Iraq’s People Still Awaiting Political Class Capable of Addressing Critical Domestic Challenges, Top Official Tells Security Council
Baghdad’s Permanent Representative Outlines Efforts to Break Political Deadlock While Condemning Shelling by Iran, Turkey
The people of Iraq continue to wait for a political class that will “roll up its sleeves” to tackle the long list of outstanding domestic priorities, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, while underscoring the need to expeditiously form a new Government.
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/2022/368) on key political developments and the Organization’s activities in the country since February.
“The neglect of the population’s most basic needs has gone on for far too long,” she emphasized, pointing out that whereas political leaders subscribe to the notion of dialogue, the necessary willingness to compromise is painfully absent.
There is need for a programme of action to provide adequate delivery of services to all citizens and help end pervasive corruption, factionalism and pillaging of State institutions, she continued, stressing the need to implement desperately needed reforms and diversify the economy. There is also need for predictable governance rather than constant crisis management, she added, underlining the importance of accountability as a key feature of the State, and the vital need to rein in non-State armed actors while asserting the authority of the State.
Injecting a civil society perspective was Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, who underlined the Iraqi people’s deepening mistrust in the ruling political class, as well as in public authorities and institutions. She pointed out that the turnout in the October 2021 elections did not exceed 35 per cent, according to the most generous estimates. “Reform and change have become an urgent need to achieve stability, security and peaceful coexistence amongst Iraqis, in accordance with a new social contract that guarantees equal citizenship and embraces diversity, social justice and peaceful transfer of power within the framework of a civil State,” she said.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates agreed on the need for the speedy formation of a new Government and also exchanged views on, among other subjects, Iraq’s counter-terrorism operations against Da’esh and other armed groups, as well as the impact of climate change. (Da’esh is the name used by the United Nations to designate Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in line with General Assembly resolution 75/291.)
Norway’s representative urged all of Iraq’s political actors to take the steps necessary to expeditiously form a new Government and expressed hope that the historic participation of women both as candidates and voters in the elections will be reflected in the new Government.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates said that among the most prominent challenges for a new Government will be the continued activities of Da’esh remnants and their attempts to regain influence, pointing out that the extremist group carried out nearly 69 attacks during the most recent reporting period.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that despite counter-terrorism gains, the security situation remains unstable. Citing the attacks by ISIL, he emphasized that effective counter-terrorism operations are only possible through the widest possible coordination. He went on to stress that all involved in Iraq’s fight against terrorism must respect that country’s sovereignty.
Gabon’s representative, also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, rejected military operations by external actors, stressing that Iraq must not become a venue for non-State actors to settle disputes. As for the climate crisis, he cautioned that water scarcity exacerbated by drought could cause food insecurity in Iraq. He urged the Secretary-General to involve all regional actors in a dialogue on water management, warning that its scarcity is a potential cause of conflict between neighbouring countries.
The representative of the United States described UNAMI as a critical partner of the Iraqi people, calling upon the Council to equip the Mission with a strong mandate, which is scheduled for renewal later this month.
Iraq’s representative underlined the efforts by his country’s political parties to break the deadlock and reach agreement on a new Government that meets the aspirations of its people and guarantees balanced representation. He went on to condemn Turkey’s ongoing aggression and violations in northern Iraq, urging the withdrawal of that country’s forces, while also condemning Iran’s shelling of Erbil.
He went on to highlight his country’s efforts to address the impact of climate change and water scarcity, asking UNAMI and the international community to help Iraq fight desertification and facilitate dialogue with its neighbours on fair distribution of water.
Also speaking today were representatives of China, United Kingdom, Mexico, Ireland, India, France, Brazil and Albania.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:50 p.m.
JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), recalled that she spoke about the dangers of climate change and its effects in her last briefing to the Security Council. Ever since, Iraq has been battered by intense dust and sandstorms that send people running for shelter, even result in sickness and death, she said, adding that the storms are only expected to become more frequent. Continued inaction, including by the Council, would come at enormous cost, she warned.
Noting that, as in the past, notorious aspects of Iraq’s political life are repeating themselves in a seemingly incessant loop of zero-sum politics, she said Iraqis continue to wait for a political class that will roll up its sleeves to make headway on the country’s long list of outstanding domestic priorities. National elections took place well over seven months ago, and multiple deadlines for the formation of a Government have been missed, she said, pointing out that whereas political leaders subscribe to the notion of dialogue, the necessary willingness to compromise is painfully absent.
A programme of action must provide adequate service delivery to all citizens and help end pervasive corruption, factionalism and pillaging of State institutions, she continued, emphasizing the need to implement desperately needed reforms and diversify the economy. There is need for predictable governance rather than constant crisis management, she said, also stressing that impunity must end and accountability must be a key feature of the State. It is vital to rein in non-State armed actors while asserting the State’s authority, she added, declaring: “The neglect of the population’s most basic needs has gone on for far too long.”
She went on to say that events of the past have gravely eroded mutual trust between the central Government and the Kurdistan regional government, and it is therefore essential to build confidence, including by pledging to refrain from politically motivated, unilateral actions in the future. Kurdistan has a choice, she pointed out, pointing out that, with elections scheduled for 1 October, it is of utmost importance to level the electoral playing field for all actors.
Another worrisome chapter was opened with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards claiming responsibility for up to 12 short-range ballistic missiles launched on 13 March, she reported. While the Guards described the targeted location in Erbil as “the strategic centre for conspiracy and evil acts of the Zionists”, no evidence for such claims was found, she noted, saying the targeted site is known as a private compound. As for Iran’s and Turkey’s activities in the north, she wondered whether their cross-border shelling and firing of missiles are becoming the new normal for Iraq.
Turning to Iraq’s own armed actors operating outside State control, she said the reckless firing of rockets, including at an oil refinery in Erbil two weeks ago, remains alarming and unjustifiable. Such attacks seek to undermine Iraq’s security and stability within an already extremely volatile, politically charged post-electoral environment, she added, emphasizing that Iraq does not need self-proclaimed armed arbiters.
The Sinjar agreement, signed in October 2020 by the federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government in Erbil, was seen as a glimmer of hope, as it was the first but important step in the right direction, she recalled. The agreement would lead to a new chapter for Sinjar, but for that to happen, stable governance and security structures would be prerequisites. She said that ever since the signing, she has called for its speedy implementation, but to date, there is no agreement on the selection of a new independent mayor, and funds for a new local security force remain blocked, possibly due to interference in unclear recruitment procedures.
Clashes have erupted again in recent weeks, which, sadly, made Sinjari families pack their belongings again and find their way back to Kurdistan to seek shelter in displacement, she noted. Underlining that the safety and security of Sinjari families should be always front and centre, she said they deserve peace under the authority of the State. Domestic and external spoilers have no place in Sinjar, she said, underscoring that Baghdad and Erbil must assume their responsibilities and urgently work together to improve the lives of people on the ground, while promoting the voluntary, dignified return of displaced persons to their homes.
HANAA EDWAR, Iraqi Al-Amal Association, said that indicators circulated by United Nations agencies and international research centres show a dramatic decline in Iraq’s economic, social, cultural, health and environmental issues. The political system, which is based on sectarian and ethnic quotas, lacks a constitutional or legal foundation and is led by political blocs without a national vision, she added, noting that trust is lacking amongst the parties, the ruling authorities and the institutions themselves. The State’s resources and budgets are plundered for their narrow and personal factional interests, she said, emphasizing that corruption has penetrated State institutions to such an extent that even anti-corruption and reform campaigns are corrupt.
Repeated foreign military and security-related interventions have violated Iraq’s sovereignty, she continued, noting that the spread of weapons among tribes and armed groups has replaced the rule of law in the country. With impunity featuring prominently in the justice system, citizens resort to tribal negotiations rather than courts of law to resolve disputes. Furthermore, the justice system is politicized, with harsh rulings based on malicious claims issued against human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful protestors sometimes leading to the death penalty, she stressed, pointing out that no investigation results have been published regarding organized assassinations and violent attacks attributed to “unknown armed groups”.
She went on to report that the fate of many detained and kidnapped activists and journalists remains unknown, not to mention the thousands of forcibly disappeared people, regarding whom the justice system has not taken any steps to ensure justice for their families. Meanwhile, criminals behind corruption, drugs and major crimes receive light sentences and are even pardoned. Democracy in Iraq has been reduced to the processes around five general elections, alongside which alternative non-democratic situations have developed, leading to the current political stagnation, she said. Its institutions lack the budgets to perform their tasks. Moreover, although five months have passed since the Federal Supreme Court ratified the election results, Parliament is also non-functional, while the Federal Supreme Court has only solidified the political standstill in its recent decisions, she said.
Underlining the people’s deepening mistrust in the ruling political class, public authorities and institutions, she said the turnout in the October 2021 elections did not exceed 35 per cent, according to the most generous estimates. “Reform and change have become an urgent need to achieve stability, security, and peaceful coexistence amongst Iraqis, in accordance with a new social contract that guarantees equal citizenship and embraces diversity, social justice and peaceful transfer of power within the framework of a civil State,” she said. Calling for international pressure on the Iraqi authorities and political actors, she urged the latter to work seriously towards ending the standstill and the divisions amongst them, put the interests of the Iraqi people over their own and adhere to international human rights conventions. She underscored that civil society organizations must be included.
MOHAMED ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said that among the new Government’s most prominent challenges is the continued activities of Da’esh remnants and their attempts to regain influence, pointing out that the extremist group carried out nearly 69 attacks during the most recent reporting period. Strongly condemning those terrorist acts and Iran’s March attacks on Erbil in Kurdistan recently, he reiterated his country’s categorical rejection of regional interference in Iraq’s internal affairs under any pretext. The country’s long-term stability requires increasing efforts towards economic development and rebuilding vital sectors, including health, education, and energy, he said, noting that his country has supported Iraq by helping displaced persons to return to Mosul, providing medical equipment to address COVID, and in the reconstruction of areas liberated from Da’esh. He went on to reiterate the United Arab Emirates support for further progress on the issue of missing Kuwaitis and third-country nationals, as well as Kuwait’s missing national archives and other property.
DAI BING (China), noting that the security situation remains dire, cautioned that the remnants of terrorist groups are still active. All military operations conducted in Iraq must be carried out with the Government’s consent, he emphasized. The country also carries the heavy burden to rebuild the economy, he said, urging the international community to continue to accompany it on its development path. Iraq also faces the impacts of climate change, he said, adding that China provides the country with clean energy technology and has also helped it fight COVID-19.
FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom) called for a new Government that can tackle the country’s considerable challenges, including insecurity, climate change and economic reform, reiterating his country’s condemnation of Iran’s 13 March 2022 ballistic missile attack on Erbil. Welcoming the Government’s efforts to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, including its recent creation of a committee to oversee the preparation of national strategies, he called for urgent economic reform cautioning that the economy faces significant structural risk. He went on to express concern about the continued displacement of approximately 1.2 million Iraqis and urged the new Government to work closely with the Humanitarian Coordinator to support the transition and prioritize the reintegration of the remaining internally displaced persons. He also encouraged the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to continue dialogue in seeking a solution on the issue of oil and gas.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) called for full implementation of the 2020 Sinjar agreement and for deepener coordination between Baghdad and Erbil in order to end the violence in that zone and to foster social and economic reactivation. She urged political forces to agree on the formation of an inclusive Government, expressing hope that women’s participation in the elections will be reflected in the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Calling upon Baghdad and Erbil to address the issue of legislation on the management of oil and gas, she emphasized the need to increase the Government’s investment in quality basic services, especially given scarce international financing and the risk of food insecurity. Expressing hope that other States will follow Iraq’s example in repatriating and relocating families from the Al-Hol camp in Syria, she said the assistance of United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations, in coordination with the Iraqi Government, is the key to finding long-term solutions for those families and for internally displaced people, especially in terms of expediting identity documents.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) urged the international community to support Iraq’s effort to stabilize, saying it is unacceptable to turn the country into an arena for regional confrontation and settling scores. He welcomed the resumption of dialogue in April between the federal Government and the Kurdish autonomous region to resolve outstanding issues, including those relating to the oil and gas sector. Despite counter-terrorism gains, the security situation remains unstable, he said, citing attacks by ISIL. Emphasizing that effective counter-terrorism operations are only possible through the widest possible coordination, he said all involved in Iraq’s fight against terrorism must respect that country’s sovereignty. Moscow and Baghdad have cooperated closely in the fight against ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, he noted.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland), while urging relevant actors to resolve their differences and swiftly form a Government, condemned Iran’s missile attacks on Erbil and expressed concern about a recent uptick in attacks attributed to ISIL. Turning to the security situation in Sinjar, he called upon Baghdad and Erbil to implement security arrangements, in close consultation with Yazidis and other local communities, citing reports of as many as 10,000 individuals fleeing violence there. He emphasized the importance of accountability for human rights violations in Iraq. As for climate-related issues, he warned that tensions over water resources and drought-driven migration are among the risks to cause instability, while stressing the need to consider the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), expressing concern that ISIL remains active in Iraq and can launch attacks at a steady rate, emphasized that the Council must focus on eliminating every threat posed by that and other terror groups in the country and elsewhere in the world. Military actions inside Iraq’s territory by its neighbours are a clear violation of the country’s sovereignty, he stressed, urging armed groups in Iraq to disarm and demonstrate commitment to democratic principles. He commended the Government’s efforts to maintain friendly and cordial ties with all its neighbours and to facilitate dialogue between the regional countries and welcomed the ongoing cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait in pursuit of an early amicable solution to the issue of missing Kuwaiti persons and third-country nationals, as well as the return of Kuwaiti property. Noting that India has always responded to Iraq’s needs, he said their technical and economic cooperation has grown from strength to strength over the years, he said. There are more than 1,700 Iraqi students pursuing higher education in Indian institutions and around 15,000 Iraqi citizens visit India every year for medical treatment, he pointed out.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said Iraqi political forces must make all necessary compromises to reach agreement on forming a Government and on the appointment of the Prime Minister and President. She also welcomed the fact that women are more represented in Parliament than ever before. Turning to security issues, she condemned Iran’s ballistic-missile attacks on 13 March as an unacceptable assault on Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As for the situation in Sinjar, she emphasized that the ceasefire between the Iraqi armed forces and some armed groups must be sustainable and, above all, allow for the return of the more than 4,000 families forced to leave the district. She went on to urge the Government and the Kurdish regional authorities to institutionalize their dialogue on politics, security and energy, among others. She went on to encourage Iraq and Kuwait to pursue their cooperation on missing Kuwaitis and third-country nationals. As for the sandstorms disrupting daily life, she described their frequency as a visible consequence of global warming and desertification and called for the unconditional support of Council members in Iraq’s fight against climate change.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, warned against disunity among political actors and emphasized the vital need for the prompt formation of a new Government. They must overcome their differences in a spirit of compromise and commit to inclusive political dialogue in order to reach a lasting agreement that would lead to socioeconomic reforms and counter the harmful effects of climate change, he added. He also urged regular institutionalized dialogue between the federal Government and the Kurdistan regional government. Rejecting military operations by external actors, he stressed that Iraq should not become a venue for non-State actors to settle disputes. As for the climate crisis, he cautioned that water scarcity exacerbated by drought could cause food insecurity.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) said all Iraqi political actors must take the steps necessary to expeditiously form a Government and expressed hope that the historic participation of women both as candidates and voters in the elections will be reflected in the new Government. Urging the federal Government and the Kurdistan regional government to pursue greater cooperation, she noted the fragile security situation and called on all parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalation. She went on to express alarm at the recent escalation of tensions, saying the clashes in Sinjar have resulted in the displacement of thousands of civilians and increased protection concerns, which make the difficult work of reintegrating internally displaced persons and returnees much harder. Emphasizing Norway’s support for UNAMI’s continued provision of technical assistance in support of the Government’s climate action priorities, she encouraged sustained efforts towards regional cooperation on water management. Turning to the limited progress in the investigations related to the 2019 protests and the delays in appointing a board of commissioners for the Iraqi High Council for Human Rights, she stressed that sufficient budgets must be allocated to full implementation of the Yazidi Survivors Law in order to ensure survivors are able to gain access to all relevant benefits.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), pointing out that the Iraqi people’s basic needs still very much depend on international assistance, nevertheless emphasized that humanitarian assistance should not become a long-term substitute for the delivery of public services by the Government. It is important that the Government take increasing ownership with respect to protecting its citizens, he said. Concerning the fight against terrorism and other threats, he said it should not be undertaken at the expense of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Regretfully, some recent events in the region are at odds with the principles of good-neighbourliness, the Charter of the United Nations and the Security Council, he added.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), expressing regret at the political deadlock, said an inclusive and united Government, with meaningful participation by women, will be in a strong position to respond to the legitimate aspirations of Iraq’s people. She went on to express concern about the security situation, including the latest attacks and the threat posed by Da’esh. Underlining the impact of climate change on Iraq, she described it as the world’s fifth most climate-vulnerable country. Albania looks forward to the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate, she said.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) emphasized that Iraq’s leaders must quickly form a Government that reflects the will of voters, while expressing concern that the stalled debate among politicians is focused on which party gets what rather than on forming a Government that respects human rights, aspires to improve governance and delivers services to the people. Emphasizing that the next Government must account for the impending wind-down of international humanitarian, stabilization and development assistance, he said it will also have to chart a course for development, root out corruption and abandon the politicization of democratic institutions and administrative processes.
He went on to stress that the new Government must hold accountable those who committed abuses against protesters during the Tishreen movement in October 2019, better protect freedom of expression and improve the treatment and prosecution of detainees and prisoners. Moreover, it must implement a plan to help the remaining displaced persons acquire essential legal documents, rehabilitate and reintegrate into their respective communities safely, voluntarily and with dignity, he said, adding that the new Government must also enact a budget for the Yazidi Survivors Law to assist in the recovery of Sinjar’s Yazidi community.
Turning to pressing economic and climate matters, he said Iraq must bolster the delivery of electricity, promote entrepreneurship and private sector development, and empower all Iraqis economically. In that regard, it must remove all legal and cultural barriers to women’s full participation in the workforce, he added. Noting the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on women and girls, he welcomed Iraq’s partnership with the United Nations system in mitigating and adapting to climate change. He went on to describe UNAMI as a critical partner to Iraq’s people and called upon the Council to equip it with a strong mandate, which is scheduled for renewal later this month.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) underlined efforts by his country’s political parties to break the deadlock and reach agreement on a new Government that meets the aspirations of Iraq’s people and guarantees balanced representation. On the security front, he reported that Iraq continues its cooperation with the international community, while asking external actors not to use his country to settle scores. Condemning ongoing violations by Turkey’s army in northern Iraq, he called for their withdrawal from Iraqi territory while also condemning Iran’s bombing in Erbil. He went on to underline his country’s efforts to re-establish stability in areas liberated from terrorists, as well as its reconstruction and development efforts, including digital transformation and women’s empowerment. Highlighting efforts to address the impact of climate change and water scarcity in his country, he asked UNAMI and the international community to help Iraq fight desertification and facilitate dialogue with its neighbours on fair distribution of water.
Ms. HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, responding to a question, recalled that she said during the February briefing that water scarcity in the region is not only a threat but a present danger. While much of water scarcity could be explained by climate change, she said, it is also caused by water flows being reduced by a neighbouring country, as well as significantly lagging infrastructure and maintenance of potable water and irrigation. Since desertification is a central concern, Iraq and the wider region need a national and regional programme of action to understand and tackle its root causes, and allow for monitoring, protection and early warning, she said, emphasizing that desertification is a fact of life that cannot be denied.
The representative of Brazil asked for specific conceptual and scientific evidence indicating that sandstorms are a consequence of climate change and not an isolated climate event.
The Special Representative reiterated that desertification is a consequence of climate change, but also of reduced water flows and insufficient infrastructure. She added that she will get back to the representative of Brazil with respect to the footnotes on scientific evidence and invited him to visit Baghdad for a thorough presentation with supporting evidence.