Iraq Vulnerable To Influence From Other Countries

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As the top United Nations official in Iraq, Ad Melkert is concerned about the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from that country — not just for Iraq but for the entire region. Melkert gives Mary Louise Kelly an assessment on the situation, and the U.N.'s role in Iraq.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now for a big picture view on the challenges ahead in Iraq, we invited the head of the U.N. mission in Baghdad, Ad Melkert, to stop by our studios. I asked whether he's comfortable with the timetable for the American withdrawal.

Mr. AD MELKERT (Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General, Baghdad): Well, that's not up to the U.N., because that is really up to the Iraqi government in a bilateral agreement with the U.S. The question is how the country's going to deal with it. The Iraqi security forces have certainly increased their effectiveness. They've received a lot of training and support. It's more and more Iraqi business when one looks at the politics, the economy, the security, and that's going to define the situation in the years ahead.

KELLY: You are in a position to have some sense whether the Iraqis will be able to handle it from a security and a political point of view. What do you think?

Mr. MELKERT: Well, the security assessment is difficult for anyone. Some parts of the country, particularly in the Northern Kurdistan region, are relatively secure. Other parts are very volatile - around Mosul, for instance, and also in Baghdad. And one sees also like in recent days, flaring up of violence around big pilgrimages. So there's still a high vulnerability, and I'm afraid, also, vulnerability to influences from other countries in the region, which makes Iraq a special case.

KELLY: On the political side, I know that you've been meeting with the various parties. How close are Iraqi politicians to finally forming a government?

Mr. MELKERT: I think we should first see and really appreciate that this has never happened before in Iraqi history. I mean, four years ago when there were elections and a government formation, it was still very much in the hand of the United States. Now it's the Iraqis themselves that have to put a government together. It is - in any system where you're working with minority parties that have to make a majority coalition - a different thing, very time consuming, not only in Iraq. You see it also in continental European countries. That's not that easy for all, yet what we've seen to date is still very much according to the constitution, and that's a kind of encouraging fact.

KELLY: So any way to put any sort of timeline on this?

Mr. MELKERT: Well, one would hope, of course, this is actually the end of the 30 days timeline after the first meeting of the new parliament, where they were supposed to agree on the new president. I hope that they manage to get to conclusions rather sooner than later, because you see a lot of unrest in the country - not only the violence, but also the protests against the big shortages of electricity, for instance. And it is high time that the election results of the 7th of March will be translated into a fully affective government.

KELLY: I have one last question for you, Ad Melkert, and it's about something you wrote in the Washington Past. You posed this question, and I'll quote you: "Will this be the year of normalization for Iraq? The shape of a new era is visible from where I sit." Now, you wrote that back in February. Do you still feel that way?

Mr. MELKERT: Yes, I still feel that way, although, admittedly, between February and now...

KELLY: It's been a long road.

Mr. MELKERT: Yeah. Long, but many things have happened. Elections have taken place, according to the book. There was even a protest and a recount. And then the result of the recount was accepted. We're talking Iraq, a country without any history or tradition in constitutional processes, constitutional democracy. So in that sense, we should also count the blessings of these steps forward that we see. Still, tremendously, many things to do, many setbacks no doubt will be there. But permit me, working with hundreds of U.N. people in a country like Iraq, we have to maintain some optimism to keep going.

KELLY: Thank you very much.

Mr. MELKERT: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's Ad Melkert. He's the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General in Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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