As I complete my tenure as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, to borrow a phrase, I remain a paranoid optimist. An optimist because despite the year-long security crisis, Iraq’s political, community and religious leaders have coalesced to save their country from terror. Today, more than ever, there is a growing understanding that Iraq can only move forward based on the principles of democracy, rule of law, respect for diversity and inclusivity. This understanding has been increasingly evident since the formation of a new national unity Government set on addressing many long-standing concerns of the Iraqi people. I am however also paranoid that things can go wrong — ISIL remains in control of most of Iraq’s western provinces, the fragile efforts towards unity and reconciliation need to be carefully nurtured if they are to bear fruit while the economy has been hit by falling oil prices and skyrocketing security costs.
Since its formation in September of last year, the Government has taken important steps in fulfilling its agenda. It has engaged countries in the region, all with a view to regaining the confidence of Iraq’s population in the political process and promoting stability. Whilst pursuing these objectives, Iraq’s most pressing goal remains to win back territory taken by ISIL. In this respect, the Government has taken important measures for security sector reform. The authorities have pledged to provide military and financial assistance to local leaders and tribal fighters to aid their struggle against ISIL. Since the beginning of the year, at least 4,000 Iraqis from Anbar and Ninewa have signed up as part of the popular forces, an important first step in securing local forces for the liberation of Iraq’s western provinces.
I encourage the Government to empower and quickly provide all necessary means to these local fighters as they seek to free their homes from ISIL while also supporting recovery and reconstruction. I also encourage the Council of Representatives to adopt the necessary legislation to establish the Iraqi National Guard so as to allow the provinces to take greater responsibility for their own security. In January the Government submitted to Parliament a bill to this effect.
An exclusively military solution to the problem of ISIL is impossible; indeed, it would be counterproductive. I therefore welcome the consistent calls for unity by the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. Any effort to achieve unity through reconciliation must be based on the Constitution and the full participation of political, religious and community leaders from across Iraq. A particular focus must be put on increasing the role and participation of women. As such, UNAMI has strongly supported the Government’s national reconciliation and social cohesion agenda.
Recently, we convened in Baghdad a roundtable on social cohesion with prominent Iraqi political, religious and civil society representatives. They discussed a number of recommendations which were presented to the Government. Subsequently, the UN convened roundtables in Karbala and Basra, bringing together civil society, community, tribal and religious leaders and scholars, during which participants reiterated the importance of strengthening social and religious cohesion, as well as rectifying divisions within Iraqi society. The United Nations Development Programme is also expanding its community reconciliation programme at the grass-root level.
In addition to these developments, the relation between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government has been improving following their historic agreement on energy exports and revenue-sharing. Improved cooperation is also evident between the Iraqi security forces, the Peshmerga, volunteers, local communities and the forces of the anti-ISIL international coalition. This cooperation has been key in dealing with the most recent security threats, including to the city of Kirkuk, the al-Assad air base and elsewhere in the country.
Despite these positive steps, the process is fraught with risks. Armed conflict and acts of terrorism continue to inflict a terrible toll on the people of Iraq. In 2014, at least 12,000 civilians were killed and over 23,000 were injured. Just in January this year alone, there were over 2,200 civilian casualties, including 790 killed and some 1,500 injured. Almost daily terrorist attacks continue to deliberately target all Iraqis, most notably from the Shi’ite community, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. The continued reports of massive human rights violations and abuses being committed by ISIL against civilians are gruesome. ISIL has made a point of not hesitating to openly publicise their crimes committed against men, women and children. The safety and security of members of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities in areas controlled by ISIL remain of grave concern, particularly the thousands of women and children who remain in captivity.
Equally worrying is the increasing number of reports of revenge attacks committed particularly against members of the Sunni community in areas liberated from ISIL.
All of these ongoing human rights violations present a serious threat to the cohesion of Iraq.
Some of Iraq’s recent military gains in Diyala, Salah al-Din and Ninewa governorates have been marred by claims that militias have killed unarmed civilians, and intentionally destroyed property and places of worship.
It is imperative that the Government act swiftly and decisively to bring under control all armed groups that are outside of the Constitution. Failing to do this risks to undermine the much needed process of national unity and reconciliation. Political parties, however, should also show restraint in their statements in the face of such acts that are clearly aimed at destroying Iraq’s social fabric.
It is in this respect that I welcome the Government’s decision to conduct a full investigation into the alleged massacre in Barwanah, Diyala. To paraphrase Prime Minister al-Abadi — a crime is a crime, no matter who has committed it and all responsible should be held accountable. It is also encouraging that today, as we speak, Iraq’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament are holding a joint meeting to identify measures to address these events in the recent days.
The Government faces the additional challenge of a fiscally-constrained environment. In a hallmark of success in January the Council of Representatives approved the 2015 budget. Despite very tight spending limits, due to the fall in oil revenue, spiralling security costs and a massively expanded public sector wage bill, Parliament was able to set aside some 500 million USD to help rebuild lives and livelihoods in those areas that are liberated from ISIL. The United Nations is working actively with the authorities to set up a Recovery and Reconstruction fund through which Iraq’s allies, neighbours and friends can contribute to this process as well.
Most urgently perhaps, Mr. President, the Iraqi authorities and the United Nations need to redouble our efforts at supporting over 2 million internally displaced who have been forced from their homes since January 2014. Let me recall to the Council the gravity of the situation on the ground by highlighting some numbers— 5.2 million people need humanitarian assistance in Iraq today, of them, 2.25 million are displaced and 235,000 are refugees from the country of Syria. To date the population of the Kurdistan Region has increased by some 30 percent because of the influx. Despite the generosity of local communities from across the country, one-third of IDPs in accessible areas are living in unfinished and abandoned buildings, make-shift shelters and spontaneous settlements. They are highly vulnerable and dependent on assistance to survive.
Mr. President; Honourable Members of the Security Council,
Let me sound the alarm bells: Sixty percent of humanitarian operations in Iraq are likely to shut down or be curtailed unless funding is received in the next few weeks. The food pipeline will break in mid-May unless funding is received before the end of March. The essential medicines pipeline will break at the end of March.
The UN humanitarian country team, led by the newly appointed Humanitarian Coordinator Ms. Lise Grande, has put together a list of fast track priorities which cannot be postponed or ignored. We urgently need some 150 million USD to support IDPs, whose life-saving and protection needs are enormous, and likely to grow.
I use this opportunity to appeal to the international community at a time when Iraq is highly vulnerable and when support for the humanitarian operation will make a decisive difference in the direction of the country ahead.
As I conclude my mission in Iraq I would like to use this opportunity to send also a message to the Government of Iraq. I would like to encourage the Government to move swiftly on the full implementation of the Ministerial Programme and the Political Agreement. Those documents hold the key to seeing Iraq successfully move forward. Discussions on approving the necessary legislation for a national guard should be swiftly finalised. This is important in order to empower provinces to take more responsibility for their own security; it will also help ensure that all weapons are firmly under the control of the state. Most importantly, the Government should act decisively to rebuild the armed forces on a truly national basis.
Part of this political agreement that has been the basis of the formation of the government of national unity is to grant an amnesty and to revise the Justice and Accountability Law in order to allow Iraqis who have not committed crimes under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein to move forward with their lives and find their place in their country.
While tackling the security and political challenges, the social and economic agenda must also remain in focus. Addressing pockets of deep poverty, particularly in the South of the country, providing quality social services, providing a business climate for investment, fighting pervasive corruption, and perhaps most urgently— facilitating the return of displaced persons to their homes and rebuilding areas liberated from ISIL, all such policies are all key to social peace in Iraq.
I use this opportunity to assure the people and the Government of Iraq that the United Nations will continue to provide international assistance and expertise in this process.
Let me turn now to the fifth report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013) on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country-nationals, and property.
Iraq-Kuwait relations today continue to be on the ascendant. High-level Iraqi visits and the results of the fourth Joint Ministerial Committee meeting are very encouraging. Kuwait’s consulates in Basra and Erbil, when opened, will take Iraq-Kuwait relations to the next level.
I wish that I could report similar progress to the Council on the missing Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti national archives since the last report.
The Kuwaiti Government and the people of Kuwait are understandably disappointed that nothing tangible has been achieved for many years now. UNAMI shares this disappointment. We have placed much emphasis on witnesses and continue to emphasise that the most modern scientific advances and technology should be utilised. A UNAMI identified witness travelled recently to Kuwait. During the visit, for which UNAMI and the Iraqi Government had worked hard, regrettably did not yield anything substantial. Time remains our most formidable foe. Our team is working to reach another witness, who has been overseas and who Kuwait believes holds the key to identifying a gravesite which possibly contains as many as 180 mortal remains.
Let me assure the Council and the families of the Kuwaiti missing persons that the UN will continue to do its utmost to fulfil its mandate. Nonetheless, the key to achieving tangible progress is primarily in the hands of the parties themselves. The goodwill between Kuwait and Iraq is at its highest since 1990. I believe that this is a very opportune moment for their respective leaderships to come together on this important humanitarian issue, review efforts so far and decide on a new course of action. Resources, technology and a fresh approach may all be required. UNAMI stands as always ready to support this process.
As I conclude my tenure as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq, let me say on a more personal level how humbled I have been by the people of Iraq. For decades they have lived with dictatorship, with conflict and with terrorism, yet they persist in their determination to build a democratic state. Generations have been scarred and brought up in fear— fear of oppression, fear for their future, fear for their lives. Iraqi society has been deeply scarred and will take a long time to heal. But the medicine is to look forward to unity and reconciliation, not to turn to the failed policies of the past.
ISIL, Mr. President, flourishes when Iraq is weak and Iraq is weak when it is divided by sectarian politics, when political patronage overtakes national loyalty.
My unyielding optimism for the country however stems from the spirit of the ordinary Iraqi people— those who stood up to defend their country in the summer of last year, those who went out to vote despite car bombs and terrorist attacks, those Iraqis who do not care whether someone is Shi’ite, Sunni, Christian, Yezidi, Kurd, Arab, or any other community member. It is the overwhelming majority of ordinary Iraqis who have no foreign country to flee to, no foreign passport to rely on. These are the women and men who will build the new Iraq. And what we, in the international community, can and must do is to help them succeed.
We must support them in building democracy, without which the majority of Iraqis will not feel secure, nor will their human rights be protected.
We must work with them to achieve balance among their diverse communities inside the country, because without balance, violence and extremism will persist.
We must assist them in ensuring justice— not reprisal, for the crimes of the past and the violations of today.
And finally— we must grant the people of Iraq the respect and dignity that they deserve.
This is the noble mission of the United Nations in Iraq.
Honourable members of the Security Council,
Allow me to thank your governments and the Secretary-General for the unity that you have shown in supporting Iraq, for the unyielding support for UNAMI, and for the trust you have placed in me to lead this difficult mission.
I want to express my gratitude to my colleagues in the Mission, in the Secretariat and in the UN country team for their commitment, bravery and hard work throughout the years.
I would like to thank the Government and the people of Iraq for the hospitality that they have extended to me, for their friendship and for their daily courage to never give up in the face of terror.
It has been an honour serving as the Secretary-General’s Representative for Iraq.
Briefing of SRSG to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov to the 7383rd meeting of the UN Security Council