Briefing to the Security Council by SRSG for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert 8606th meeting of the UN Security Council (As Delivered)
Distinguished members of the Security Council,
I would like to begin by recalling the historic importance of the Council’s visit to Iraq on June 29. On that day in 2014, ISIL declared their so-called caliphate. A grim memory, but during your visit we instead celebrated Iraqi freedom and sovereignty, and we saluted the enormous sacrifices made in the fight against ISIL. You delivered important, well-received assurances of your continued support to Iraq and its people. And that was highly appreciated – by many! It was.
Now, Madam President, it may be unusual to immediately switch to funding concerns, but with your well-received assurances in mind, I feel the need to – once again – share our concerns regarding the continued underfunding of both the Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) as well as the Humanitarian Response Plan, with gaps of over 300 and 500 million dollars respectively.
So, if you will allow me, I would like to use this opportunity to express my sincere hope for the ongoing and generous support of the international community: you know, progress has been made, but the road ahead is long and complex. And right now, due to the continued underfunding I just mentioned, Iraq’s post-conflict humanitarian programming is being hindered. For example: vital health-care services are being suspended, IDP schools shuttered and food distribution cycles interrupted. Moreover, around 1.6 million IDPs are still desperately awaiting better times, are still waiting to return to their homes in safety and dignity.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, as without a doubt, lots of good work has been done. Thanks to the many, many donor contributions, houses, roads, bridges and power lines have been rebuilt – to name but a few examples. And yes, meanwhile, 4.3 million people have returned home, but the pace has slowed, and outstanding needs are most acute in the health, electricity and water sectors.
Now, understandably, donors have been asking the Government of Iraq to demonstrate shared ownership by taking part in the financing of this work and rightly so. And I am pleased to report that – moments ago – the Government signed a cost-sharing agreement to begin making its own contributions to the Funding Facility.
Let me also briefly refer to the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, which took place almost a year and a half ago. The Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme (the RRP) is being implemented throughout the country, and resource mobilization efforts have yielded almost half of the required funding so far. We will continue to encourage development partners to fund the RRP, particularly through the UN Trust Fund.
Madam President, back to politics
Iraq’s leadership is hard at work building on progress made to date. As discussed during the Council’s visit to Iraq, painting a grim picture is never a goal in itself – more importantly: it’s not justified. Also, we cannot simply judge the current situation without putting it in the context of Iraq’s past. Decades of trouble continue to impact the present, and we have not seen the end of it yet. It is equally important, however, not to sugar-coat the current circumstances: we can all agree on Iraq’s great potential, but perseverance is key to make the most of this potential.
Now, one cannot expect the Iraqi government to create overnight miracles in dealing with the legacy of the past and the many challenges of the present. The harsh reality is that the government needs time to fight the many narrow partisan interests that are out there, it needs time to deliver.
Just as essentially, political parties and other actors need to arrive at a common understanding that the country’s interests should be prioritized above all else. Ultimately, it must be clear that a government cannot go it alone – it is a joint responsibility.
Madam President – as you know, the federal cabinet is now fully formed – aside from the Ministry of Education. And significant progress has been made on senior appointments to parliamentary committees. The Kurdish Regional Government is also up and running – with the critical Natural Resources portfolio still to be filled. I note that 3 Kurdish Regional ministers are women, as is the speaker of the Kurdish Regional parliament. At the federal level, unfortunately, not a single woman has been appointed yet.
Now, the good news is that the progress in both government formation processes in Baghdad and Erbil. This has created a positive momentum to advance negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil, also demonstrated by the establishment of a High-Level Joint Committee.
And I cannot deny: the expectations are high, in particular on key files – including Kirkuk, Sinjar and revenue sharing. On the latter, it is important that all parties acknowledge that – instead of counterproductive annual budget-battles – a comprehensive, lasting agreement is far more productive. And, it goes without saying that I am always ready to offer UNAMI’s good offices in order to advance discussions towards consensus followed by action.
Regarding Kirkuk, I am very encouraged by the goodwill – demonstrated over the past months by all parties involved – to finally address the normalisation of the situation in Kirkuk.
As for Sinjar, I again travelled to the region earlier this month. And I continued, unfortunately, to witness great devastation and slow progress on the ground. Rival security actors and the lack of a unified administration remain the main obstacles for progress. And this situation also greatly restricts humanitarian action. I therefore continue to appeal to all those feeling challenged, the federal and Kurdish authorities in particular. Indeed, it is high time to put aside partisan interests to bridge differences and to place – without further delay – the needs of the people first.
Madam President, turning to the economy
The government is increasingly recognizing the urgency of reform, notably in broadening the revenue base beyond hydrocarbons, and increasing the role of the private sector in areas ranging from infrastructure development to job creation.
Discussions at the senior-most levels focus on enhancing governance, better managing oil revenue, protecting the investment environment from corruption and reforming the banking sector to pave the way for more foreign direct investment and public-private partnerships. That is good as all this is becoming more urgent, especially as a higher budget deficit looms with rising expenditures and oil price volatility. Within this context, we encourage the Iraqi government to accelerate its structural reform, fostering macro-economic and financial stability as well as promoting sustainable, inclusive growth.
Now, in terms of regional politics, Madam President, we continue to operate in a perilous context, yet, the Iraqi leadership must again be commended for its unwavering commitment to multilateral diplomacy. With great dedication, Iraqi leaders are tirelessly engaging regional and international actors to ensure that their country is a meeting ground for stability and not a venue for proxy conflicts. And how right they are. With this in mind, we should be lucid and recognize that current tensions could well deal a huge blow to all national and international endeavours to rebuild a stable and prosperous Iraq. So, we must spare no effort in avoiding this prospect.
I am also very encouraged by the government’s determination to bring all armed actors under state control. Recent orders have been met with broad support across the political spectrum – good news – but we are in the early days of implementation, and the next phase will prove crucial. Clearly, zero tolerance for any armed actor outside state control is the way forward.
And yes, it’s very true that further work on Security Sector Reform will be necessary: an effective, efficient and financially sustainable security sector is critical to protect Iraq against existing and emerging threats. With the Ministers of Interior, Defence and Justice in place, I sincerely hope that the government will now speed up the reconfiguration of its national security architecture – in terms of structure, capabilities and resources.
Also important is the rapid enactment of the Joint Security Mechanism. It will pave the way for joint operations along disputed boundaries. Inadequate coordination will continue to give ISIL a margin of manoeuvre. In other words: enhanced operational performance on the ground between federal and Kurdish regional forces is not a nice to have but a necessity.
Within the context of domestic security, I would like to commend the bravery of Iraqi security forces. In the aftermath of ISIL’s territorial defeat, they continue to hunt down remaining ISIL fighters – for example within the framework of Operation Will of Victory, carried out throughout the country in the past weeks.
The issue of returning ISIL fighters, including their family members, from Syria to Iraq continues to pose major challenges. Unfortunately, as of this time, we still have no clarity on numbers, start date, screening/security arrangements and/or hosting facilities upon return. As I have stressed before, if not suitably addressed, this issue has the potential to impact not only Iraq but also the wider region – and far beyond.
Now, also important to note, is the fact that issues of due process and accountability cannot be limited to the courtroom only. And a structured dialogue is required to precisely define how the government of Iraq will handle this process, which will in turn inform the modalities of UN assistance.
I would also like to emphasize the paramount importance of robust safeguards for detention, due process and fair trials. Complying with human rights obligations does not only demonstrate commitment to justice and accountability, it is also in my view a necessary building block for reconciliation and social cohesion. What is more, it would reduce the risk of history repeating itself. We are well aware that a variety of grievances – including unfair trials and detainee abuse – have been exploited by ISIL to fuel its violent agenda. And whether we like it or not: at this moment in time, too many communities continue to feel marginalized. As a consequence, many people remain vulnerable to extremist messaging.
For me, this is one of the most important reasons…to establish a permanent presence in Mosul, and I am pleased to report that our Mosul office will open its doors in early September.
Unfortunately, as discussed before, rampant corruption is not being wiped out at once. And as I said last time: achieving tangible results is crucial. A recent call to lift the immunity of Members of Parliament accused of corruption, could be a move in the right direction. But again, the final result is what ultimately matters.
On the elections, the Iraqi Council of Representatives recently amended the Governorate Elections Law. And I have to say that certain provisions are of great concern, possibly leading to the disenfranchisement of many – otherwise – eligible voters. Also, the transparency and accountability of electoral institutions and processes are not sufficiently guaranteed at present.
Now, while these elections – expected in April 2020 – are critical and overdue, I have made it clear that free, fair and credible elections are key to the revival of public trust. In other words: UNAMI will continue to highlight the importance of guaranteeing the right of universal suffrage and the need for transparency and accountability of electoral institutions and processes. All key to inclusiveness and credibility of these elections.
Now, Madam President,
With your permission, I would now like to turn to the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.
I am pleased to report a (significant) breakthrough. Some samples of human remains, exhumed last March from a burial site in Iraq’s Muthanna governorate, have now been confirmed as belonging to some of those Kuwaitis we have been seeking. DNA analysis is continuing on further human remains. I can also confirm that, earlier today, over 40.000 Kuwaiti books belonging to the Amiri and National Archives were handed over by the Government of Iraq to the Kuwait authorities.
Now, as always, I would like to commend, within this context, the ongoing constructive cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the invaluable assistance of the Tripartite Commission.
I truly hope that the recent discoveries will finally bring some relief to the families of the missing, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.
Now, Madam President, in closing, a few more words,
I would like to underline that Iraq’s daunting challenges did not arise overnight, nor are they solely the product of Iraqi actions. As such, they will not be resolved tomorrow. In other words: Iraqis must press ahead in unity and with an engaged international community at their side.
Thank you very much.
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