling the rights of the Palestinian and the Israeli people and establishing two neighbouring States enjoying security as a natural outcome of peace.”

He called for “serious international cooperation” to revive the peace process, stressing that recent events had proven that there is no military solution. “It is absolutely essential that we go to the root of the conflict an the heart of the problem by establishing an effective mechanism to ensure immediate peaceful negotiations that will address all final status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees and mutual security arrangements.”

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27 July, 2006


The United Nations and the Iraqi Government announced today the formal launch of the International Compact with Iraq, a new partnership with the international community that aims to consolidate peace and pursue political, economic and social development over the next five years in the violence-torn country.

“The Compact, jointly chaired by the Government of the Republic of Iraq and the United Nations, with the support of the World Bank, will, over the next five years, bring together the international community and multilateral organizations to help Iraq achieve its national vision,” Marie Okabe, spokesperson for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told reporters in New York.

Ms. Okabe explained that vision as that of “a united, federal and democratic country, at peace with its neighbours and itself, well on its way to sustainable economic self-sufficiency and prosperity and well integrated in its region and the world.”

To achieve this vision, she said, the Iraqi Government has committed itself to making progress on political inclusion and consensus building, the rule of law, and the establishment of professional security forces.

Responding to requests by the country’s leaders last month, Mr. Annan worked closely with them, as well as the donor community, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), other UN agencies, and the World Bank “to come up with a joint approach to support the new Government,” as he described it at the time.

Mr. Annan designated the Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, as his focal point in New York for the Compact, and his Special Representative, Ashraf Qazi, in the same role on the ground in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Mr. Malloch Brown conferred with Iraqi leaders on helping the Government set up a Preparatory Group for the Compact, with support from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other regional financial institutions.

According to a joint statement issued today by the UN and the Iraqi Government, the finalized Compact, including key priorities, benchmarks and commitments, will be presented by Baghdad by the end of the year.

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15 June, 2006


After hearing detailed briefings on Iraq today, the United Nations Security Council welcomed the formation of the country’s first constitutionally-elected Government, which was completed earlier this month, agreed upon the continuation of the Multinational Force (MNF) and also on certain arrangements for a Development Fund (DFI) and an International Advisory and Monitoring Board for the war-ravaged country.

In a press statement, the 15-member Council also “urged all Iraqis to participate peacefully in the political process and demanded that those who use violence lay down their arms.”

“They reiterated their encouragement to the new Government to work tirelessly to promote national reconciliation and an atmosphere in which sectarianism is rejected,” and the Council also “welcomed the progress made in recruiting, training and equipping Iraqi security forces and their increasing responsibilities on the ground.”

“Members of the Security Council continued to look forward to the day Iraqi forces assume full responsibility for the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq, thus allowing the completion of the MNF mandate. They also reiterated the importance for all forces promoting the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq to act in accordance with international law, including obligations under international humanitarian law.”
In her briefing to the Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane acknowledged the killings and instability in the country, but said that despite this Iraq had completed a three-year political transition with the formation of its first constitutionally-elected Government and this was cause for some optimism.

“While it may be understandable that, due to their transitory character, previous Governments were unable to take some of the hard decisions required to address the urgent needs of the Iraqi people, the establishment of a constitutionally-elected Government for a full four-year term offers new hope,” she said.

Ms. Kane said that over the past three years Iraq’s transition had moved from the Governing Council to the Interim Government and the Transitional Government, culminating with Iraq’s first constitutionally-elected Government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The other officials who also spoke to the Council painted a similar picture, with United States Ambassador John Bolton – speaking on behalf of the 29 countries making up the Multinational Force in Iraq – and the country’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also acknowledging the difficult and dangerous security situation.

In his comments, Ambassador Bolton highlighted that the latest reporting period included the killing on 7 June of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and one of his key associates, Sheikh abd Al-Rahman, although he said the organization still posed a threat.

“The measure of success will be the dawn of the day when the Iraqi people are fully able to secure their own safety, freedom and prosperity,” he said.

In his briefing to the Council, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also highlighted al-Zarqawi’s killing but added that security operations must go hand in hand with initiatives to promote national consensus, tolerance, justice and respect for human rights.

“With the formation of the new full-term Government and recent elimination of the most notorious terrorist, al-Zarqawi, we sense great momentum among the Iraqi people, and a very real chance to turn our situation around,” he told the Council members.

“This is the beginning of a new chapter in Iraq’s transformation from dictatorship to a sovereign, peaceful and prosperous federal democracy as voted by the Iraqi people.”

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25 May, 2006


The United Nations Security Council has welcomed the recent formation in Iraq of a new Government while voicing hope that the process would soon be completed.

“The Council is particularly encouraged by the fact that the Government is representative of Iraq’s many diverse communities and expresses its hope that the Ministers of Defence, Interior and National Security Affairs will be appointed as soon as possible,” the Council President, Basile Ikouébé of the Republic of Congo, said in a formal statement on Wednesday.

Welcoming the 20 May inauguration of Iraq’s constitutionally elected Government, the Council congratulated the people of Iraq “on this milestone in their country’s political transition.”

The statement encouraged the new Government to promote national reconciliation through dialogue and to build an atmosphere in which sectarianism is rejected. “The Security Council, at the same time, urges all Iraqis to participate in the political process peacefully, demanding that those who continue to use violence lay down their arms,” said the President, condemning acts of terrorism.

The Government was urged to deliver improvements in security and stability, in human rights and the rule of law, in the provision of essential services, and in economic progress and prosperity. In addition, the Council strongly outside help for Iraq’s sovereign Government “at this crucial time,” noting the particular role of the country’s neighbours.

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