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17/01/2005

Iraq elections must be fully inclusive, says UN envoy

On a day that saw at least 15 Iraqis die in insurgent attacks, the United Nations envoy to the country has said that the impending Iraqi elections, scheduled to take place at the end of this month, must be as inclusive as possible.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Ashraf Qazi called for greater efforts to reach out to Arab nationalists, especially the Sunni Muslims who have "voiced reservations" about the polling process. Mr Qazi made his comments in Damascus following a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara.

“We have stressed to all concerned the importance of refraining from further violence and the need for all Iraqi parties, groups and entities to pursue their legitimate interests and aspirations through peaceful political means,” the UN envoy said. “We have also stressed that wider political participation by all the key Iraqi players is a prerequisite for a successful transition.”

Mr Qazi recalled that the Secretary-General has encouraged all Iraqis to exercise their democratic right to vote, while noting that conditions for balloting are far from ideal. “Among the measures needed to improve the environment for the elections is a continuation of outreach efforts to the Arab nationalist component of Iraqi society, especially the Sunni population who have expressed their concerns and reservations,” Mr Qazi said.

He also called for condemnation of attempts to intimidate voters and electoral officials through threats and violence, and voiced confidence that Iraqis could overcome the obstacles ahead.

Mr Qazi, a Pakistani national who served as his country's Ambassador to Syria from 1986-88, underscored that country's “manifold historic ties” with Iraq. He thanked the Damascus Government for its “positive attitude towards the role of the United Nations in the Iraqi transition.”

He added: “Given the complexity of the situation, it is obvious that the United Nations will only be able to fulfil its mandate towards the people of Iraq with the full support and cooperation of the [country's] neighbours.”

Mr Qazi's comments came as two separate attacks in the country claimed the lives of at least 15 Iraqis.

In the northern town of Baiji today at least seven people died in a suicide car bomb outside a police station, while in central Iraq seven soldiers and a security guard were killed when insurgents fired on a checkpoint near Baquba, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town.

(GB)

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