UN Envoy Warns of Possible Syria Spillover to Iraq

UNITED NATIONS -- A U.N. envoy warned that there is a "very real potential" for a spillover of violence from Syria to Iraq which would fuel that country's political and security challenges that threaten its achievements over the last decade.

Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative in Iraq, addressed the Security Council on Thursday, a day after the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Iraq war sparked years of bloodshed as Sunni and Shiite militants battled U.S. forces and each other, leaving nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis dead. While violence has ebbed sharply, insurgents are still able to stage high-profile attacks, and sectarian and ethnic rivalries remain threats to the country's long-term stability.

Kobler said members of every ethnic and social group continue to be targets of acts of terrorism, assassination and kidnapping. He also said that between November and the end of February, acts of terrorism claimed the lives of almost 1,300 civilians and wounded nearly 3,100 others. The terrorist acts also killed 591 members of the Iraqi security forces and injured more than 1,000.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in western provinces since late December because they feel unprotected and excluded, Kobler said. Over time, "they have spoken "more harshly and proposed more radical solutions."

Kobler said the volatility on the streets is reflected at the political level, where ministers from the Sunni bloc al-Iraqiya have boycotted cabinet meetings for almost four months, political coalitions are weakening and "the political fabric is fraying."

The government has taken a number of initiatives to address the demands of the demonstrators, including facilitating the release of about 3,400 prisoners, transferring all female prisoners to their home region and reinstating pension payments for 11,000 public sector retirees who were members of the formerly ruling Ba'ath Party, he said.

The U.N. special representative also said the "very real potential" of a spillover of violence from Syria would add to existing challenges in Iraq.

Iraq hosts nearly 120,000 Syrians, mainly in the Kurdistan region, and an average of 8,000 Syrians are arriving every day, he said.

In addition, approximately 80,000 Iraqis living in Syria returned to Iraq in the last few months, joining the ranks of the 1.2 million internally displaced Iraqis, Kobler said.

He said the returnees and the internally displaced need urgent humanitarian assistance, explaining that the majority live in "informal settlements" that are in appalling condition and lack basic services.

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Syria Iraq