Briefing to the Security Council by SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert | Tuesday, 16 February 2021 (As Delivered):
Distinguished members of the Security Council,
Allow me to begin by again condemning last night's deadly rocket attack on Erbil. Such reckless attempts to inflame tensions pose grave threats to Iraq's stability. Close collaboration between Baghdad and Erbil, to bring the culprits to justice, is now of the greatest importance.
Madam President, we have welcomed a new year in which Iraqis hope to turn the page on a number of fronts: recovery from the pandemic, elections, economic reform, strengthening the rule of law and delivering a more secure environment for all.
Now, while 2021 presents many opportunities for profound, positive change in these and other areas, much work remains to be done.
As I pointed out in my most recent briefing to this Council, the impact of the multiple, interlinked crises afflicting Iraq will be lasting. Decisive and concerted action is therefore all the more urgent.
Iraq continues to experience acute financial and economic difficulties, as reflected by the exceptional devaluation of the Iraqi dinar by over 20% in late December.
Nevertheless, a nearly 40% increase in oil revenues since November 2020 has eased the liquidity crisis, providing some breathing room for the government.
Now, the projected continued increase in oil prices is expected to allow the government to move forward on pressing matters such as public service delivery and civil servant salaries.
But unfortunately, precious little progress has been made on the implementation of much needed reform measures as described in last year's economic white paper.
It therefore bears repeating that Iraq can afford neither continued dependence on resource extraction, nor the excessive burden of an outsized public sector.
And as always, the fight against economic and political corruption, the promotion of robust governance, transparency and accountability, must all be the watchwords accompanying such reform.
As I have consistently pointed out in the past, numerous opportunities for meaningful and necessary reforms have been wasted since 2003. And it is past time to prioritize sustainable economic diversification, as well as the development of a value-adding, employment-generating private sector.
I repeat: a dependence on volatile commodity prices is no strategy at all, ultimately, it can only backfire.
Agreements on the 2021 budget law requires reconciliation and compromise between Baghdad and Erbil. Within that context, I regret to again report that a final, durable agreement on budgetary and larger issues remains elusive. The harsh reality is that constructive negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil continue to be hampered by laws missing since 2005. Laws on, for instance, oil and revenue sharing. Other areas of contention also include the disputed territories.
To date, no agenda or timetable has been set to address these outstanding issues. And those who have followed the recent budgetary negotiations closely, will have realized that these negotiations were not just centred on technical questions - such as barrels per day. They were also inherently political - about deeper misgivings and mistrust.
Given the abundant lessons Iraq's history offers, many consider the current state of affairs particularly disappointing.
So, let me re-emphasize: a positive, stable relationship between federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region is absolutely essential to the stability of the whole country.
And of course, enhancing and strengthening Iraq's federal system requires concessions on both sides, and practicing what one preaches. It requires the responsible use of moderate language by all.
Turning to the electoral calendar:
The Council of Ministers, in consultation with the Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, decided on a new date for Iraq's elections: 10 October 2021 - 4 months later than originally planned.
Meanwhile, parliament has passed the legislation necessary to finance the elections, and countrywide registration of candidates and alliances, as well as voter registration updates, are underway.
However, parliament has not yet finalized the outstanding Federal Supreme Court law. As this court certifies the election results, further delays cannot be accepted. I would like to urge all parties to proceed immediately: failure to do so will not be understood.
Now, for credible elections to take place, it is imperative that parties and candidates operate in a free and safe environment. The same goes for members of the media. In this regard, recent incidents are highly troubling - to say the least.
And with this in mind, I call on all parties, stakeholders and authorities to come together, to agree on a 'code of conduct' and to allow all Iraqi candidates to operate freely - irrespective of ethnicity, gender, language, religion, belief or background.
Any Iraqi who wishes to participate in these elections, as a candidate or campaigner, he or she must be able to do so without fear of intimidation, attack, abduction or assassination. And it goes without saying: voters must feel entirely free to choose their preferred candidate.
Madam President, a request from the Government of Iraq for electoral observation is currently before this Council. I understand that a decision has not yet been made, but I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance, and also urgency, of obtaining clarity.
As I address this Council, I also would like to underline that, no matter what your response is, the elections will be Iraqi-led and Iraqi-owned at all times. And I sincerely hope that all of Iraq's political leadership truly takes this to heart. Equally important, yet not always fully understood: the UN does not take sides. Our independence and impartiality define us.
Madam President, I have come to realise that facts do not always prevail. On the opposite. Sometimes facts are easily overtaken by perceptions, which in turn can morph into false, even dangerous - yet accepted - realities.
As I said last time, misinformation and conspiracies are poisonous. Credible elections require collective, concerted, timely and transparent efforts - with all parties, authorities and stakeholders assuming their respective responsibilities in the service of the Iraqi people.
I must say, after weeks of confusing declarations, I am somehow encouraged by the very recent statements made by some senior Iraqi political leaders, clearly emphasizing the importance of credible elections, and calling for unity - of the state and the nation - with an inclusive national identity.
On the pressing need for greater transparency, justice and accountability, let me clearly state that repression, violations of fundamental freedoms - including freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly - enforced disappearances and targeted killings, that all of it has no place in a democracy.
Unfortunately, transparency, justice and accountability continue to remain largely absent - particularly when it comes to the repression of public protests - throughout Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region.
If this does not change, sooner or later public anger will yet again erupt.
Although Iraqis marked the third anniversary of the territorial defeat of ISIL this past December, the heinous suicide attacks on a market in Baghdad, which killed at least thirty people and injured over one hundred, painfully demonstrated that violent extremism has not been vanquished. A callous act of cowardice, and a stark reminder that Iraq cannot rest on its laurels.
And of course, strengthening safety and security is as much about addressing the root causes of extremism, as it is about the immediate ability to respond to threats on the ground.
Despite operating in a uniquely complex geopolitical context, Iraqi leaders continue to maintain open relations in the service of a foreign policy that emphasizes the sovereignty of Iraq.
As you have heard me underline before, the centrality of Iraq to regional stability cannot be overstated. Iraq must build its domestic resilience, and be shielded from rivalries. This responsibility is shared - of course, by the Iraqis themselves first and foremost, but also by regional stakeholders and the international community as a whole.
Again, reckless attempts to inflame tensions - such as last night's rocket attack on Erbil - pose grave threats to Iraq's stability.
Madam President, turning now to the humanitarian situation:
When I last briefed the Council, the Iraqi government had recently renewed its efforts to close camps for internally displaced Iraqis - many of them women and children.
Camp closures have been ongoing for the past three months, and the possibility of further closures is imminent.
In November, you heard me affirm our understanding of the Iraqi interest to end displacement - I do - but I also emphasized that such closures should not lead to unwanted outcomes, such as secondary displacement, or people returning to areas without sufficient shelter or basic services. However, as we speak, this is unfortunately happening.
And today I can only repeat myself: the haste and opacity surrounding camp closure decisions is of great concern to many. So once again,
I would like to warn against decisions which can easily precipitate another crisis.
To cut a long story short: closing camps cannot be an objective in and of itself - instead, the focus must be on safe and dignified measures to solve displacement. We accordingly urge the Iraqi authorities to rapidly adopt and roll out their national plan for durable solutions.
On a separate but related note, I would also like to remind the authorities of the around 30,000 Iraqis residing in the al-Hol camp in Syria, including a number of non-ISIL affiliated Iraqi humanitarian cases.
As we all know: al-Hol continues to be a ticking time bomb. And if it goes off, the impact will be immense. Like any nation, Iraq has a responsibility to take back its citizens - starting with the humanitarian cases. Many promises have been made in past months, and it is truly time to live up to them. Again, non-ISIL affiliated humanitarian cases must urgently be tackled, without further ado.
With regard to Sinjar, as I have said before: signing off on the October agreement was just a very first step.
Visiting Sinjar last month, I again had the opportunity to engage with Sinjari representatives and officials. One thing is clear: much work lies ahead. Spoilers, domestic and external, continue to confuse the scene.
So - yet again, I would like to stress the importance of establishing stable security structures without further delay - followed by a unified administration.
There is undoubtedly a pressing need to do more, in unity and at a faster pace.
On the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives:
Despite continued movement restrictions, the Tripartite Commission and the Technical Subcommittee successfully held semi-remote meetings.
The Commission confirmed the formal closure of case files for twenty Kuwaiti missing persons. This is significant progress sixteen years after the last identification. I extend my deepest condolences to the families of the victims, who waited three decades for this conclusion.
The sustained investigative work of the Iraqi Defence Ministry exemplifies Iraq's commitment to this file.
The longstanding cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait, with strong support from the Tripartite Commission and the ICRC, is clearly bearing fruit.
And I would like to call on all partners to seize the momentum of recent progress and to further advance the search for missing persons.
Madam President, in closing, allow me to reassert that credible elections require the collective effort and commitment, in a way,of all Iraqis.
For elections to be trusted, unfounded theories must be disproved, baseless accusations refuted, intimidation replaced with accountability. Transparency must rule and loyalties cannot be for sale.
In this all-important election year, Madam President, I am hopeful that Iraqis can continue to count on the Council's steadfast support and solidarity.