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Iraq: UN Offers Help In Writing Constitution

Annan Congratulates New Iraqi President; Offers UN Help In Writing Constitution

Congratulating Iraq's new President Jalal Talabani on his election today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today stressed the need for national unity, a goal the United Nations has been seeking with redoubled resolve since elections in January, and pledged the world body's help in writing a constitution that cements reconciliation.

"The Secretary-General welcomes the commitment of Iraq's new leadership to working towards national unity through peaceful democratic means," a statement issued by a spokesperson for Mr. Annan said of Mr. Talabani's election, and that of Vice-Presidents Sheikh Ghazi Al-Yawar and Adil Abdul Mahdi, by the Transitional National Assembly.

"The United Nations stands ready to support the reconstruction of Iraq, including by providing any needed assistance to its constitution-making process," the statement added. "To that end, the Secretary-General and his Special Representative, Ashraf Qazi, look forward to working with Iraq's newly-elected leaders and other representatives, with a view to further promoting dialogue and national reconciliation."

Virtually from the moment polling booths closed in the 30 January elections, from which Iraq's Sunni Arabs largely stayed away, Mr. Qazi has been meeting almost daily across the political spectrum to ensure that all sectors take part in the transition process, including the drafting of a new constitution, which is the main task of the new Assembly.

But by not voting, either due to boycott calls, intimidation or fear of violence, Sunni Arabs, the dominant political force in the regime of ousted Saddam Hussein, have very little presence in the new Assembly, hence Mr. Qazi continual appeals for a way to ensure the participation of all in writing the constitution and completing the political transition.

Shiite Arabs, who voted enthusiastically, represent about 60 per cent of the population, while Sunni Arabs and mainly Sunni Kurds, who also turned out en masse, represent about 20 per cent each.

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