U.N. Chief Urges Reconciliation Among Iraq's Political Factions

A bodyguard escorts U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to a news conference in Baghdad during a one-day visit to Iraq.
A bodyguard escorts U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to a news conference in Baghdad during a one-day visit to Iraq. (Pool Photo/by Karim Sahib -- Associated Press)
By Jackie Spinner and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 13, 2005

BAGHDAD, Nov. 12 -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Iraq on Saturday for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion more than 2 1/2 years ago -- a war he had condemned as illegal -- and called for reconciliation among political factions vying for the country's leadership.

During his brief visit, Annan rushed between meetings with the leaders of the government elected in January, including Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite Muslim, and Vice President Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Muslim. Annan also met with former prime minister Ayad Allawi, now a member of parliament.

"The political transition must be a process that is inclusive and transparent and takes into account the concerns of all groups," Annan said about parliamentary elections set for next month, the Reuters news agency reported.

The Iraqi government has been pushing the United Nations to become more involved in the country, requesting humanitarian help and a peacekeeping force that could ultimately replace the U.S.-led troops viewed by many Iraqis as occupiers. The United Nations, which pulled out of Iraq in the months following the August 2003 bombing at its Baghdad headquarters, is slowly reestablishing its presence in the country. The attack killed 22 people, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"Welcome to Baghdad," Yawar said, greeting Annan as the two settled into a palatial meeting room in the fortified Green Zone. "There is no one more welcome in Baghdad than the U.N. representative. You promised us you would come here, and you have fulfilled this promise."

Annan declined to speak with reporters after his 15-minute meeting with Yawar, a session that had been scheduled to last an hour. Annan left the country before sunset.

Yawar, fielding questions from behind a bank of microphones, said Annan had come to Baghdad to rally support for an Arab League conference organized to bring together Iraqi political participants in advance of the Dec. 15 elections.

"He promised to support the conference and the decisions made there," Yawar said. "We also discussed the ways to reactivate the U.N. role in Iraq through the political and economic support after the elections."

In a short news conference with Jafari earlier in the day, Annan said the United Nations was encouraging participation in the conference, "which aims at building a new future for the Iraqi people."

Annan's visit came a day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced trip to the country to push for participation in the elections by the Sunni Arab minority. Rice also expressed cautious support for the conference. "All parties who attend should recognize that they are participating with an elected Iraqi government," she said, adding, "The lead on this really ought to be the Iraqi government."

Hours after Annan arrived in Baghdad, a bomb exploded in a market in the New Baghdad neighborhood in an eastern part of the city, killing at least eight people, including a small girl, witnesses said.

Annan stopped in Amman, Jordan, on Friday to condemn the bombings of three hotels Wednesday that killed nearly 60 people. Some Iraqis expressed anger that Annan had visited Jordan before Iraq.

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