8676th Security Council Meeting: Situation in Iraq

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03-Dec-2019 02:25:12
After decades of strife, renewed patriotism takes hold in Iraq, top official tells Security Council amid calls to heed legitimate demands voiced by protesters at 8676th meeting.

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Years of urgent, unfinished business in Iraq — and a resulting “crisis of confidence” among its people — have culminated in civil unrest and the deaths of more than 400 people since October, said the senior United Nations official in the country today, as she briefed the Security Council on the latest developments.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), addressed the 15‑member Council via teleconference from Baghdad, noting that after decades of sectarian strife, a renewed sense of patriotism has taken hold. However, peaceful protests driven largely by economic frustration turned deadly in October, when authorities resorted to excessive force. Since the beginning of that month, she said, more than 400 people have been killed and more than 19,000 seriously injured. While deadly force has dropped since then, the improper use of non‑lethal devices continues in a manner that causes horrific injuries or death — as do unlawful arrests, abductions, threats and intimidation.

Reiterating the importance of guaranteeing fundamental rights to life, peaceful assembly and free expression, she voiced concern over attempts to hijack the protests by politically motivated groups — which could provide a cynical excuse for political inaction or violent crackdowns. “Any and all forms of violence are intolerable and must not distract from the rightful demands for reform,” she said, noting that Government reforms addressing housing, unemployment, financial support and education have been seen as unrealistic or too little, too late. “The situation cannot be resolved by buying time with band‑aid solutions and coercive measures,” she warned, urging Iraq to embrace the potential of its young people. “Out of any crisis, new and great opportunities can emerge,” she said.

Robert Mardini, Permanent Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), described recent work by the Tripartite Commission tasked with searching for persons missing since the 1990s Gulf War. Chaired by ICRC, the Commission has helped repatriate more than 75,000 citizens, civilian returnees and prisoners of war. Noting that the remains of Kuwaiti nationals were recently recovered in mass graves in Iraq for the first time in 14 years, he underlined the severe toll suffered by the families, communities and entire societies of missing persons. “The wounds of the missing are long‑lasting and deep,” he stressed, pledging to push forward with the Commission’s work and help bring families the answers they seek.

Also addressing the Council was Bashar Warda, Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Characterizing the protests as a rejection by the majority of Iraqis of the post‑2003 structure and Government, he said they are also a rebuke to a sectarian‑based Constitution which has divided Iraq and prevented it from becoming a unified, functioning country. Christians, Yazidis and other minorities have been openly welcomed into the protest movement. That window of reconciliation demonstrates real hope for positive change in which a new Government — if there is one — will genuinely embrace a multireligious Iraq, he said, while warning that, should the protests fail, another civil war is likely to follow.

As Council members took the floor, many condemned the brutal attacks against Iraqi protesters while hailing their determination to voice legitimate democratic aspirations. Some called on the Government to speed up its reforms in response to those demands, welcoming a proposed meeting of Iraq’s leaders to develop a formal road map in that regard.

Kuwait’s representative was among those warning that people seeking to sow instability and insecurity must not be allowed to attack innocent protesters in Iraq. Recent years have shown Iraq’s commitment to overcoming tensions and insecurity, he said, welcoming the Government’s establishment of a committee to investigate the use of force against protesters and hold perpetrators accountable. On the sensitive issue of missing Kuwaiti nationals and property, he called on the Council to help end the suffering of families by supporting the Tripartite Commission, and for renewed efforts to restore priceless Kuwaiti archives to their home.

The representative of France decried the disproportionate crackdown on protests in recent weeks, describing the deaths of hundreds of people as unacceptable. Also calling for an end to attacks and threats against aid workers, journalists and civil society members, she said that absent a credible, prompt response from the Government, the situation risks plunging both Iraq and the wider region into chaos. “[Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh)] cannot but benefit from destabilization in Iraq,” she warned, also citing threats to development and to the country’s social fabric.

Echoing some of those points, Belgium’s delegate emphasized that reconciliation is badly needed and that no tensions which ISIL/Da’esh can exploit should be allowed to linger. Iraq faces unique challenges as it begins the long path forward. “This is a process that takes time,” he said. Aspirations being voiced by the people — as well as their free expression and right to peaceful protest — must be respected, and urgent measures must be enacted to fight corruption, create jobs and foster both economic recovery and access to basic services, he said.

Several speakers, including China’s representative, stressed the importance of fully respecting Iraq’s sovereignty even as the international community provides the country with support. Noting that Iraq has both the ability and wisdom to defuse the tensions, he underlined the need for reconstruction support and respect for Iraqi leadership in conducting its own affairs, while rejecting any external interference. “Iraq is still at a critical stage in consolidating its work against terrorism” as well as in reforming its Government, he said, calling for particular support for its efforts to address the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters.

Iraq’s delegate, meanwhile, said the recent violence was carried out by illegal armed groups — not by national defence forces, which adhere to strict rules prohibiting the use of live ammunition against civilians. Outlining efforts to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable, he welcomed that “the Iraqi people have eloquently expressed their opinion” about crucial issues through brilliant demonstrations. In response to their demands, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi recently submitted his resignation, and a package of reforms has been adopted including counter‑corruption laws, a new social protection system and efforts to diversify the national economy beyond oil. “This is only the beginning of our democratic journey, which will mature in time,” he said.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Peru, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, Germany and Equatorial Guinea.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:28 p.m.

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