Swedish UN envoy sees ‘light at end of tunnel’ in Iraq

Major tensions remain in Iraq but there are signs the situation is improving, the top UN envoy in Baghdad said Tuesday, just ahead of an international conference on the war-torn country in Stockholm.

“Are we stabilized yet? Not yet. There is still Al-Qaeda looking for spectacular attacks, there are still tensions in Sadr City and there have been in Basra, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Staffan de Mistura told the Swedish public radio news programme Ekot.

His comments came two days before the Stockholm conference which will draw between 500 and 600 delegates including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The conference, which will be the first follow-up meeting since the launch a year ago of a five-year peace and development plan called International Compact with Iraq, is “of major importance,” de Mistura, a Swedish-Italian career diplomat, told Ekot.

“This is a crucial period in the history of Iraq,” he said.

“It’s the year when the Iraqis themselves are trying to regain their own sovereignty. It’s the year when they want to join in a partnership with the international community,” he added.

Some critics have claimed the Stockholm conference would only serve to lend legitimacy to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, but de Mistura insisted that “at this point in Iraqi history there is no point in looking to the past.”

“This is the year when we are all in the same boat with the Iraqis,” he said.

“Either Iraq will become a sovereign, capable, stabilized country, or there will be chaos” in the region.