Concluding 2009 and looking forward to the Achievements of 2010, says Iraqs UN Special Envoy, Ad Melkert

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By Randa Jamal

The year 2009 is coming to an end, with a number of promising signs for achievements to be made in 2010, in a country for decades plagued by war, sanctions, and injustice. It was indeed a triumph to vote over an election law that would pave way for a national election on 7 March 2009. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) played a significant role in bringing together the various political components to generate consensus amongst them.

From his prism, and after spending approximately six months in Iraq, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General Ad Melkert is increasingly in grip with the situation unfolding in the country. At this juncture, he is working with several Iraqi partners to forge strong partnerships towards a prosperous Iraq. With this backdrop, he emphasized over and again to the Iraqi people and the government that he is her, along with UN agencies, to advice and to work with them while ensuring the UN mission is as effective as it could be.

On the general objectives of the UN in Iraq, the Special Envoy maintained his initial sentiments he first expressed upon arrival: the UN will also lay emphasis on supporting governance, and economic and social policy strategies. He added, I am deeply convinced that by not addressing the huge inequalities and needs in some parts of the country, they will remain a source of instability. However, economic and social progress depend on the political conditions that would generate consensuses and stability. This explains UNAMIs mandate and having to deal with the political agenda: organizing, assisting and supporting the electoral process in addition to addressing political issues, particularly the Arab-Kurd relations in the disputed internal areasall combined are prerequisites for progress across the board. In a nutshell, when a political agreement is in place, its still vital for the people to experience improvement in their day-to-day lives, particularly the living standards, the SRSG notes.

Accordingly, he also believes that Iraqs progress requires time and patience. And quite often outsiders have a multitude of expectations surrounding the UN mission and the pace at which progress is being made. He explains that these expectations are not always inherently consistent or compatible with events unfolding on the ground. For instance, the political dimension of regional dialogue and national reconciliation, social and economic policies, human rights, integration of Iraq into the international community, among others, have their own timeframes that are at times intertwined and do not necessarily coincide with that set by outside counterparts. Therefore, Melkert says, my role should also include interacting with all partners whether they are the international community or the neighboring countries to provide a reality check on expectations and timeframes in which progress could be accomplished with the support of the UN and others. This would set realistic expectations while simultaneously respecting Iraqs priorities, choices, and impressive history, he emphasized.

For the upcoming period, Melkert anticipates that the election campaign itself will contribute to a free and fair election, which will allow candidates to compete for ideas and positions. Of course the election could either bring the country together or polarize it. My hope is that in the post election period, the formation of a new government will enable consensus building around major issues that would define stability for the future and thus strong determination for economic and social programmes, he elaborated.

Although the security situation continues to pose challenges to the activities and movement of the UN, Mr. Melkert managed to travel through out the country: North, South and Center. He also visited voting registration centers in Baghdad, women shelters in Erbil, and prominent religious leaders in Najaf, among others. He also meets frequently with Iraqi politicians and stakeholders. UNAMIs work with the Governorate Liaison Officers is also important: they communicate with us on regular basis, briefing us on what is happening in their governorates; we need to communicate with them even more frequently to be in loop on what unfolds in each governorate.

Although a large chunk of his time was spent in Baghdad, the SRSG visited a number of countries relaying the role of UNAMI and what it hopes to achieve for Iraq, in terms of its mandate of assistance and advice. One of them was accepting on behalf of UNAMI the Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize in Poland. To Melkert this meant a great deal: to reflect on all the men and women who are working in the most difficult places in the world as part of the UN mission. He also paid tribute to Sergio de Mello, his predecessor of UNAMI, who fell at the outset of the 19 August 2003 bombing of the UN at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad. Receiving the Sergio de Mello award on behalf of UNAMI in Poland was poignant especially as it points to the importance of international cooperation (side blurb on the prize provided below).

With cautious optimism and latitude in managing the multitude of expectations, Melkert is looking forward to the achievements that 2010 could potentially generate.

The Nagroda Imienia Sergio Vieira de Mello Award

On 8 October 2009, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General Ad Melkert, received the Nagroda Imienia Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize on behalf of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), in Villa Decius of Poland. The ceremony of prizes was held during an international conference entitled Traps of Freedom. Upon receipt of the prize, SRSG Melkert relayed his remarks, in which he expressed his gratitude for the international community, particularly Poland, and pointed out to the significance of international cooperation and its necessity in assisting conflict and post-conflict countries. He also elaborated on the role that UNAMI continues to undertake to promote reconciliation

The awards were established following the initiative of the villa Decius Association in 2003, with the objective of promoting democracy and tolerance, in addition to paying tribute to the late Sergio de Mello, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the first Special Representative of UNAMI. The prize is awarded for the merits of peaceful coexistence, cooperation amongst societies, and tolerance for diversity. Given the difficulties and challenges the UN faces in Iraq, the Sergio de Mello prize was awarded to UNAMI in 2009.

The prize is awarded annually in two categories: to individuals and institutions, from Poland and abroad. It is awarded by the Award Committee, which is composed of the High Representatives of the President of the Republic of Poland; Ambassador of the Federative Republic of Brazil to Poland; UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Embassies, Consulates and Foundations (supporting the actions of the Villa Decius Association in matters related to human rights); Institute of National Remembrance; Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection; founders of the prize; and the Chairman and Director of the Villa Decius Association.