Pressing Iraq’s Leaders, ‘All of Them’, to Pull Country Back from Ledge, Mission Head Tells Security Council Absence of Functioning Government Hard to Justify
Speaker for Baghdad Outlines Steps towards Forming New, Inclusive Government, as Delegates Urge End to Political Deadlock, Condemn Violence in Kurdistan Region
One year after elections were held, and three years after Iraqis took to the streets to protest a lack of political, economic and social prospects, the continuing absence of a functioning government is hard to justify, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, while stressing the need for Iraq’s leaders — “all of them” — to engage in dialogue and “pull the country back from the ledge”.
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/2022/714) on key political developments and the Organization’s activities in the country since May.
Describing an atmosphere of pervasive disillusionment, punctuated by protests and counter-protests that flared out into armed clashes in the capital and elsewhere on 29 August, bringing the country to the “brink of total chaos”, she said that such events had not proven to have been the wake-up call they should have been. “The harsh reality is that, to date, intra-Shia strife has not abated, nor have Kurdish parties come closer to agreeing on a presidential candidate,” she said.
Noting that a National Dialogue had been convened twice under the auspices of Iraq’s Prime Minister, she said it was crucial that all parties take their seat, while pointing out that none of them were so far represented by women. While UNAMI had supported such efforts, as well as dialogues and countless bilateral meetings, political will was sorely needed, as “we do not have a magic wand”, she said, emphasizing: “One thing is clear: the persistent and overt lack of trust perpetuates a zero-sum game, a game in which commitment to concrete solutions is being avoided.”
In the ensuing discussion, delegates agreed on the pressing need to resolve the political deadlock and form a new and more inclusive Government that ensures the representation of women. Many condemned the continuing violence in Kurdistan, which they said must cease, while several underlined the need to address the country’s acute vulnerability to climate change impacts.
The delegate of France called on parties to shoulder their responsibilities and form a Government, amid the continuing political impasse one year after elections were held. While welcoming the Prime Minister’s initiatives to launch a National Dialogue, she called for such talks to be inclusive and enable the participation of women, who have been excluded despite being elected to Parliament in November.
The United States’ speaker condemned the missile and drone attacks in the Iraqi Kurdistan region on 28 September — a major escalation of Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty. Likewise, Albania’s representative called on Iran to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to refrain from intimidation, threats and further escalation of violence.
Gabon’s representative, also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, commended the continued UNAMI support of post-election activities in Iraq, and called on the Independent High Electoral Commission and the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission of the Kurdistan region to strengthen their cooperation and pool their technical expertise. In addition, he condemned military operations by external actors in the north of the country, stressing that Iraq must not be used as an international arena for States and non-State actors to settle scores to the detriment of the country and its people.
In a similar vein, the Russian Federation’s delegate observed that external players were trying to take advantage of Iraq’s internal difficulties, stressing: “It is unacceptable for Iraq to morph into an area for personal score-settling and regional confrontation.” He urged the international community to support Baghdad’s efforts to stabilize the situation in the country, and called for all stakeholders engaged in counter-terrorism in the country to support its sovereignty and coordinate their actions with its officials.
For his part, the representative of China commended Iraq for its fight against ISIL/Da’esh and the sacrifices made as part of that fight, while calling on the international community to support its efforts to eradicate the remnants of terror. The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) should hand over evidence collected to Iraq, so that it might bring terrorists to justice in accordance with national law.
Meanwhile, the representative of Norway pointed out that 2022 is the last year of the humanitarian response plan, and commended the Iraqi authorities for taking over the responsibility of fulfilling humanitarian needs. Her country will continue its humanitarian assistance and cooperation with Iraqi authorities, she affirmed. She went on to commend the joint efforts of UNAMI and the Iraqi authorities on various issues, including climate action, improving regional cooperation on water management and investing in a renewable future.
Iraq’s representative outlined steps taken by his country’s political parties to break the deadlock that has persisted since elections took place last year, and to forge ahead towards forming a new, inclusive Government that meets the aspirations of its people and guarantees balanced representation. He condemned Turkey’s ongoing violations in northern Iraq, killing civilians, including women and children, and destroying infrastructure.
Spotlighting the severe impacts of climate change, which are being exacerbated by the actions of co-riparian countries, he called for enhanced cooperation and dialogue to tackle the outcomes, which include a decrease in arable land and an increase in drought.
Also speaking were representatives of India, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:40 a.m.
JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), briefing the Council on the latest developments in the country, underlined that over the past 12 months, she had repeatedly emphasized the importance of maintaining calm, dialogue, constitutional compliance, respect for democratic principles, the unimpeded working of state institutions and a functioning Government, to effectively address the legitimate demands for better public services, jobs, security, an end to corruption, and justice and accountability. “But regretfully, discord and power play prevailed over a sense of common duty,” she said, adding: “And as a direct result of protracted political inaction, Iraq experienced some very critical and dangerous hours.”
Amid a backdrop of protests and counter-protests over the past months, tensions had been rising, she said, pointing out that these protests featured worked up supporters of political parties, many of whom carry weapons. “And one did not need a crystal ball to see where this could lead,” she stressed. The dire situation culminated on August 29, when the country stood on the brink of total chaos. Political tensions led to armed clashes in the heart of the capital and elsewhere, resulting in dozens of people killed and hundreds wounded. While such events ought to have been a wake-up call, “the harsh reality is that, to date, intra-Shia strife has not abated, nor have Kurdish parties come closer to agreeing on a presidential candidate”, she said.
Support was lent to the National Dialogue under the auspices of Iraq’s Prime Minister, she continued, adding that while the forum had been convened twice, it was crucial that all parties take their seat. Further, none of the parties were represented by women. It was also incumbent on all to act responsibly in times of heightened tensions, including through refraining from making provocative statements. Despite her Office’s intense engagements during the past months and weeks — from participating in dialogue and holding countless bilateral meetings, to drafting road maps and conducting shuttle diplomacy in various forms — political will was needed, as “we do not have a magic wand”, she said, adding: “One thing is clear: the persistent and overt lack of trust perpetuates a zero-sum game, a game in which commitment to concrete solutions is being avoided.”
All this unfolds amid a highly volatile situation in the country in recent months, she said, noting that after more than two months of paralysis, Parliament resumed its sessions on 28 September, amid tight security measures. This did not prevent further incidents, including clashes between protesters and security forces, during which 11 civilians and more than 120 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were injured. Meanwhile, the previous night, after three days of rocket attacks, Basra witnessed intense fighting, while smaller incidents were reported in other southern governorates.
Three years ago, the Tishreen demonstrations took place, with Iraqis taking to the streets to protest a lack of political, economic and social prospects, she said, pointing out that this mobilization of an unprecedented scale turned into a tragedy, with several hundreds of Iraqis dying and many more being severely injured, abducted, threatened or intimidated. The protests led to early elections being organized a year ago, she said, stressing: “In other words: last year’s elections were extremely hard-earned. And with this in mind, the absence of a functioning Government 12 months later is hard to justify.”
Against a backdrop where public disillusion runs “sky-high”, with many Iraqis having lost faith in the ability of Iraq’s political class to act in the interest of the country and its people, she underlined that “it is high time for Iraq’s leaders — all of them — to engage in dialogue, collectively define core Iraqi needs and pull the country back from the ledge”, as well as kick off progress towards transformational change. Attempts to push through incremental reform, including in the fight against corruption, have so far failed, due to being actively undermined or obstructed. She stressed the need to tackle corruption, as well as the country’s reliance on patronage and clientelism, which has resulted in a ballooning, inefficient public sector that functions more as an instrument of political favour than as a servant of the people, leading to the diverting of critical investment in national development. “Keeping the system ‘as is’ will backfire, sooner rather than later,” she said, emphasizing that the issue ought to be framed as such: as being caused by a system rather than a collection of individuals or a series of events.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) condemned the missile and drone attacks in the Iraqi Kurdistan region on 28 September, noting it as a major escalation of Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty, which must stop. Voicing concern about the prospects of renewed violence, he said the only legitimate way to achieve reform and form a Government responsive to the needs of the Iraqi people is through constructive and inclusive dialogue. The extended period of political manoeuvring has delayed the Government’s critical work to the detriment of the country and its people, increasing tensions that have devolved into violence. He called on Iraq’s elected leaders to shoulder their responsibilities, make compromises, avoid violence and form an inclusive Government capable of delivering transparent, effective governance. Complicated challenges face the next Government, he noted, including passing a budget, developing oil and gas legislation that is acceptable to both the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, and combating climate change, among others. Recalling the Tishreen protests and the brutal repression of protesters by Iran-affiliated militias, he called on the Iraqi Government to hold accountable those individuals and groups responsible for the abuse of protesters. Regarding the repatriation of Iraqis from Al-Hol camp, he encouraged the Iraqi Government, UNAMI and other humanitarian actors to provide Iraqi families and orphans with essential legal documents, and to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into their communities safely and in accordance with their wishes.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) urged all political parties to rise above their differences and assume greater responsibility to overcome the current stalemate. “A peaceful dialogue on a constructive way forward is the need of the hour,” he stressed, welcoming the convening of a National Dialogue among Iraq’s political leaders and parties. Constructive engagement by all parties in the dialogue is a critical first step to avoid further political deadlock and violence, he said, adding that the ongoing political instability also affects the fragile and volatile security situation in the country. Voicing concern about the continued terrorist attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, he stressed that terrorist forces must not be permitted to exploit the current political vacuum in the country. The continued possession of arms and weapons in large quantities outside of State control poses serious challenges to the country’s stability. In addition, repeated violations of Iraq’s sovereignty under the pretext of counter-terrorism must end. He condemned such acts and called on Iraq’s neighbours to work with Iraqi authorities to address the security challenges they face.
FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom) expressed his condolences about the tragic incidents that occurred on 29 and 30 August in Baghdad, stating that such violence cannot be allowed to destabilize the political process. A peaceful, inclusive solution is needed to resolve the crisis, to ensure the country’s long-term security, to effectively deal with climate change impacts, to ensure economic progress and to make progress on the reconstruction of areas liberated from Da’esh control. He condemned attacks by Iran on Kurdish towns in September, stressing that such attacks are a violation of the sovereignty of Iraq and are wholly unacceptable. The United Kingdom, through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is supporting Iraq in tackling water shortages resulting from the impact of climate change, he said, calling on regional neighbours to lend their support in this regard.
CAÍT MORAN (Ireland) expressed regret that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated considerably since the Council’s last meeting in May, noting that government-formation remains painfully elusive a year after well-managed and peaceful elections took place across the country. “This comes at a great cost for the Iraqi people, for whom critical reforms are long overdue,” she said. She went on to unequivocally condemn the violent clashes at the end of August in Baghdad, which led to at least 46 deaths, and called for renewed dialogue to overcome the current deadlock. She welcomed efforts by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to this end, including through the convening of a National Dialogue in August, and encouraged all political actors to engage in good faith to reach agreement on a fully empowered Government. She expressed deep concern over the shelling last week in the Kurdistan region, claimed by Iran, which reportedly resulted in civilian casualties, adding that such attacks must cease immediately.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) condemned the deadly attack in Iraq, calling on Iran to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to refrain from intimidation, threats and further escalation of violence. Voicing concern about the threat posed by Da’esh, she stressed the importance of delivering justice and ensuring accountability. Although Iraq has fostered friendly relations and sought cooperation with its neighbours in addressing regional and global issues, the deadlock in forming a Government is a growing threat to stability, she said. Voicing concern that the stalled debate among Iraqi politicians will undermine the Iraqis’ trust in the political process, she urged all parties involved to rise above their differences, put the interests of their country first and commit to inclusive dialogue that prioritizes the interests of all Iraqi people.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), noting that protesters have returned to the streets in Iraq, called on Iraqi authorities, political leaders and parties, as well as the Iraqi population in general, to exercise restraint and not to fuel violence, hatred or civil unrest. Voicing concern about the attacks in the Iraqi Kurdistan region last week, he called for the protection of civilians under all circumstances. Given that the mandate of UNAMI, as a Chapter VI mission, hinges upon the consent of the Iraqi Government, the Council must turn to Iraqi officials for further input, he said. The most important aspect of the UNAMI mandate is to support the Government in advancing political dialogue and national reconciliation, he said, emphasizing that success in its implementation should be measured by concrete results. Rather than calling for expedited solutions, the Council should encourage inclusive and meaningful dialogue between all Iraqi political parties, he said.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) observed that the challenges of building democratic institutions and ensuring the rule of law prevails originate from the invasion 20 years ago of a sovereign country in violation of the United Nations Charter. He condemned the attacks on Dohuk and Erbil — which are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and integrity, and imperil the stability of the region — and expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation over the past three months, which were marred by attacks on Iraqi forces, bombings of government buildings and diplomatic vehicles, and clashes. The political impasse amid this alarming security situation is concerning, he said. On the third anniversary of protests that spurred regime change and early elections, he expressed regret that political factions have been unable to translate this popular will into a functional Government inclusive of all members of society, pointing out that despite the high numbers of women elected to Parliament, they have been excluded from the process to form a Government.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), voicing concern about the increase in violence in the country in recent months, called upon relevant stakeholders to overcome the current obstacles hindering the formation of a new Iraqi Government and to ensure that the interests of the Iraqi people prevail over all other considerations. He rejected foreign interference in Iraq’s internal affairs, which undermines the country’s sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and political independence. Noting that Da’esh remains a persistent threat in Iraq, he commended the progress made by the Iraqi forces in combating terrorism and stressed the need to address its root causes. The deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in camps, such as al-Hol in Syria, provide fertile ground for radicalization and for terrorist groups to exploit the situation to recruit the next generation of terrorists, he added. He welcomed Iraq’s repatriation, with United Nations assistance, of more than 2,500 citizens from al-Hol camp, and emphasized the need to urgently work towards reaching a sustainable solution to the situation in the camp. He commended efforts by Kuwait and Iraq in relation to the missing Kuwaitis and third-country nationals, as well as missing Kuwaiti property, noting that his delegation is encouraged by the incremental progress made during the past four months and hopes that such advances will continue.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) expressed hope that the parties that were elected to Parliament would soon agree on the candidacy of the President and the composition of the new Government, with the support of all major ethno-religious groups in the country. Voicing concern over the military escalation in the northern parts of the country, he said that the inviolability of civilians must remain a priority. Noting reports of Da’esh fighters’ terrorist attacks, including with the use of suicide bombers, he stressed the need for the broadest possible coordination of counter-terrorism efforts. All stakeholders engaged in counter-terrorism in Iraq must respect the country’s sovereignty and coordinate their actions with the country’s officials. Noting the attempts of external players to benefit from Iraq’s internal difficulties, he urged the international community to support Baghdad’s efforts to stabilize the situation in the country. “It is unacceptable for Iraq to morph into an area for personal score-settling and regional confrontation,” he stressed.
DAI BING (China) said Iraq is in a critical phase, in which it must foster unity, settle differences, and conduct dialogue and consultations with a view to the next step: forming a stable political foundation for peace, development and prosperity. All members of the international community must support Iraq in its independent choice of a path to development. Due to its strategic location and ethnic divisions, Iraq must be a regional force for unification, rather than a site for geopolitical competition. Turning to terrorism, he commended Iraq for its fight against ISIL/Da’esh and the sacrifices made as part of that fight, while calling on the international community to lend firm support to its efforts to eradicate the remnants of terror, and for the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) to hand over evidence collected to Iraq so that it might bring terrorists to justice in accordance with national law. Further, UNAMI should follow its mandate in human rights work and improve its screening and verification of information.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) said: “It is time for Iraqi political leaders to unite. It is time to find compromises.” Iraq must have a Government that can work in the best interests of the Iraqi people, she added, noting that the meaningful participation of women, youth and civil society must be ensured. Voicing concern about the increase in political tensions and violence, she called on all parties to exercise calm and restraint, and avoid violence. Noting that 2022 is the last year of the humanitarian response plan, she commended the Iraqi authorities for taking over the responsibility of fulfilling humanitarian needs. Her country will continue its humanitarian assistance and cooperation with Iraqi authorities, she affirmed. She commended the joint efforts of UNAMI and the Iraqi authorities on various issues, including climate action, improving regional cooperation on water management and investing in a renewable future. The children of Iraq are the most vulnerable in the conflict, she underscored, stressing that the reintegration of children allegedly formerly associated with armed groups designated as terrorists must be a priority.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) condemned the air strikes in the Kurdistan region, reaffirming her commitment to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and adding that the actors concerned must stop their interference. Turning to the continuing political impasse one year after elections were held, she called on parties to shoulder their responsibilities and form a Government. She welcomed the Prime Minister’s initiatives to launch a National Dialogue, and called for such talks to be inclusive and enable the participation of women, who have been excluded despite being elected to Parliament in November. The formation of a Government is crucial to avoid a new deterioration of the situation, and Iraq and Erbil must resume their dialogue to enhance cooperation on oil resources, among other matters. Commending Iraq’s progress on the file of missing Kuwaiti persons and third-country nationals, as well as the return of Kuwaiti property, she pointed out that the use of satellite imagery and witness statements are crucial to this dialogue.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity and also on behalf of Ghana and Kenya, said the persistent lack of unity among political actors and the lack of inclusion, particularly of women, are obstacles to the implementation of essential reforms in the country. As evidenced by recent protests, further delays in forming a Government will only have a destabilizing impact on Iraq, he added, stressing the urgent need for a new Iraqi Government that can address the country’s multiple challenges. He called on the political actors to take concerted steps to defuse tensions and engage in a genuine and inclusive political dialogue based on peaceful, democratic and constitutional principles. A decision on the selection and election of a President would be a positive first step in that regard. He commended the continued UNAMI support of post-election activities in Iraq and called on the Independent High Electoral Commission and the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission of the Kurdistan region to strengthen their cooperation and pool their technical expertise.
He encouraged Iraq’s regional and international partners to support the Iraqi Government’s efforts to foster dialogue and cooperation within the region, while respecting the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and good neighbourly relations. Noting the escalation of violence by Da’esh and unidentified armed groups, he called for urgent de-escalation and discouraged actions that would impede the formation of a Government. He condemned military operations by external actors in the north of the country, stressing that Iraq must not be used as an international arena for States and non-State actors to settle scores to the detriment of the country and its people. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he noted that the impact of the Iraqi Government’s human rights efforts, including compensation for victims, is relatively limited, due to the persistence of impunity for perpetrators of violations. He welcomed United Nations assistance to internally displaced persons, returnees and refugees, despite the drastic decline in humanitarian funding.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) said that serious dialogue is underway to reach an agreement to resolve the deadlock that has persisted since parliamentary elections took place in 2021. This resulted in the first parliamentary session being held last week after a gap of two months, as well as positive steps such as the renewal of confidence in the Speaker, as well as the appointment of the first Vice Speaker. Continued progress will eventually lead to electing a President and forming a new Government, to answer the Iraqi people’s basic needs and guarantee the stability of the region. He went on to express his condolences to the families of the martyrs of the Tishreen demonstrations, which took place in 2019, and said that Iraqi forces exercised the highest level of restraint in the peaceful protection of demonstrators.
On the security front, he welcomed the field visit in July by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, in line with Council resolution 1373 (2001), and underlined Iraq’s commitment to the international alliance to defeat ISIL/Da’esh. He echoed the concern raised in the Secretary-General’s report about the tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters who remained in detention camps in Syria, and called on the United Nations to enhance its field presence through the Office of Counter-Terrorism. He expressed concern about ongoing Turkish and Iranian violations of Iraqi territory under “vain pretexts” in the Kurdistan region, which included the targeting last week by Iran of several cities, leading to the killing and wounding of many civilians, including women and children, as well as damage to infrastructure. He said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has submitted a strong letter condemning the crime.
He went on to outline steps taken on the education front to enhance schooling rates in higher education, as well as initiatives to improve women’s empowerment and gender equality. Turning to climate change, he said Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country to related challenges, and called for enhanced cooperation and dialogue to tackle such issues with co-riparian countries, some of whose actions have led to an increase in drought, a decrease in arable land, and to internal displacement in national protected areas. On the issue of missing Kuwaitis and third-country nationals, he enumerated steps taken in this regard, including meetings of a technical subcommittee held on 30 May in Riyadh and 31 July in Baghdad, in an effort to locate four burial sites, including in Karbala and Al-Khamisiya, through the analysis of satellite images and witness accounts. On Kuwait’s missing national archives and other property, he stated that on 4 July, several items, including historical items and 738 chests of material, were sent to Kuwait’s Ministry of Information.