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Analysis: 'Surprise' Annan Iraq Visit

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaaferi walks with United Nation Secretary General Kofi Annan after their meeting in Baghdad, 12 November 2005. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, on a surprise visit to Iraq Saturday, offered his support for efforts to reconcile the war-battered country's rival communities. AFP photo/POOL/Ali Haider.

United Nations (UPI) Nov 14, 2005
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's unannounced visit to Iraq this past weekend came in one sense as no surprise to many though most at U.N. World Headquarters in New York were kept in the dark about it for security reasons.

Iraq has been one of the top items on the secretary-general's agenda for some time and U.N. officials said Monday he has wanted to visit there but was overruled by security concerns.

While the visit wound up taking place at the end of a week that saw Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stop in Iraq, the Annan trip was planned before either of the two foreign ministers set foot in the nation convulsed by an insurgency since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled former President Saddam Hussein.

But why now? Obviously, security approved.

"The basic reason is, it is difficult to arrange a visit by the secretary-general anywhere, anytime," one U.N. official told United Press International, citing so many invitations from so many countries. "But there are two reasons the visit took place at this time."

Pointing out the secretary-general's travels are usually arranged with visits to clusters of countries in the same general region, the official said the first, long-range, reason that was to bring Annan to the Middle East was the World Summit on the Information Society, which opened in Tunis this week, while the second and more recent reason was to attend the donors' conference for victims in northern Pakistan of the Oct. 8 South Asia earthquake.

It also happens to be about five weeks before national elections in Iraq.

The secretary-general was to visit Iran, neighboring Iraq, but had to call that visit off after newly-elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Israel should be "wiped off the map."

That freed up time not only for the Iraq visit but also a quick trip to Jordan on the heels of the triple Amman hotel terror bombings last week.

Jordan's King Abdullah asked Annan to visit, the official said. "He pointed out it would be a good show of solidarity."

After Jordan, The secretary-general flew to Kuwait, then to Baghdad Saturday and returned the same day to Kuwait, where he later met with Kuwaiti officials.

In Baghdad Annan met with a number of top Iraqi leaders and staff of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.

Pointing to the importance of Iraq's political transition, he told reporters the process must be inclusive and transparent, taking into account the concerns of all groups in the country, Kurds, Sunnis and Shiite Muslims.

Annan also backed the Arab League's plans to arrange a reconciliation conference.

"Obviously, it will have to be very carefully prepared, and we support that initiative," he said.

Annan also addressed terrorism, the effects of which he witnessed first-hand during his visit to Jordan.

"I understand that today (Saturday) there has been a bomb (attack) in Baghdad where five people have died. We also know what happened in Amman a few days ago and I'm afraid we have not seen the end yet," the secretary-general said.

"This behavior, this terrorism, this brutal behavior, is absolutely unacceptable behavior. No ideology, no cause can justify the killings or maiming of innocent civilians. It is murder. It is terrorism pure and simple."

While in the Iraqi capital Annan met separately with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Deputy Prime Minister Rowsh Shaways as well as other political leaders and community officials.

He also praised his Special Representative Ashraf Qazi, "for the wonderful work and leadership he is providing to the team here" and to Deputy Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, "covering our base in Amman and doing lots of work here with Qazi across the border and through contractors."

In a town hall meeting with national and international U.N. staff he expressed thanks for the crucial work they were doing, under very trying circumstances, in assisting the Iraqi people during this period of political transition and reconstruction.

The U.N. team members "are doing an extraordinary job in very difficult circumstances," Annan said, adding: "They have good morale and they are working hard and are determined to continue their work."

Responding to questions from reporters, the secretary-general said he had visited the monument erected "for my dear friends and colleagues who died here in August 2003" when terrorists bombed U.N. headquarters, killing 22 people, including the head of mission, Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"Great friends, wonderful colleagues, the best of the United Nations who had come to help. That was their sole purpose," Annan said. "They carried no guns, they were not soldiers, they had not come to harm anyone. Their lives were cut short in a brutal manner."

He added that the best way to honor their memory was to "continue with our work and we will do whatever we can to stabilize Iraq and to bring peace and prosperity."

The secretary-general recalled the United Nations was supporting Iraq through its political transition since the creation of the Governing Council, running through the first elections, the preparation of the electoral law, the referendum, "and now we are working with them on the elections in December."

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U.S., Iraqi Troops Suffer Fewer Casualties
Washington (UPI) Nov 14, 2005
The current U.S. tactical offensives in Iraq have put on the insurgents on the defensive. The rate at which they have been inflicting casualties on U.S. forces continued to decline over the past two weeks.

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