Iraq’s Leadership Working Hard to Build on Progress Made Since Defeat of Islamic State, Special Representative Tells Security Council
Permanent Representative Demands International Respect for National Sovereignty, Saying Country Cannot Tolerate More Tension in Region
The leadership of Iraq is hard at work building on progress made since the territorial defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), but the recent flare-up in regional tensions could potentially undermine ongoing efforts to restore stability and prosperity, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country warned the Security Council today.
“We should be lucid and recognize that current tensions could well deal a huge blow to all national and international endeavours to rebuild a stable and prosperous Iraq,” said the Special Representative, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Speaking by video-teleconference from The Hague, she said Iraq’s leaders are tirelessly engaging regional and international actors to ensure that the country does not become a venue for proxy conflicts.
Concerning the return of ISIL fighters and family members from Syria, she said their numbers remain unclear, but cautioned that the issue could potentially impact Iraq, the wider region and beyond if not addressed in a suitable manner. She emphasized the importance of robust safeguards for detention, due process and fair trials, pointing out that many communities still feel marginalized and vulnerable to extremist messages.
On the domestic front, the Government needs time to fight narrow partisan interests and political parties, among other actors, she said, urging those actors to agree that Iraq’s interests must come first. A federal Cabinet has been formed, albeit with no women appointees, and the Kurdish Regional Government is also up and running, she said, adding that expectations are high, with particular regard to such key dossiers as Kirkuk, Sinjar and the sharing of oil revenues.
She went on to express concern over the underfinancing of the Funding Facility for Stabilization and the Humanitarian Response Plan by more than $300 million and $500 million respectively. Such shortfalls are hindering Iraq’s post-conflict humanitarian programming, she said, noting that, although 4.3 million people have returned home, acute needs persist in the health, electricity and water sectors. Noting that the daunting challenges confronting Iraq did not arise overnight, she emphasized that they are also not solely the result of Iraqi actions. As such, they will not be resolved tomorrow, she said, adding: “Iraqis must press ahead in unity and with an engaged international community at their side.”
In the ensuing debate, Council members agreed on the importance of sustained international support for security sector reform and for preventing a resurgence of terrorism in Iraq. Several delegates expressed concern over the absence of women from the newly formed federal Cabinet and other decision-making positions. Many also addressed humanitarian concerns, including the return of 1.6 million internally displaced persons, the fate of foreign terrorist fighters and their families, and the fate of Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and assets missing since the first Gulf War.
Kuwait’s representative acknowledged Iraq’s efforts in locating the remains of those missing since the 1991 Gulf War and returning stolen property, including tens of thousands of books. He said that the Special Representative’s announcement that human remains exhumed in March were confirmed to be those of missing Kuwaitis sparked hope that the fate of more missing persons will be revealed so that the issue can eventually be resolved.
Belgium’s representative said Iraq is at a turning point, emphasizing that the country needs an inclusive Government with robust institutions and women in key decision-making positions. He went on to state that, as Chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, Belgium encourages the Government to come up with an action plan that would lead to Iraq’s delisting from the Secretary-General’s annual report on the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
China’s representative, agreeing that Iraq is at a critical stage, stressed that all parties must respect its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Meanwhile, the international community should maintain its support for inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation, while also helping Iraq in its pursuit of a development path compatible with its national conditions.
The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized the vital importance for the region of stabilizing Iraq. Welcoming the Government’s focus on national reconciliation and economic reconstruction, he also stressed the importance of good neighbourliness and commended Iraq’s efforts to mend relations with Kuwait. The Russian Federation will continue to help the Iraqi armed forces deliver security, he said, while also warning that rising tensions in the Persian Gulf could have a negative impact on Iraq.
On the other hand, the representative of the United States said that, in light of Iran’s support for militias destabilizing Iraq, the latter should replace them with Government forces, stressing that the Government has the right to control its own security.
Iraq’s representative emphasized that his country is keen to develop relationships with its Arab neighbours and also attaches importance to its ties with Iran and Turkey. Concerning Da’esh, he said the current task is to deal with that terrorist group’s legacy by intensifying efforts to deal with foreign terrorist fighters, the widows and wives of terrorists, as well as child recruits and children born as a result of rape. The problem of foreign terrorist fighters affects everyone, he emphasized, warning that, if mismanaged, it could create fertile ground for a new generation of terrorists. He went on to request that the international community respect Iraq’s sovereignty and support its efforts to hold terrorists accountable through a judicial system that will apply due process in a transparent and professional manner. “My Government is working on sending a clear signal to neighbouring countries that the stability and security of Iraq is a common interest,” he said, stressing that his country cannot tolerate more tension in the region.
Also speaking were representatives of Germany, Dominican Republic Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, France, Equatorial Guinea, United Kingdom, Indonesia, South Africa and Poland.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:58 a.m.
JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), spoke by video-teleconference from The Hague. Recalling the Council’s visit to Iraq on 29 June, she expressed concern about the underfinancing of the Funding Facility for Stabilization and the Humanitarian Response Plan by more than $300 million and $500 million respectively. Such shortfalls are hindering Iraq’s post-conflict humanitarian programming, she said, noting that, although 4.3 million people have returned home, acute needs persist in the health, electricity and water sectors. As for the political situation, Iraq’s leadership is hard at work building on the progress made to date, she said, emphasizing that there is no justification for painting a grim picture. The Government needs time to fight narrow partisan interests and political parties, among other actors, she said, urging those actors to agree that Iraq’s interests must come first. A federal Cabinet has been formed, albeit with no women appointees, and the Kurdish Regional Government is also up and running, she said, adding that expectations are high, particularly with regard to such key dossiers as Kirkuk, Sinjar and revenue‑sharing.
Touching on regional politics, she said Iraq’s leaders are tirelessly engaging regional and international actors to ensure the country does not become a venue for proxy conflicts. “We should be lucid and recognize that current tensions could well deal a huge blow to all national and international endeavours to rebuild a stable and prosperous Iraq.” Underscoring the Government’s determination to bring all armed actors under State control, she expressed hope that it will also speed up security sector reform and swiftly enact a joint security mechanism, thereby paving the way for joint operations between federal and Kurdish regional forces against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Concerning the return of ISIL fighters and family members from Syria, she said their numbers remain unclear, but cautioned that the issue could potentially impact Iraq, the wider region and beyond if not addressed in a suitable manner. She emphasized the importance of robust safeguards for detention, due process and fair trials, pointing out that many communities still feel marginalized and vulnerable to extremist messages.
Turning to other issues, she stressed the need for Iraq to achieve tangible results in fighting rampant corruption, also expressing concern that amendments to the Governorate Elections Law could lead to the disenfranchisement of many voters when elections take place in April 2020. UNAMI will continue to highlight universal suffrage and the need for transparent and accountable electoral institutions and processes, she pledged. On the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including national archives, she said that some human remains exhumed in Muthanna Governorate in March have been confirmed as belonging to missing Kuwaitis. DNA analysis on other remains continues, she added. She also announced that the Government of Iraq turned over more than 40,000 books belonging to the Amiri and national archives to the Kuwaiti authorities today. She concluded by underlining that the daunting challenges confronting Iraq did not arise overnight, nor were they solely the result of Iraqi actions. As such, they will not be resolved tomorrow, she said, adding: “Iraqis must press ahead in unity and with an engaged international community at their side.”
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that, in order to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIL, all communities must feel secure, which can be done by consolidating security forces. Given Iran’s support for militias destabilizing Iraq, he added, Government forces should replace them since Iraq has the right to control its own security. He went on to welcome the progress made in forming the Government while noting that the Cabinet contains few female members and encouraging the appointment of women to decision-making positions. Emphasizing that long-term stability depends on anti-corruption efforts and restoring trust in public institutions, he said the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) needs more funds to promote such efforts, adding that the United States will pledge $100 million towards development projects. Welcoming UNAMI’s efforts to restore trust funds for reconstruction and humanitarian initiatives, he expressed support for projects intended to identify missing persons. However, the United States remains concerned about tensions between Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government over oil, he said, also urging the Government to address the issue of displaced persons and their return.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said all actors, including the Government, must extend financial support to ensure that progress continues. While welcoming the Government’s formation, he expressed his trust that the remaining Cabinet vacancies will be filled, including by women candidates. Now that the Government has formed, it can focus on implementing reform and addressing the basic needs of its citizens, with a broad view to strengthening stability, thereby attracting financial investment. He called upon Baghdad and Erbil to find sustainable solutions to outstanding issues, including oil. Emphasizing the need for accountability as a key to post-conflict recovery, given the many displaced persons returning home, he said the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) must be able to do its important work. It is also important to reduce regional tensions through dialogue and de-escalation, he added. Calling attention to climate-related security risks affecting Iraq, including deadly farmland fires earlier this year, he said UNAMI should include this issue in its discussions with the authorities.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) commended efforts towards settling the issue of missing persons and properties, saying recent visits have helped to turn the page on a painful past and to resolve outstanding issues, while also elevating relations between Kuwait and Iraq. Commending Baghdad for implementing Council resolutions and other commitments, he expressed hope that the fate of more missing persons will be revealed so that the issue can eventually be resolved. He urged Iraq to continue its cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and to return to the Kuwaiti property it seized, including more than 100,000 books. He went on to express his country’s support for Iraq’s efforts to combat corruption, improve services and boost security, also pledging Kuwait’s support for reconstruction and other initiatives.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) expressed regret that no women were appointed to the federal Cabinet, despite two of them having been put forward for the education portfolio. He also encouraged the federal and Kurdish regional governments to continue to improve relations and iron out their differences over oil revenues and security. Noting that a resurgence of terrorism is a clear threat to national and regional security, he praised Iraq’s counter-terrorism campaign, stressing, however, the need for greater regional and international cooperation. He went on to commend mine action efforts, applauding the equal numbers of men and women comprising the teams dealing with unexploded remnants of war. Stressing the danger of Iraq becoming a theatre of confrontation, he said all countries in the region must work to ease tensions and restore stability.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) urged the Iraqi authorities to fold the gender perspective into peacebuilding efforts, while calling upon the international community to mobilize resources for the United Nations humanitarian response plan. He welcomed the cooperation between the federal and Kurdish regional governments, expressing hope that their dialogue will continue. He went on to underline the need to build Iraq’s capacity to deal with Da’esh, to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by that group and to uphold the rights of victims. Côte d’Ivoire also urges greater cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait on the issue of mission Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, as well as seized property, he said.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), emphasizing that Iraq is at a turning point, said the country needs an inclusive Government with robust institutions and women in key decision-making positions. He went on to state that, Belgium, as Chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, encourages the Government to come up with an action plan, with UNAMI’s help, leading to Iraq’s delisting from the Secretary-General’s annual report on that issue. While welcoming the Government’s focus on fighting corruption, he said other persisting challenges include delivering economic development and basic services. Turning to security sector reform, he said that, despite the military defeat of ISIL, the root causes that spawned it remain, stressing that no effort must be spared to avoid a its resurgence. Iraq can only flourish when internal and regional security are assured, he said, calling for concerted regional and international efforts to that end.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) expressed concern about the lack of women appointees to the Cabinet, an issue the Council highlighted during its June visit. He also welcomed the establishment of the Reconstruction Trust Fund, calling for efforts to attract new investments. Encouraged by the progress of reconciliation initiatives and the fight against Da’esh, he commended Iraq’s contribution to regional stability. He also welcomed its efforts to restore archives to Kuwait and to address the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) called upon Baghdad and Erbil to continue negotiations to settle outstanding disagreements, emphasizing the essential need to build on the current momentum. Dialogue must also guide national and regional relations, expressing her delegation’s support for Iraq’s efforts to foster regional dialogue, address the threat of ISIL and rebuild the country, including by ensuring the voluntary return of displaced persons to their home and initiating anti-corruption programmes. The international community must stand by Iraq at this critical juncture, she stressed, calling for greater progress on including women in the political process and fighting impunity.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said the Government can now focus fully on rolling out its programmes to promote rebuilding and foster a safe environment. To build trust, the country’s income and resources must be properly managed, he said, commending anti-corruption initiatives. Condemning asymmetric attacks by the remaining elements of ISIL, he called for efforts to stabilize areas once controlled by terrorists so that people can safely return to their homes. Concerning the missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and assets, he said that he looks forward to the results of testing on human remains to settle outstanding concerns.
WU HAITAO (China), noting that Iraq is at a critical stage in the consolidation of its anti-terrorism efforts, emphasized that all parties must respect the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Support for Iraq’s counter-terrorism efforts must continue since the threat posed by terrorist remnants persists, he said, emphasizing that the Government’s handling of foreign terrorist fighters and their dependents deserves strong support. The international community should also continue to support inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation, including the facilitation of coexistence among all Iraqi parties, he said, urging the international community to help Iraq pursue a development path compatible with its national conditions. He went on to note China’s efforts in that regard, including through the Belt and Road Initiative.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), noting that Iraq is very different from other Middle East issues on the Council’s agenda, said the question is how best to support the country following the defeat of Da’esh. Finding a durable solution for the 1.6 million internally displaced persons is a concern for all, he said, welcoming the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in enabling voluntary returns. Providing basic services should be a focus for the Government, with UNAMI extending assistance, he said, while also encouraging the Mission to maintain its focus on security sector reform. Expressing concern over the absence of women from ministerial positions, he voiced hope that that will change soon. The United Kingdom commends the federal and Kurdish regional presidents for addressing outstanding issues, including oil revenues, he said. Iraq has made great progress, but still faces significant challenges, and it is vital that the international community remains engaged in supporting the Government as it steers the country towards the fulfilment of its huge potential.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said Iraq is on the right track towards a democratic and prosperous future, given ongoing efforts by the Government and people, supported by the regional and international communities. However, the security situation remains fragile as the remnants of ISIL continued to attack the Iraqi people and security forces. He expressed Indonesia’s support for the security forces’ anti-terrorism campaign, adding that his delegation is pleased to note that the Iraqi authorities handed over the remains of Kuwaiti citizens from Samawa on 8 August.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) expressed his delegation’s support for UNAMI’s mandate, saying it promotes strengthening of the Government and its subsequent electoral processes. Emphasizing that peace and security are fundamental for Iraq to develop infrastructure, grow its economy and provide basic services to all citizens, he said South Africa supports the full consolidation of Iraqi army control over all the national territory. He went on to note that the decrease in the number of internally displaced persons demonstrates that Iraq is recovering from years of conflict and instability, calling for engagement by the Peacebuilding Commission in support of the Government’s efforts, especially in institution-building and post-conflict reconstruction and development.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the new Iraq has a great deal to do, even with the significant progress already made. Formation of the Government should be concluded expeditiously, he said, emphasizing the vital importance of stabilizing Iraq to the stability of the entire Middle East and the importance of rebuilding the economy and developing the agriculture sector. Welcoming the Government’s focus on national reconciliation and economic reconstruction, he also stressed the importance of good neighbourliness, commending Iraq’s efforts to mend relations with Kuwait. There is also a need to settle differences within Iraq, in particular relations between the federal and Kurdish regional governments, he said, adding that terrorism must be tackled through the broadest coordination of counter-terrorism efforts. The Russian Federation will continue to help the Iraqi armed forces restore and deliver security, he said, while warning against the negative impact on Iraq of rising tensions in the Persian Gulf. The international community should avert a situation that will reverse hard-won counter-terrorism successes, he stressed.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity, welcoming further progress on formation of the Iraqi Government. She also commended efforts by the authorities to restore stability and prosperity, in particular their continued focus on fighting corruption and on finding ways to improve the business and investment environment. She also commended Iraq’s decision to bring the Popular Mobilization Forces under effective State control, describing it as an important step towards advancing security sector reform. After years of conflict, the path to stabilization and reconciliation will require time, extensive reforms and the building of strong institutions, she noted, emphasizing that such a process must meet the needs of all Iraqis. The stabilization and reconstruction of areas recaptured from Da’esh are indispensable for creating the conditions for voluntary, dignified and safe returns by internally displaced persons, as well as their local integration and resettlement, she said.
SARHAD SARDAR ABDULRAHMAN FATAH (Iraq) said the common goals of Iraqi citizens is to enjoy a life of freedom and dignity with a Government that serves their interests. Citing the Government’s Plan of Action for 2018‑2022, he said the most important challenges pertain to economic reform, the status of women, bolstering human rights, eliminating unemployment, security sector reform and social development, all of which demand stability. Iraq deserves to live in safety and to fulfil the aspirations of its people, especially after the war it has waged against terrorism, he emphasized. Detailing recent progress, he pointed to joint efforts by the federal and Kurdish regional governments to address pending issues on the basis of the Constitution. He also noted that Iraq submitted its first report to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, summarizing its progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Government has drawn up a national development plan, a strategy to combat poverty and a reconstruction plan that runs through 2027, he added.
Describing the defeat of Da’esh as an important victory for Iraq’s military and security forces, he expressed thanks to the international coalition led by the United States for its assistance. The task now is to deal with that terrorist group’s legacy by intensifying efforts to deal with such issues as foreign terrorist fighters, the widows and wives of terrorists, and child recruits and children born as a result of rape. Greater efforts are needed to stabilize liberated areas and deal with the tragedy of internally displaced persons, he said. He emphasized that the problem of foreign terrorist fighters affects everyone, warning that, if mismanaged, it could create fertile ground for a new generation of terrorists. He also called attention to the danger posed by hundreds of Da’esh women, saying they remain capable of recruiting new fighters and their presence in Iraqi camps and prisons is a burden that the international community and organizations such as UNHCR must share. It is not only an issue of providing food, water and medicine, but also a matter of security and limiting the spread of extremist ideology, he stressed. He requested that the international community respect Iraq’s sovereignty and support its efforts to hold terrorists accountable through a judicial system that will apply due process in a transparent and professional manner.
He went on to call upon all Governments concerned to take full responsibility for the repatriation of their citizens, including putting them on trial. Regarding the children of Da’esh fighters, he said they can be divided into two categories: juveniles to be sent away for rehabilitation if found guilty of belonging to Da’esh or participating in its activities; and those under the age of criminal liability, who would be turned over to the diplomatic missions of their respective countries. The nature of such a task requires sensitivity and in-depth examination of the status and citizenship of each youth, he underlined, noting that Iraq has turned over 473 foreign children to the embassies of several countries since 10 July. “My Government is working on sending a clear signal to neighbouring countries that the stability and security of Iraq is a common interest,” he continued, emphasizing that his country cannot tolerate more tension in the region. It is keen to develop relationships with its Arab neighbours and also attaches importance to its ties with Iran, he said, adding that the same applies for Turkey.
He went on to point out, however, that the Government has sent 54 letters of protest to the latter country demanding a halt to Turkish shelling of targets inside Iraq, reaffirming the Government’s determination that its territory is not used to attack neighbouring States. He also detailed the return of the remains of 32 Kuwaitis missing since the 1991 Gulf War, as well as tens of thousands of books, including a shipment flown out to Kuwait on a C-130 Hercules aircraft on 27 August. More books will be soon returned by instalments soon, he said. Thanking ICRC for its assistance in locating the remains of Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait, he concluded by reiterating the Government’s commitment to a prosperous Iraq working in cooperation with the international community to eliminate the ravages of terrorism and to speed up reconstruction in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Plan of Action, in accordance with the law.