Slow Pace of Forming Government in Iraq after Peaceful Elections Creating Dangerous Political, Security Vacuum, Special Representative Warns Security Council
Terrorism Will Not Thwart Progress towards Peace, Stability, Representative Assures, as Delegates Voice Alarm over Spike in Violent Attacks
A stagnant government formation process following Iraq’s largely peaceful elections last October is stalling urgently needed reforms and creating a dangerous political and security vacuum that could be exploited by Da’esh, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) — presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2022/103) on key political developments and the United Nations activities in the country since mid-November — stated that the parliamentary Speaker and his two Deputy Speakers were elected on 9 January, following the ratification of electoral results. However, the next step — the election of a President — is in abeyance because as of 7 February, the necessary parliamentary quorum was not met.
Once the President is elected, she explained, he or she will, within 15 days, charge the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc, the Prime Minister-designate, with the formation of a council of ministers, to be endorsed by Parliament. “Well clearly, the current situation suggests that we’re not there yet,” she said, stating that “precious time” is passing while the political impasse continues.
Pointing out that the ensuing vacuum is “risky business, with potentially far-reaching consequences undermining Iraq’s stability in the short and long run”, she emphasized the need for meaningful reform to work towards durable solutions to the country’s formidable financial, economic and environmental challenges and to meet the urgent aspirations of its people for employment opportunities, security, public service delivery and justice, adding: “However, Iraq is running out of time.”
Drawing attention to the dire conditions in camps and prisons in north-eastern Syria, where many Iraqis reside, she characterized them as “ticking time bombs”, with the potential to affect the region and far beyond. Keeping people in such restricted and poor conditions creates greater protection and security risks than taking them back in a controlled manner. While the repatriation of 450 families to Iraq is welcome, more must be done to anticipate and mitigate future risks involving fighters and their family members, she underscored.
The Special Representative also briefed the Council on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third country nationals, as well as missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives (document S/2022/100).
In the ensuing discussion, delegates commended the participation of women in the October elections and called for dialogue between parties to resolve the persisting political deadlock. Many speakers voiced alarm at the continuing security threat posed by terrorist groups such as Da’esh and called for international support to be lent to the country while respecting its sovereignty.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated against the representatives of the Iraqi Government, as well as against Iraqi civilians and infrastructure, particularly the attack perpetrated by Da’esh in January 2022 in Diyala province. He stressed the importance of respect for the sovereignty of all States, which is vital to spare the region from all forms of instability and violence.
In a similar vein, the representative of Mexico, concerned about the spike in violence involving terrorist groups, urged the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Regional Government to deepen cooperation and promote the implementation of existing agreements, and international partners to provide support in this area. Pointing out that Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations is being abused in the fight against terrorism, he noted that 1.2 million people remain displaced, while deficits affect housing conditions.
Norway’s delegate, underlining the importance of strengthening capacity on human rights compliance during counter-terrorism operations, commended UNAMI for its support to the Iraqi authorities in this regard, highlighting the decrease in violations against children between 2019 and 2021. However, she expressed concern about the sharp rise in the number of children detained on security-related charges, stating that they should be treated primarily as victims, and such detention alternatives as reintegration should be actively sought.
Taking the floor at the end of the meeting, the representative of Iraq informed the Council that the country’s Federal Supreme Court certified the election results held in 2021, and is now determining the eligibility of the candidates elected during the first session of the Chamber of Deputies on 9 February 2022, according to the terms of the Constitution. Turning to the post-election security situation, which was jolted by a number of terrorist attacks, he stated that the country will not let such acts impede progress towards peace and stability. However, he assailed those who use his country’s territory to settle scores in the guise of counter-terrorism operations, pointing to a recent decision by the Turkish Parliament that violated Iraq’s sovereignty.
He went on to outline steps taken by Iraq to repatriate its citizens detained in Al-Hol camp, including as many as 1,900 terrorists, who have been repatriated since May 2021. Expressing concern about recent attacks by Da’esh on Syrian prisons, which led to the escape of the group’s leaders, he urged the international community to step up efforts to address the threat more effectively. On relations between Baghdad and Erbil, he said that both Governments have organized meetings at the highest level to deal with pending issues including the federal budget and coordination between Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga forces in the fight against Da’esh.
Also speaking were the representatives of the United States, Albania, Gabon (also on behalf of Ghana and Kenya), Brazil, Ireland, France, United Kingdom, China, India and the Russian Federation.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:43 a.m.
JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2022/103) since her November briefing to the Council. Reporting on recent developments concerning political appointments and government formation, she said the parliamentary Speaker and his two Deputy Speakers were elected on 9 January, following the ratification of electoral results, adding that while this was initially contested, the Federal Supreme Court ruled on 25 January that the inaugural parliamentary session — during which the Speaker and his Deputy Speakers were elected — was held in accordance with the Constitution. The next step is the election of a President, within 30 days of the election of the Speaker, she said, pointing out, however, that on 7 February, the parliamentary quorum — for a session to elect a President — was not met.
Iraq’s Parliament decided to reopen the nomination period for another three days, an action on whose constitutionality the Federal Supreme Court has not yet ruled, although it did rule one candidate ineligible, she continued. Once the President is elected, he or she will, within 15 days, charge the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc, that is, the Prime Minister-designate, with the formation of a council of ministers, to be endorsed by Parliament. “Well clearly, the current situation suggests that we’re not there yet,” she said, pointing out that “precious time” is passing while the political impasse continues.
Underscoring the need for a programme of action to be agreed that immediately and meaningfully tackles Iraq’s long list of outstanding domestic business, she emphasized that it is imperative to meet the needs of the people — for gainful, productive employment opportunities; safety and security; adequate public service delivery; the full protection of their rights and freedoms; justice and accountability; and the meaningful participation of women and youth. Against the backdrop of a stagnant governmental formation process, she expressed concern about the lack of progress on much-needed reforms, and about the risk that Da’esh will profit from any political and security vacuum.
She went on to emphasize the need for a regular, structured and institutionalized Baghdad-Erbil dialogue, with specific timelines, warning that the persisting political vacuum is “risky business, with potentially far-reaching consequences undermining Iraq’s stability in the short and long run”. Therefore, all stakeholders must unite instead of competing and must resolve outstanding issues, not by way of a power grab, but in a spirit of partnership and cooperation. On the economic front, which is improving due to a reduced deficit and an increase in foreign currency reserves, she nonetheless stressed the need for meaningful reform towards durable, structural solutions to financial, economic and environmental challenges, and to stave off future instabilities, adding: “However, Iraq is running out of time.”
Turning to environmental challenges, particularly the country’s vulnerability to water scarcity, she said urgent steps must be taken to effectively manage its water resources. She went on to express concern about the dire conditions in camps and prisons in north-eastern Syria, which host many Iraqis, calling them “ticking time bombs” which present “unprecedented challenges, with implications for the region and far beyond”. Keeping people indefinitely in such restricted and poor conditions creates greater protection and security risks than taking them back in a controlled manner. Welcoming the repatriation of 450 families to Iraq, she said more must be done to anticipate and mitigate future risks involving fighters and their family members.
On the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, she noted that UNAMI facilitated the return from Kuwait back to Iraq of the last 6 human remains that were determined not to be part of the Kuwait or Saudi Arabia lists of missing persons, and called for the Government to build on the momentum and work towards the closure of the file.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) congratulated the Iraqi people for successfully holding free and fair elections in October that were largely peaceful. She expressed her hope that these elections will yield a Government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and respond to their urgent needs. Before and after polling, they rejected violence intended to coerce and intimidate politicians, election authorities, journalists, women and activists. “They rebuffed attempts by some to restore old power structures”, she said, and stayed strong in solidarity for democracy. The attack on the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in November was the most visible attempt to thwart the democratic process and nullify the election results. Despite these threats, the Independent High Electoral Commission, with UNAMI assistance, implemented a secure, technically sound voting and counting process monitored by international observers. After electoral and judicial authorities confirmed the vote tallies and adjudicated challenges, the Supreme Court ratified the election results, paving the way for Iraq to form a new Government. “Democracy has gained a stronger foothold in Iraq”, she said. Now it is time for Iraq’s leaders to come together to form an inclusive Government. The Iraqi people need this Government because they need security, as Da’esh remains bent on using violence to wreak havoc. The United States looks forward to working with the new Government once it has formed.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), welcoming election results, regretted to note that the constitutional process has been put on hold. The largest political parties must lead the way to move forward, with the best guarantee to form an all-inclusive Government being the full participation of women. Dialogue among relevant parties will foster the kind of progress needed to reach solutions that will benefit the Iraqi people. Meanwhile, violence continues to threaten these gains, she said, reiterating that dialogue is the best way to form a Government which can best address these and other challenges while effectively fighting the pandemic. Iraq has seen immense achievements, but respecting constitutional deadlines is critical, she said, calling on all parties to resolve outstanding issues through constructive negotiations.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, highlighted several political, security and human rights concerns. During the current post-election stalemate, a constitutional crisis persists. With UNAMI support, the October elections were held peacefully, however, the announcement of results was marred with tensions. The inability of political parties to reach an agreement does not serve the Iraqi people’s aspirations, he said, calling on the actors to create a Government capable of addressing challenges facing the country. The participation of women in politics demonstrates the inclusiveness of the elections. Turning to security concerns and rising terrorist attacks, he said ensuring the safety of the population is key, reiterating the need to address the root causes of such acts. Unexploded ordnance remains a key challenge, preventing the safe return of displaced persons, he said, calling on the international community to support Iraq in this regard. Ending impunity for human rights violations and other crimes is essential, he stressed, calling on Iraq to hold perpetrators accountable. Commending Iraq for recent achievements, he expressed support for UNAMI and its important work.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said UNAMI has been essential in aiding Iraq in its efforts towards stability and development over the past decades, recalling the 2003 attack in Baghdad that killed 22, among them the Special Representative for Iraq and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sérgio Vieira de Mello. The Council’s decision to reinforce UNAMI capabilities before the October elections was an opportune and fruitful one, he said, calling on Iraqi political actors to complete the Government formation process as soon as possible. Recalling recent achievements, he said Iraq endeavors to fulfil its true vocation as a source of regional stability and as a bridge between different cultures, political outlooks and religious perspectives, with the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership held in 2021 being a promising example of this. In this vein, UNAMI’s activities are essential for supporting positive trends in Iraq and for aiding the Government and people as they face current challenges.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said all Iraqi political actors must take the steps necessary to form a Government expeditiously, which should reflect the historic participation of women as candidates and voters. Turning to the fragile, volatile security situation, she underlined the importance of strengthening capacity on human rights compliance and adhering to the principle of proportionality during counter-terrorism operations, while carefully considering the role of marginalization, exclusion and injustice. Commending UNAMI for its support to the Iraqi authorities to strengthen compliance, she highlighted the decrease in violations against children between 2019 and 2021. Deeply concerned about the sharp rise in the number of children detained on security-related charges, she said they should be treated primarily as victims, and such detention alternatives as reintegration should be actively sought. It is evident that accountability, justice, rule of law and human rights are at the centre of addressing the long-term drivers of conflict and instability, making it essential to strengthen related mechanisms. Turning to relations between Baghdad and Erbil, she welcomed the willingness to cooperate on security and also urged the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to further develop their dialogue to resolve outstanding issues.
JIM KELLY (Ireland) welcomed such forward steps as the ratification of election results and the first Council of Representatives session as important moments for democracy in Iraq. Women won 95 seats in the October elections, exceeding the 25 per cent quota set aside for them; however, significant barriers to their participation remain unaddressed, she said, echoing calls for the swift adoption of the draft anti-domestic violence law and for the full implementation of the milestone Yazidi Female Survivors Law. Turning to the volatile security situation, he said recent ISIL attacks are a stark remined of the group’s malevolent intentions and capabilities. Calling on all actors to exercise restraint, he repeated the 2 February message from UNAMI calling for full respect for Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity at all times. Meanwhile, more concerted efforts are required in de-mining and mine risk education, as more than 100 children were killed or injured by explosive devices. Welcoming positive developments in terms of humanitarian concerns, he pointed to the two further rounds of returns from Al-Hol camp in Syria and Iraq’s accession to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), welcoming the increased number of women elected as deputies, said that this is an important step towards ensuring increased participation for Iraqi women in the political life of the country. He also stressed the necessity to end the current political vacuum, calling for the timely formation of a Government able to meet the country’s challenges and the expectations of its people. In 2019, the Iraqi people demonstrated their aspirations for democratic change, economic reform and social justice, and these calls must be heeded. He went on to emphasize the importance of cooperation between federal authorities and the autonomous region of Kurdistan on subjects of common interest, particularly security and oil resources. Recalling the unanimous Council adoption on 22 February of a resolution ending Iraq’s financial obligations, he welcomed the same as a success for Iraq, Kuwait and the United Nations and underscored that only compliance with international law can lay the foundations for lasting reconciliation and stability.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), welcoming election results and forward steps towards forming a Government, condemned the recent rise in attacks against political parties, echoing a call for all actors to forge a peaceful post-election environment. Commending the increased participation of women as both candidates and voters, he called for their meaningful representation in Iraq’s next Government and urged the swift adoption of the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law. Collective efforts to secure the lasting defeat of Da’esh remain essential, he said, noting that the Global Coalition continues to stand alongside the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. He welcomed progress made on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property. Calling on all Iraqi political actors to intensify efforts to support the peaceful formation of a Government, he also asked the international community to be ready to support that Government in tackling the pressing challenges it will face — in providing security, delivering services, reforming the economy and moving away from dependence on hydrocarbons.
DAI BING (China) welcomed the holding of peaceful parliamentary elections and called on all factions to take steps to strengthen dialogue under the constitutional and legal foundation to pave the way for long-term stability and peace. While commending UNAMI’s support for the electoral process, he expressed hope that such work can soon be finalized so that the Mission can turn to supporting the country’s developmental priorities. When conducting human rights work, the Mission must strictly follow its mandate and strengthen the verification of information. Turning to the security situation, he called on the international community to stand firm to eliminate terrorist forces and consolidate hard-won achievements in counter-terrorism. While welcoming repatriations from Al-Hol camp, he called for the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters to be stepped up. On foreign military interventions, he urged concerned parties to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) said that the people of Iraq, despite facing economic and security challenges, have expressed their will through the ballot box during the recently ratified parliamentary election. There have been politically motivated attacks on leaders, party offices and other institutions, he said, stressing that violence and intimidation should not be used to redress political grievances. Against this backdrop, the continued possession of arms and weapons in large quantities outside of State control poses a serious challenge to stability in Iraq. The signs of re-emergence of Da’esh in Iraq is a matter of grave concern. Despite the success of the Iraqi security forces in combating this group, it remains active in the country and the region, with its affiliates functioning independently in many places around the world. He welcomed the cooperation between the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait to achieve an amicable solution to the issue of missing persons and return of Kuwaiti properties. India has always responded to the urgent needs of Iraq. Recently, more than 30 Iraqi children with congenital heart disease, whose surgeries were delayed due to the COVID—19 pandemic, were operated on at an Indian hospital, in collaboration with Iraq’s Ministry of Health.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), raising several political, security and humanitarian concerns, said the incoming Administration will have to tackle the challenge of implementing structural reform and rebuilding people’s trust in institutions. To do so, political forces must work together to meet the Iraqi people’s aspirations, he said, commending the participation of women in the October elections. Concerned about spikes in violence involving terrorist groups, he urged the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Regional Government to deepen cooperation and promote the implementation of existing agreements and urged international partners to provide support in this area. Concerned about ways in which invoking Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations is being abused in the fight against terrorism, he noted that 1.2 million people remain displaced at a time when housing conditions languish in the face of deficits. At the same time, COVID—19 provides added challenges. Commending the return of families from the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, he urged other States to follow suit. Turning to environmental challenges, particularly food insecurity, he congratulated Iraq for joining the Paris Agreement.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) congratulated the Iraqi people on the holding of parliamentary elections in October without incident. He noted the efforts of the Independent High Electoral Commission, with the help of UNAMI, in the organization and conduct of these elections. The next crucial date is the formation of a new Iraqi Administration. He hailed the role played by Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi to strengthen Iraqi unity in the face of various challenges. Iraq continues to be subject to attempts at destabilization, mainly in the field of security. He stressed the importance of respect for the sovereignty of all States, which is vital to spare the region from all forms of instability and violence. He condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated against the representatives of the Iraqi Government, as well as against Iraqi civilians and infrastructure, particularly the attack perpetrated by Da’esh in January 2022 in the Diyala province. This attack claimed the lives of 11 members of the Iraqi military. Iraq’s efforts in the face of Da’esh have borne fruit and these must be supported in accordance with international law, he stressed.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity to welcome the fact that Iraq’s Government upheld its obligations to compensate claimants for damage caused by the events of 1990. He expressed hope that resources now freed as a result will help improve the socioeconomic situation in Iraq. Expressing concern over the ongoing terrorist threat in the country, he said that — despite certain counter-terrorism successes — the security situation remains fragile due to increased activity by terrorist clandestine armed gangs. The only way to effectively counter this threat is through broad coordination of counter-terrorism efforts, and he highlighted the important role played by the quadripartite information centre functioning in Baghdad with the participation of the militaries of the Russian Federation, Iraq, Iran and Syria. He went on to stress the need for all parties involved in combating terrorism in Iraq to respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi State and to coordinate any action with Baghdad.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) said the country’s Federal Supreme Court certified the election results held in 2021, confirming the decision of the Independent High Electoral Commission, and is now determining the eligibility of the candidates elected during the first session of the Chamber of Deputies on 9 February 2022, according to the terms of the Constitution. Turning to the post-election security situation, he welcomed the two press statements by the Council condemning terrorist attacks in Iraq in December 2021 and February 2022, stating that the country will never let terrorism stand in the way of progress towards peace and stability. Iraq refuses the use of its territory as a theatre to settle accounts, or for regional political battles in the guise of counter-terrorism operations, he said, calling on States to adhere to the tenets of the United Nations Charter, and urging the Council to seriously consider the matter.
Turning to repatriations, he stated that Iraq has respected its commitments by facilitating over the past three months the return of its citizens detained in Al-Hol camp to Nineveh Governorate, where they are provided rehabilitation assistance and psychosocial services. Since May 2021, as many as 1,900 terrorists have also been repatriated from Syrian camps. He expressed concern about the attacks by Da’esh on Syrian prisons, which led to the escape of the group’s leaders and affiliated persons, and urged the international community to step up efforts to address the threat more effectively, including through the repatriation of their citizens presently in Iraq and Syria.
Although the international counter-Da’esh coalition is no longer in operation, Iraq is continuing to cooperate to secure capacity-building assistance for its army for it to be able to protect its territory and democratic institutions, he said. The Turkish Parliament took a decision violating Iraq’s sovereignty, impeding efforts to build dialogue, he continued. In liberated areas, Iraq is working to set up programmes to restore stability and security and help voluntary returnees in need of assistance. Non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance have been granted approval to work in the country.
Turning to relations between Baghdad and Erbil, he said that the Federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government have organized meetings at the highest level to deal with pending issues including the federal budget and coordination between Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga forces in the fight against Da’esh. The Ministry of Finance recently adopted a measure to allocate 200 billion dinars to the regional government for the salaries of civil servants in Kurdistan. Recalling the “historic” meeting convened two days ago by the Council to mark the completion of Iraq’s compensation payments to Kuwait following the 1991 invasion, he said his country attaches the utmost importance to the file on missing Kuwaiti persons in line with Council resolution 2107 (2013) and outlined efforts undertaken towards this end.