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Iraqi Situation improves, challenges still remain
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The Iraqi government still needs international assistance to help tackle remaining challenges in the new year despite recent improvements in Iraq's security and political situation, U.N. special envoy in Iraq Staffan De Mistura said Monday.

"We cannot ignore the recent improvements both in the security and political situation in Iraq," the new special representative for that country told the Security Council.

The year 2008 was a window of opportunity for Iraq, but its government could not be left alone to tackle the structural, political and security challenges it faced, despite recent improvements, he said.

De Mistura, who heads the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq attributed the "notable decline" in violence to increased deployment of multinational force troops, the cease-fire declared by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and increased cooperation with neighbors.

However, "absent a political consensus on the most foundational elements of the Iraqi State -- currently tenuous -- the Iraqis would achieve no lasting solution on the reduction of violence," he warned.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad briefed the council on behalf of the US-led multinational force in Iraq.

The number of security incidents had fallen to early 2005 levels and monthly attacks against civilians and security forces had been reduced by 60 percent since June 2007, thanks to the decreased capabilities of Al-Qaida and the increased capacity of the Iraqi and military police, Khalilzad said.

Speakers in the ensuing debate welcomed progress made in the security sector, but warned that such progress was fragile and should be supported by progress in the political area.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said warned that declaring victory was premature because there were no guarantees that reductions in violence would continue.

"The wave of violence which has swept the country recently confirms our fears," he said.

Churkin also expressed concern about private security companies, which operated outside of international humanitarian law.

In a report released last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon said that although attacks in Iraq have decreased, insecurity continues to severely limit the activities of the United Nations mission there, while the political situation has not improved as much as had been hoped.

(Xinhua News Agency January 22, 2008)

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