BAGHDAD, Feb 21 (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw urged Iraqis on Tuesday to seize on the results of December elections to build a government not dominated by one religious group but one uniting its different communities.
“We had the elections on December 15th. We’ve now had the final accredited results. What they show is that no party, no ethnic or religious grouping can dominate government in Iraq,” Straw said after meeting President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad.
“This therefore gives further impetus to what Iraqis tell us they want, which is a government of national unity bringing together all the different elements of Iraqi society.”
Straw is in Iraq to discuss with Iraqi officials and politicians the formation of a new government following the elections for Iraq’s first full-term parliament two months ago.
His comments echo a strongly-worded warning delivered on Monday by U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that Washington had invested too much of tax-payers’ money in Iraq to tolerate sectarianism or militias in the new cabinet.
“This is a matter for the Iraqi people and Iraqi political parties whom they have elected, but the international community, particularly those of us who have played a part in liberating Iraq have an interest in … a prosperous, stable and democratic Iraq,” Straw told reporters.
Religion plays a big role in Iraqi politics and control of Iraq’s security forces and policy is expected to be one of the most explosive issues as Shi’ite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab politicians negotiate over key ministries.
A Shi’ite bloc won 128 seats in elections, with 53 seats going to the main Kurdish bloc and 58 seats to Sunnis.
The British foreign secretary had arrived in Baghdad on Monday evening amid Iraqi anger over a video released earlier this month apparently showing British soldiers beating Iraqi youths in southern Iraq.
Straw said that incident had taken place two years ago and was under investigation, adding that there had been very few allegations of abuse overall since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“Now the evidence has become available there is a very thorough investigation underway by the military police. They have a very good record of being very tough,” he said.
“Altogether we’ve probably had nearly 100,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel through Iraq over the past three years. The numbers against whom there have been any allegations have been 0.05 percent. That is very tiny.”
British forces participated in the war and are based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, whose Shi’ite-controlled governing council suspended ties with the British military.