UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) - Security Council VTC Briefing

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11-May-2021 02:01:25
Highlighting troubling regularity of targeted attacks in Iraq, top United Nations official briefs Security Council on pre-election landscape.

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Five months away from national elections in Iraq — a milestone event in the country’s young democracy — violent attacks against both civilian and military targets continue with “troubling” regularity, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, as delegates called for continued vigilance against terrorist activities and the enactment of economic reforms.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said the elections, slated for 10 October, were a central demand of the protest movement. Yet, many of its members are being persecuted with “rampant impunity”. The assassination of prominent activist Ihab Jawad al-Wazni just two days ago by unidentified gunmen in front of his house in Karbala, is yet another tragic example.

“They may think they have silenced a voice,” she said. “The truth is: they have only amplified it. And our heart goes out to his loved ones and all of those who have lost friends and family in the fight to have their voices heard.” She also expressed condolences to those who lost friends and family members in the fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad in April.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s two latest reports — on UNAMI (document S/2021/426) and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, as well as missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives (document S/2021/395) — she said that, after intense political negotiations, the Council of Representatives approved the federal budget law for 2021. While any budget is a work of compromise, efforts to control public spending and invest in the private sector were thwarted as the law underwent parliamentary revision.

She likewise raised concerns that Iraq remains heavily reliant on the oil sector, which accounts for 80 per cent of Government revenues under 2021 projections. Beyond COVID-19, the economic outlook will depend on both structural reform and the oil markets, she said, noting that minimal progress can be reported on the implementation of Iraq’s White Paper for Economic Reforms. “One cannot overstate the need for transparency, good governance and integrity in achieving these results,” she said. “The return on investment must benefit the Iraqi people and not illicitly flow into private pockets.”

Turning to the Baghdad-Erbil relationship, she underscored the dire need for a constitutional way forward. While parties express their willingness to come to the table, progress will remain stalled in the absence of institutionalized, regular, structured dialogue. Ambiguous wording in a revenue‑sharing deal opens the door to divergent interpretations and mutual accusations of non-compliance. “This bodes ill for the future of Baghdad-Erbil relations,” she said, calling for sustained, strategic dialogue, and clear-cut implementation mechanisms.

On the elections front, she welcomed the adoption of all necessary laws, including the federal Supreme Court law, noting ongoing UNAMI technical support to the High Electoral Commission. She called on all Iraqi stakeholders to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, stressing that “the world is watching”. Candidates, campaigners, the media and voters must be free to exercise their democratic rights before, during and after the election. The failure to hold credible elections would cause “significant, lasting, widespread anger and disillusionment”.

She said accountability for human rights violations remains “very, very limited”, with few prosecutions for the killing and serious injury of protestors. No information has been made public on the violent attacks against demonstrators that critics attributed to so-called “unidentified armed actors”. This climate of impunity only emboldens perpetrators and erodes trust in the State, she said. The curtailment of free expression in Kurdistan is also worrisome.

Regarding Kirkuk, she said that, while UNAMI has facilitated dialogue for two years, agreement has not been reached and she urged all stakeholders to conclude a fair accord without delay. As for Sinjar, federal and Kurdistan regional authorities are engaged in discussions on security provisions in the October 2020 agreement that remain unimplemented. She pointed to the passage of the Yazidi survivors’ law as a brighter development, as it provides reparations and legal recognition of atrocities committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) against women and girls as genocide and crimes against humanity.

On the security situation, she cited progress in combating the remnants of ISIL/Da’esh. However, terrorism persists, with rockets and improvised explosive devices now a constant presence in Iraqi life. Despite Government efforts to bring all arms under State control, non-State actors are using new capabilities. Emphasizing that Iraq is deeply committed to playing a constructive regional role, she said it has great potential to operate as an honest broker in promoting peace and stability. To succeed, these efforts must go hand in hand with actions to bring all arms under State control.

As for the humanitarian outlook, she said that 16 camps for internally displaced persons have been closed or reclassified over the last seven months, affecting around 50,000 Iraqis. When camps are closed before return conditions are appropriate, families are rejected by home communities, denied protection by local authorities, stranded by security escorts en route and even physically attacked. “The focus must be on solving displacement rather than closing camps,” she asserted.

Finally, she said the remains of eight Kuwaiti missing persons and one third-country national were identified since her last briefing to the Council. Additionally, the remains of an Iraqi soldier were handed over by Kuwait to Iraq, in the first transfer of its kind since 2013. Indeed, persistence by the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Tripartite Commission has collectively achieved progress. “It is my sincere hope that this cooperation will yield further positive advancements in the months to come,” she said.

In the ensuing debate, delegates expressed support for Iraq in delivering free, fair and inclusive elections, carrying out crucial economic reforms and combating terrorism. Many commended Government efforts to ensure respect for law and order and welcomed the passage of the 2021 budget. Some emphasized that Iraq should not become an arena for regional confrontation and called for the resolution of outstanding issues with Kuwait.

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