UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) - Security Council Open VTC

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24-Nov-2020 01:55:55
Stakeholders must ‘step up to plate’, prevent Iraq from becoming arena for foreign-Power rivalries, top official tells Security Council.

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Permanent Representative Stresses Need to Ensure Independence, Sovereignty, Non-interference in Internal Affairs

Iraq must immediately address the ongoing financial and economic crisis to build domestic resilience and prevent the country from becoming an arena for foreign‑Power rivalries, the top United Nations official in that country told the Security Council during a 24 November videoconference meeting, urging the Government, Parliament, political parties and others to step up to the plate collectively in such efforts.

“Domestic resilience is the best defence against any form of external interference,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), explaining that several distinct, yet interlinked and mutually reinforcing, crises — on the political, security, economic, financial, social and sanitary fronts — continue to force the hand of the Government, pressing it into a reactive, crisis-management mode.

Introducing two recent reports of the Secretary-General (documents S/2020/1089 and S/2020/1099) she said the economy is projected to contract by nearly 10 per cent this year. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked further havoc on already extremely weak private sector activity and oil prices continue their extended slump, exerting downward pressure on gross domestic product (GDP) and domestic revenue. In mid-October, a long-awaited economic white paper was released, providing a very useful overview of the structural imbalances which characterize the Iraqi economy, and describes a variety of much-needed reform measures. It also acknowledges numerous opportunities which have been squandered since 2003, she added.

She stressed that the fight against corruption, sustainable inclusive economic development and dignified employment are not just economic necessities, but also the best devices in any “peace and security tool-kit”, as they provide lasting solutions to unrest and conflict, building domestic resilience to replace constant crisis management.

On the security situation, the drastically reduced levels of violence were encouraging, she said. Nonetheless, Iraq’s reality remains harsh — with enforced disappearances and assassinations still continuing, she noted, underlining the pressing need for justice and accountability. While a fact-finding committee has now been activated, it has not yet resulted in a swift end to perceived impunity.

On the June 2021 elections, she reported that Parliament has recently finalized necessary electoral legislation and UNAMI is ramping up its technical assistance. Iraq’s electoral institutional capacity can and must be strengthened. Late last week, the Government sent a letter to the Security Council with a request to obtain more support, technical assistance and electoral observation within the framework of UNAMI support to Iraq.

Under all circumstances, she stressed, the elections will be Iraqi-owned and Iraqi-led. The responsibility for credible elections lies with the Iraqi authorities, electoral stakeholders, political actors and all Iraqi citizens, who are called upon to play a greater role in the public sphere. Women and the youth can seize this opportunity to make their voices heard, as voters or as candidates, she said, emphasizing that electoral preparations must remain free from political interference at all stages.

She went on to say that Iraq’s leadership continues to assert its independence and sovereignty, seeking to maintain all channels of communication open as it builds a foreign policy that serves Iraq’s national interest. The centrality of Iraq in building regional stability is a fact. Iraq must be shielded from foreign-Power rivalries and Iraqis must be given room to focus on their strength at home.

Turning to the relationship between the federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil, she observed: “It takes two to tango,” urging both parties to keep their side of the bargain. She also expressed regret that constructive negotiations between them are hampered by unclear constitutional guidance. This ambiguity — unfortunately — takes a daily toll on the numerous outstanding issues. In the past 15 years, many opportunities to arrive at a clear set of principles, rules and guidelines have been wasted. Agreement must now urgently be found on how to enhance the federal system.

On the issue of internal displacement, she said that camp closures should not lead to another crisis — for instance in the form of secondary displacement, which is already occurring.

Regarding missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, she said that under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — and with assistance from UNAMI — the Government of Iraq, on 16 September, handed over to Kuwait the remains of 20 persons exhumed from a mass grave site in southern Iraq last January. Two days ago, the Kuwaiti authorities publicly confirmed the identification of the human remains of seven persons as Kuwaiti missing nationals, thereby hopefully bringing some closure to their families.

“If the pandemic has taught us anything,” she told the 15-nation organ, “it is that local problems hardly ever remain local and that domestic trouble rapidly translates into trouble abroad.”

In the ensuing discussion, delegates agreed on the pressing need for Iraq’s economic and financial reforms, stressing the importance of holding a free, fair and inclusive elections in June 2021. Several Council members warned against some foreign Powers using Iraq as a place to advance their regional interests, while others condemned attacks against diplomatic missions and personnel.

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