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Tuesday, 21 May 2019 23:52

Briefing to the UN Security Council by SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (As Prepared and Delivered)

New York, 21 May 2019

Mr. President,
Distinguished members of the Security Council,


I would like to begin by recounting my recent visit to a mass grave in the Samawah desert, alongside President Barham Salih. This burial site is a stark reminder of Saddam Hussein’s horrific crimes against many people, his own people in this case the Kurdish people. It was a deeply moving experience, underlining once again that Iraq’s violent and lawless past still impacts its present. Yet - it also made clear how extraordinary Iraq’s transition is in this twenty-first century: from dictatorship to democracy. And yes, to truly take root democracy needs time, lots of time and lots of hard work.

Mr. President,
We must recognize that the ongoing political infighting is a costly obstacle. A full year after national elections, ministerial appointments have yet to be made to the key posts: Interior, Defence, Justice and Education. Political parties have not yet shown themselves willing to compromise. It should be understood, however, that political compromise is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of political maturity – and a requisite for resilience.
Slowly but surely, chairs, deputies and rapporteurs are now being selected for parliamentary committees, a critical hurdle to clear for parliamentary work to get going. We are not there yet. Though, it is high time indeed as critical laws are still pending.
Turning to the KRG-formation negotiations, I am pleased to report recent important progress. After 218 days of negotiations, an agreement on the formation of a new Kurdistan Regional Government was signed on May 5. Barring further problems, the new government could be in place in June.

Mr. President,
It is no secret that the Iraqi authorities, institutions, mechanisms and systems continue to struggle with deep rooted problems, often hampering swift and robust responses from the government to pressing needs, such as reconstruction, development and security. These problems can be schematized, as a range of individual interests and arguments, many of which arise from long-standing grievances and differences between communities, between political entities, between the federal and the Kurdistan Regional Government and all this becomes entrenched in the form of concealed, private networks of power operating independently pursuing narrow objectives and goals. In a way, this also explains why the many opportunities arising from so many reconciliation efforts are yet to be fully embraced.

Mr. President,
With this in mind it is also necessary to touch upon the scourge of corruption, pervasive at all levels in Iraq. Corruption takes money that should be spent on public services, placing it instead in private pockets, but it also deters economic activity, hindering business development which would result in much needed job creation. Now, as I stated last time I briefed the Security Council, I am encouraged by the Government’s obvious engagement on this issue. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi made it very clear: “Corruption distorts the image of the State - and its reputation, both locally and on the world stage”. Very true indeed; it hampers not only Iraq’s credibility but also its viability, responsiveness and effectiveness. Change will not come overnight, so it is important to spotlight the issue of corruption again and again. Achieving tangible results will be crucial, in so many ways, most importantly it will revive public trust which is essential for the further development of Iraq’s democracy.

Mr. President,
The hydro-carbon sector is the backbone of Iraq’s economy, with vast oil potential yet to be explored. But to attain this, significant challenges will need to be addressed. Also, here and in short: the common good should trump private or partisan interests, enabling the whole country to benefit. Accordingly, I look forward to renewed engagement on the critical hydrocarbon and revenue sharing laws.

Mr. President, something else,
Iraq can only achieve its full potential with the active political, social and economic participation of women and youth. Recently, we witnessed, organised and participated in a variety of women and youth events throughout the country. While these were meaningful experiences for all those involved, I would like to warn against change as mere window dressing. At the end of the day, it is all about translating excellent intentions into positive action. Regrettably, Iraq is yet to appoint its first female minister.
On a different note, but of great relevance to women and girls: the Anti-Domestic Violence Law. An issue that is both sensitive and important for Iraqis. And I would like to commend Iraq’s leadership for taking important steps towards the enactment of this law. This law would fully protect the legal rights and shelter needs of all victims of domestic violence. And by all victims, I mean all victims: not just women and girls. I sincerely hope that legislators will proceed with a law in line with the Iraqi constitution, which prohibits all forms of violence and abuse within the family.

Mr. President,
On an entirely separate and encouraging note: Baghdad is opening up. Very soon the Green Zone will no longer exist. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has lived up to his promise from day one by removing T-walls and returning the city to its people. However, the security-situation will continue to require close monitoring. Not only in Baghdad, but throughout the country. Attacks continue, as seen with recent blasts and suicide bombings. Also very relevant: the ISIL-threat is still out there. As a Coalition representative recently said: ISIL is resurging. They rested, moved and are active.
Within this context, I am keenly aware of the importance of continued, wide-based international support, support to ensure that Iraq leaves its violent past behind, to ensure that Iraq does not slip back into the turmoil from which it so recently emerged. In other words: to prevent ISIL from regaining a strong foothold in Iraq a long-term approach is critical.

Equally important Mr. President, is the issue of returning ISIL-fighters from Syria to Iraq, along with their families. The return of thousands and thousands of people, Iraqis and non-Iraqis, raises not only significant security and capacity concerns, but also urgent human rights and humanitarian protection concerns. And all this, is not just an Iraqi problem. We know that certain states prefer to maintain a “strategic distance” with regard to their own nationals. But again, to be clear: this is not just an Iraqi problem. If poorly managed, the issue will impact us all in the region and beyond. Moreover, if we do not manage this adequately, we risk creating a new breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists.
Now, another dominant security concern is the issue of armed actors operating outside state control, engaged in illegal or criminal activities and exerting economic and social influence throughout the country. Clearly, the activities of these actors undermine state authority, they affect vulnerable communities, they weaken the national economy and sadly, they also prevent the peaceful return of displaced persons.
In my conversations with the Iraqi government, I welcomed certain actions, such as the closing down of so-called illegal economic offices. But the road will certainly be long. It will therefore prove crucial to hold to account all armed actors involved in criminal enterprise or illegal activity. More broadly, I welcome the Government’s efforts on security sector reform. However, much work remains to be done, and the reconfiguration of the ‘national security architecture’ is particularly important. This notably includes the future positioning of the PMF and the reform of the Peshmerga into a single, regional security force.

Mr. President,
As we saw during last summer’s protests in the South, Iraq’s water shortages have the potential to ignite social unrest which if unchecked can reverse any gains made. Although this past winter saw extensive rainfall - including widespread catastrophic flooding - simple reliance on generous rainfall is not a solid national water strategy. In an era of severe climate change, it is of utmost importance to plan carefully for all weather extremes and thus to develop a comprehensive programme of water collection and management but also to strengthen the country’s infrastructure and better prepare for floods.

Mr. President,
I am pleased to report that Iraq’s leadership continues to reach out to international and regional counterparts, positioning itself as a reliable and capable partner. Indeed, Iraq could well be a stabilizing factor in a turbulent region and instead of an arena for conflict, Iraq could well offer a space for regional reconciliation, preparing the ground for a regional security dialogue. At the same time, we cannot ignore that Iraq faces serious challenges in preventing its territory from becoming the theatre for different competitions. So, to all those feeling challenged: placing a further burden on Iraq is truly, the last thing it needs.

Mr. President,
On April 29, the United Nations launched its 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, in alignment with the humanitarian plans of Iraq. The humanitarian needs remain substantial. Many displaced citizens continue to face serious obstacles to return to their homes. These include lack of civil documentation, an unstable security situation due to clashes between armed groups and checkpoint harassment, they include damaged and contaminated houses, inadequate basic services, as well as discrimination. In other words: obstacles are varied, complex and interlinked, painfully resulting in stalled returns on the ground.
In addition to our humanitarian efforts, we continue to support post-ISIL stabilisation and rehabilitation efforts in the worst-affected areas. Our Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) reached a major milestone by rehabilitating the first 1,000 out of the planned 15,000 houses in Mosul’s Old City. This builds on previous successful housing work in Anbar, where thousands and thousands of houses have already been rehabilitated.
In addition, FFS completed the rehabilitation of several structures, such as Mosul University – which currently hosts more than 20,000 students. Also, a third major bridge in West Anbar has been restored, allowing more than 75,000 people to access essential services, such as hospitals and schools.

Mr. President,
allow me to now turn to the issue of missing Kuwaitis, third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives. I would like to thank Member States of the Tripartite mechanism for coming forward with satellite imagery that, in combination with witness testimonies, has been vital in identifying potential locations for missing Kuwaitis. After years of hard work by many, and on this occasion, I would like to flag recent efforts by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence in particular, I sincerely hope that we will be able to announce positive results soon.
Obviously, it is important that Iraq continues its efforts, including the identification of the missing Kuwaiti National Archives and other property. We all recognise their importance as an integral element of Kuwait’s national heritage.

Mr. President,
I would like to end by recalling my recent visit to Sinjar, which brings together many of the points I have just made. In Sinjar, I saw the horrific destruction. The work of ISIL almost five years ago. Unfortunately, little has changed since the liberation of Sinjar. Many people are still living in tents on the mountain to which they fled at the onset of the terror campaign. In August, the world will commemorate the horrific events of five years ago. But a single administration and the provision of security, as the very basis for the reconstruction of Sinjar, are yet to be realised. Frankly, a continued failure to make it happen is a clear injustice. Iraqi leadership, both in Baghdad and Erbil must now act urgently and decisively.

Finally, Mr. President,
yes, the challenges for Iraq are manifold but in all of these challenges I would like to express - once again - our continued and strong commitment to assist and support wherever we can. President Barham Salih very recently stated that the situation in Iraq is not good. Iraqis deserve far better. However, the situation is improving. It will take time but with great determination and concerted, decisive action we will succeed. So he said and how right he is.

Thank you.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 May 2019 00:02