Iraqi security forces stand at the site where a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with explosives into a police checkpoint in the town of al-Alam near Tikrit, November 13, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Iraq's security forces require "massive amounts of re-training" in human rights to better conduct operations and combat the country's worst violence since 2008, the UN's new envoy to Baghdad said.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN chief Ban Ki-moon's special representative, also said he did not expect any long-term political problems to be addressed before elections due April 30, but voiced hope that authorities could make progress on key issues such as the delivery of basic services.
"There is a culture within the security forces, and the way they do things, which needs to change," Mladenov told a group of foreign journalists in Baghdad.
Asked what he meant by a change in culture, he replied: "One that is more respectful of human rights."
"If you want to talk about the immediate security response to the crisis, the police, the army, etc. need massive amounts of re-training... in relation to human rights, and how they respect international standards of human rights, how they undertake operations."
Mladenov, a former Bulgarian foreign and defence minister, added: "A very big investment needs to be made in rule of law, human rights, both across the judiciary but also in the police and the security forces."
Iraq's security forces have been criticised, particularly by the Sunni Arab community, over allegations that soldiers and police unfairly target the minority.
The claims range from accusations of warrantless and mass arrests, to extended periods of unlawful detention, as well as physical abuse in detainee facilities, often in a bid to extract confessions.
While officials admit that some individuals are wrongly arrested, they insist security operations are making progress in curtailing a protracted spike in violence that has sparked fears the country is on the brink of slipping back into all-out sectarian war.
The UN envoy did not blame any particular group in his critique of the security forces, noting that after 30 years of rule by the late dictator Saddam Hussein came to an end in 2003, Iraq has "been embroiled in conflicts; it's been fighting a terrorist threat."
"I come from a transition country myself," he said. "I know how difficult this is to change without the context in which Iraq is."
Mladenov said Baghdad would need to focus on a handful of key issues in order to reduce the bloodshed.
"You need to find ways to re-integrate the Sunni community; you need to find ways to deliver services; you need to find ways of doing your security operations in a way that effectively counter the threat."
He said that though some of those issues could be resolved in the months before Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections, longer-term issues would have to wait.
"Obviously, there are things that can be done in terms of the effectiveness of security operations," he said. "There are a number of programmes that can be put in place in relation to social services."
"You can do things before the election, but in (terms of) really getting a renewed mandate from the people for major changes looking forward, you do need the election."
"The big political issues, all will be addressed in the spring of next year."
However, Mladenov said he saw a "glimmer of hope" in the recent passage of an election law, setting the framework for the polls, which he said offered the prospect of increased cooperation among Iraq's political factions.
Political squabbling has paralysed the government, while parliament has passed almost no major legislation in years.
Iraqi authorities have also been criticised for not doing enough to address the underlying causes of the surge in violence and instead focusing on the security aspect of the unrest.
While failing to stem the bloodshed, authorities have also struggled to provide adequate basic services such as electricity and clean water, and corruption is widespread.
"You can't really say, 'well, I'll start with one and then I'll deal with the others,'" Mladenov said, referencing Iraq's myriad issues. "You need to start with all of them."