UN says Iraq lacks spirit of reconciliation

Wed Jan 16, 2008 4:41am EST

PARIS Jan 16 (Reuters) - Iraq lacks any true spirit of reconciliation despite parliament's decision to let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party return to government jobs, the United Nations' Baghdad envoy said on Wednesday.

Staffan de Mistura's comments contrasted with those of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said during a visit to Baghdad on Tuesday it was a time of hope for Iraq with a "spirit of cooperation" between ethnic and religious groups.

The law, adopted on Saturday, is the first in a series of measures Washington has pressed the Shi'ite Islamist-led government to pass to draw the minority Sunni Arab community that held sway under Saddam closer into the political process.

But the U.N. envoy in Baghdad told Le Figaro newspaper there was still no trust between the Shi'ite-dominated cabinet and Sunni muslims and warned that Iraq was running out of time.

"We do not feel a real spirit of reconciliation developing even if the government has accepted the law on reintegration of former Baathists," he said.

"The little intercommunity game continues but Iraq has no more time."

He said Iraq had six months to make political progress.

"After that, the former insurgents may be tempted to return to violence and we must absolutely avoid that. We see a light at the end of the tunnel but we have to move quickly," he said.

He said chaos could return if swift political progress was not made, a dangerous scenario in a U.S. election year.

"Iraq will not be the same country at the end of 2008: the U.S. officials will have changed...the international community will have modified its positions," he said.

But he said he had noticed a change in the attitude of some Iraqi officials.

"Everyone has been saying: 'Between us we have the Americans who are looking after everything. Iraq will not sink because they won't allow it'," he said.

"Today some people are realising that they are faced with their own responsibilities as proved by the acceptance by the Shi'ites of the reintegration of the Baathists."

(Reporting by Anna Willard; Editing by Ralph Boulton)