UN: Iraq`s leaders must address protest demands

The UN envoy to Iraq urged the country`s leaders to address the legitimate demands of protesters for jobs, services and accountability.

United Nations: The UN envoy to Iraq urged
the country`s leaders to address the legitimate demands of
protesters for jobs, services and accountability.

Ad Melkert warned that unless the government tackles
these demands, Iraq`s political and democratic gains so far
"may seem hollow to ordinary Iraqis."

He told the UN Security Council that "this will be
no easy task for the government of Iraq."

Melkert said the unfolding events in the Middle East
and persistent calls for change "are of major significance."

"While Iraq has made remarkable strides in its
democratic transition in recent years, which included the
adoption of a constitution, credible national elections, a
broad national partnership government and an opening
environment for media and civil society," he said "the people
of Iraq are now demanding the dividends that were promised by
their leaders."

Protesters who have demonstrated across Iraq since Feb
25 are voicing "legitimate concerns around better employment
opportunities, the delivery of basic services and
accountability," he said.

He said "how to create opportunities and respond to
the aspirations of young people will be key."

According to the UN, 78 percent of the Iraqi
population is under 35 years old, 43 percent is under 15 years
old, "and youth constitute over 50 percent of the total
unemployment rate, about one million people," Melkert said.

In addition, less than 40 percent of children enroll
in secondary school and only 21 percent are enrolled in the
final two years of secondary school.

"These statistics paint a picture of a young
population with few prospects for the future," he said.

Melkert said Iraqi elected officials are taking the
demands seriously "and have shown a renewed determination to
act decisively."

He said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered
Cabinet ministers to ensure that within 100 days plans are
introduced to achieve "tangible progress in the key areas of
job creation and service delivery."

"Other initiatives have also been announced, including
cuts in defense expenditures and government salaries as well
as tackling corruption," Melkert said.

The UN met with al-Maliki to discuss how it could
support the government`s efforts and proposed implementing a
list of projects "that could rapidly be expanded and fast
tracked to address in particular youth employment, health and
nutrition, solid waste management, public distribution of food
rations, and access to water," he said.

The UN also proposed specific initiatives to support
the dialogue between the government and civil society, with an
emphasis on promoting human rights, he said.



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