United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) - Security Council Open VTC

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16-Feb-2021 02:06:04
Iraq at ‘critical crossroads’, Special Representative tells Security Council, urging decisive action to stamp out lingering terrorist threats before polls.

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Permanent Representative Seeks Response on Request for Election Observers, Highlights State Measures amid Overlapping Grave Crises

Iraq has arrived at a critical crossroads, requiring decisive concerted action to eradicate lingering terrorist threats ahead of national elections, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country told the Security Council today during a videoconference briefing.

Emphasizing that the Government of Iraq cannot rest on its laurels regarding the presence of violent extremists, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert recalled last night’s deadly rocket attack on Erbil, northern Iraq, and the December 2020 suicide bombing that killed 32 people and injured more than 100 in Baghdad.

All stakeholders must do their part to boost Iraq’s resilience so as to thwart security threats against a worrisome backdrop complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the possible resurgence of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh), she emphasized.

Whereas 2021 presents many opportunities for profound positive change, she continued, much remains to be done since the impact of multiple, interlinked crises will be lasting, she cautioned, pointing out that Iraq continues to experience acute financial and economic difficulties, as reflected by the exceptional currency devaluation.

While oil revenues have increased by 40 per cent since November 2020, providing some “breathing room”, she continued, little has been done to implement much-needed reform at a time when Iraq can afford neither continued dependence on resource extraction, nor the excessive burden of an outsized public sector. Fighting economic and political corruption, promoting robust governance, transparency and accountability must all be the watchwords accompanying reform, she stressed. Moreover, agreement on the 2021 budget law requires reconciliation and compromise between federal Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, she said, underlining the absolutely essential need for a positive, stable relationship between Baghdad and Erbil for the stability of the entire country.

Noting that the Council of Ministers called for elections to be held on 10 October, four months later than originally planned, she said the authorities have already taken steps to register candidates and voters. However, Parliament has not yet finalized the outstanding Federal Supreme Court law, and further delays are unacceptable, she emphasized, calling upon all parties, stakeholders and authorities to come together, agree on a code of conduct and allow all candidates to operate freely, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, language, religion, belief or background.

Recalling Iraq’s request that the Council facilitate electoral observation, she stressed that, no matter what the response, the elections will be Iraqi-led and Iraqi-owned at all times. Credible elections require a collective, concerted, timely and transparent effort, with all parties, authorities and stakeholders assuming their respective responsibilities in the service of the people, she said, adding that she is encouraged by calls for unity by some senior political leaders.

She pointed out, however, that transparency, justice and accountability remain largely absent, particularly in relation to repression of public protests throughout the country, including Kurdistan. If that does not change, public anger will erupt yet again, sooner or later, she warned. At the same time, Iraq must also address violent extremism, she continued, underlining that strengthening safety and security is as much about addressing its root causes as it is about the immediate ability to respond to threats on the ground, like the recent targeted attacks.

More broadly, she said that, despite operating in a uniquely complex geopolitical context, Iraq’s leaders continue to maintain open relations in the service of a foreign policy that emphasizes national sovereignty. The country’s centrality to regional stability cannot be overstated, she added. Iraq must build its domestic resilience and be shielded from rivalries, she emphasized, warning that reckless attempts to inflame tensions, such as the rocket attack on Erbil, pose grave threats to its stability.

Turning to the humanitarian situation and the plight of internally displaced persons, she reported that camp closures have been ongoing for the past three months and the possibility of further closures is imminent. However, the haste and opacity surrounding such decisions are of great concern, she said, warning against decisions that can easily precipitate another crisis. Closing camps cannot be an objective in and of itself, she stressed. Instead, the focus must be on safe and dignified measures to solve displacement.

On a related note, she said that about 30,000 Iraqis reside in the Al-Hol camp in Syria, including a number of non-ISIL-affiliated humanitarian cases. Describing Al-Hol as a ticking time‑bomb, she warned that, if it goes off, the impact will be immense. Iraq has a responsibility to take back its citizens, she said. Cautioning that spoilers, domestic and external, continue to confuse the scene, she underscored the importance of establishing stable security structures without further delay.

On the question of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, she reported that the Tripartite Commission confirmed the formal closure of case files for 20 Kuwaiti missing persons. Describing that as significant progress 16 years after the last identification, she called upon all partners to seize the momentum of recent progress and further advance the search for missing persons.

Returning to the issue of elections, she said credible polls require the collective effort and commitment of all Iraqis. For elections to be trusted, unfounded theories must be disproved, baseless accusations refuted and intimidation replaced with accountability. Moreover, transparency must rule and loyalties cannot be for sale, she added, expressing hope that Iraqis can continue to count on the Council’s steadfast support and solidarity.

Council members roundly commended the Government’s efforts while condemning recent violence. Many expressed support for continuing efforts to ensure inclusive and fair elections, while others expressed concern about humanitarian conditions and targeted attacks against activists and journalists. Delegates also called for resolving the long-standing issue between Iraq and Kuwait. Several agreed that Iraq should become an exporter of peace and a leader able to reduce tensions in the region.

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