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Handover welcomed but security and rights concerns persist

The international community welcomed the handover of power to Iraq on Monday but security and the protection of human rights remain huge concerns in a country where violence has escalated in recent weeks. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has welcomed Iraq back into the family of independent and sovereign nations. Speaking to reporters in Dubai on Tuesday, Annan said he looked forward to Iraq's upcoming national conference as "an opportunity to pull the nation together" and voiced confidence that the interim administration would succeed in running the country. "They're going to need help on security, but they should focus on security to bring law and order, so that the average Iraqi can go about their business and reconstruction can proceed, and elections can go forward next January," he said. "What is important is that the new interim Iraqi government is given the space and opportunity to establish itself to be credible," he said. With the general support of the people, the region and the Security Council, he added, "they do have the chance to make a good start." On the UN's return to Iraq, he cautioned that conditions must be safe. "We are monitoring the security situation; and of course security is essential, not just for the UN staff but for the average Iraqi, for reconstruction, for all the wonderful things that one wants to do in Iraq," he said. "And therefore one of the key issues is to create a secure environment so that all these things can happen." Worries over security were in part responsible for the early handover, which came two days before the planned 30 June date. Both US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the handover but acknowledged that the new government would need to be tough to quell the relentless attacks from insurgents. The government, headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, is expected to implement emergency laws in an attempt to tighten security. But it will not have full powers. It cannot make long-term policy decisions and will have to cope with 160,000 foreign troops remaining in Iraq. Elections are scheduled for January but Allawi has hinted that they might be postponed due to the lack of security in the country. The European Commission also highlighted security concerns after the handover was announced, while pledging support for the new government. "The handover of authority to the interim government is only the first step in a much longer process. Many challenges will need to be overcome before Iraq can truly call itself a free and democratic state. Not least among these is the security climate which has so hampered multilateral efforts to deliver much needed humanitarian aid and to launch the reconstruction process." The Commission stressed that it had worked from the very beginning of the conflict to promote European and international consensus on the way forward in Iraq, backing this up with 305 million euros [US $372 million]for humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Iraq. "The [European] Union's long-term goal is to build the same kind of long-term relationship with Iraq as we have already with most of the Arab world, bearing in mind that the EU is the biggest trading partner and donor of development assistance for nearly all the countries of this region," it said. But many NGOs, politicians and analysts remain sceptical about whether the handover will bring change in the situation on the ground, at least in the short term. A spokesman for international human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) told IRIN from London that it was calling on the UN to be more involved in the human rights field in Iraq, adding that "very little had been done so far". In terms of the handover, he said it remained to be seen who was in charge on the ground, given the continued presence of multinational forces. But he added that people would be likely to give the new government some space to see if they could improve the security situation. In a statement on Monday, AI highlighted the many human rights issues still to be resolved in the country. "Clarity is urgently needed on the likely fate of the thousands of prisoners and detainees currently held in Iraq, as well as the role, responsibility and accountability of the multinational force." The organisation also said it had yet to receive a reply to a letter sent to John Negroponte, the now newly appointed US ambassador to Iraq, expressing concern that UN Resolution 1546 failed to clarify what would happen to thousands of prisoners held by occupying forces. It says that with the handover of power, any further detentions by US or other foreign powers would contravene international law. Human Rights Watch has also raised similar concerns. Amnesty called on the new government to invite UN human rights experts to visit Iraq. Referring to all actors on the ground, AI said "they must demonstrate that human rights violations are not tolerated, whoever is responsible for committing them". Many observers have also criticised the lack of preparation among the new Iraqi police and the small number of troops on the ground given the extent of the security threat. Reconstruction efforts are hampered by the reluctance among foreign contractors to work in Iraq in the light of recent attacks and kidnappings. On Tuesday, an Arabic TV station reported that a captured US Marine had been killed. Three Turks were also captured by militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but later released. The group was responsible for the beheading of a South Korean last week and a US captive in May. Given poor security, most international NGOs are still operating at reduced capacity, if at all. Save the Children currently has 50 local staff working in the Kurdish area in the north, but it says that operations in other parts of the country remain impossible. "We need a safe and secure environment to deliver care, we have cut back [staff] since before the war, in Baghdad it's not possible," a spokesman told IRIN from London. He doubted that the handover would make much difference to the situation. "I'm not really sure it will change [the security situation] as the interim government doesn't seem to have the confidence of the whole nation."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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