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Iraq must address 'root causes' of unrest: UN chief

15 January, 2014

BAGHDAD: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Iraqi leaders to address the "root causes" of a surge in bloodshed as security forces clashed on Monday with gunmen in violence-racked Anbar province.

But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, standing next to Ban at a joint news conference, insisted that the Anbar unrest was not due to internal problems, and that dialogue with militants was not an option. The UN chief's visit to Baghdad comes just months ahead of general elections, with the country suffering its worst spate of unrest since 2008 and militants holding an entire city and parts of another on Baghdad's doorstep.

It is the first time fighters have exercised such open control in major cities since the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion, and Ban's remarks echoed US calls for Iraqi officials to focus on political reconciliation, in addition to ongoing military operations.

"I would urge the leaders of the country ... to address the root causes of the problems," Ban said.. "They should ensure that there is nobody left behind. There should be political cohesion" and "social cohesion, and political dialogue, inclusive dialogue," he said.

"The security situation in Iraq is undoubtedly a source of great concern," said Ban, adding that he is "deeply concerned by this escalation of violence in Anbar governorate." But Maliki insisted that "what is happening in Anbar has no relation to Iraqi problems" and ruled out dialogue with jihadists. Events in the province have united Iraqis, he said, and therefore "today, there is nothing called dialogue."

"Dialogue with whom — with Al-Qaeda? There is no dialogue with Al-Qaeda, and the Iraqi national decision is to end Al-Qaeda," Maliki said, referencing the role played by militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in nationwide violence.

Ban is on two-day visit to Iraq and is also due to meet parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, lawmakers, Vice-President Khudayr al-Khuzaie and the head of Iraq's election commission. Iraq is embroiled in a bloody standoff with militants and anti-government tribes in Anbar, the mostly-Sunni desert province in west Iraq which shares a long border with conflict-hit Syria.

The country is also experiencing its wost prolonged period of violence since 2008, when it was just emerging from a bloody Sunni-Shiite sectarian war that left tens of thousands dead. Clashes erupted in Anbar on Monday between police and militants in Humairah, an area in provincial capital Ramadi, when security forces attempted to reopen a police station, an AFP journalist said. Fighting was also still raging in the Albubali and Khaldiyah areas between Ramadi and Fallujah, officials said.

Authorities meanwhile reopened a stretch of a highway to Jordan and Syria that had been closed for months by Sunni protesters demonstrating against the alleged mistreatment of their community by the Shiite-led government. Analysts say that widespread Sunni anger towards the government has fuelled the surge of violence in the country. Militants and anti-government tribes still hold two neighbourhoods in Ramadi, as well as all of Fallujah, a former insurgent stronghold just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Baghdad.

Clashes still erupt periodically in Ramadi but civil servants have returned to work in the city, and residents who had fled Fallujah have since begun to return. ISIL has been active in the Anbar fighting, but so have anti-government tribesmen. At the same time, security forces have recruited their own tribal allies. The army has for the most part stayed outside of Fallujah during the crisis, with analysts warning that any assault on the city would likely cause significant civilian casualties.

End.

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