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UN reports improvement in Iraq's security
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Iraqi soldiers conduct a search operation in the town of Khan Bani Saad, north of Baghdad August 1, 2008.[Xinhua/Reuters]

A combination of political and military efforts has led to continued improvements in security across Iraq in the past three months, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday in his latest report to the Security Council on the UN Assistance Mission to the country (UNAMI).

"Both the frequency of violent incidents and casualty figures have continued to decline and there has been increased cooperation from local communities in preventing acts of violence," Ban said.

The Iraqi Security Forces appear to be gaining in confidence and capability, and the number of units capable of taking the lead in operations is increasing, he said.

Ban cautioned that the gains made so far need to be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national reconciliation.

"Time is of the essence, and Iraq can no longer afford continued delays in finding viable political solutions," the secretary-general said in the quarterly report, released Friday.

Ban also highlighted the issue of disputed internal boundaries in the country and said it remains a priority for the UNAMI.

He strongly encouraged the Iraqi authorities and political stakeholders to explore opportunities created by the mission's work on this delicate issue.

UNAMI will also continue to assist Iraq's independent electoral commission in planning for governorate elections, Ban said, but warned that unless a new electoral law is passed in time Iraqis will be deprived of the chance to vote this year, which could alienate various communities.

According to the report, rising levels of oil income offer an opportunity to improve the management and accountability of the country's financial resources, but Ban said that essential services are still lacking and fuel shortages remain widespread in a country with vast oil reserves. He stressed that job creation is vital.

"Although Iraq forecasts around 7 percent growth for 2008, the new wealth has not lifted many Iraqis out of poverty or reduced unemployment levels," he said.

While welcoming new commitments to assist people displaced inside the country, the secretary-general also called on the Iraqi government to develop ways of helping the Iraqi refugee community in the region, in cooperation with neighboring host countries.

Ban said the fact that a growing number of Arab States have expressed their willingness to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Baghdad is a positive development, and the decision by the United Arab Emirates to forgive Iraqi debt is a strong step that he hopes is taken by others in the region.

(Xinhua News Agency August 2, 2008)

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