Briefing to the Security Council by SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert Thursday, 24 February 2022
Distinguished members of the Security Council,
If you allow me, I will begin today’s briefing with an overview of recent developments concerning political appointments and government formation.
Following the ratification of electoral results, the parliamentary Speaker and his two deputies were elected on January 9. While this was initially contested, the Federal Supreme Court ruled on January 25 that the inaugural parliamentary session (during which the Speaker and his deputies were elected) was held in accordance with the constitution.
The next step is the election of a President of the Republic (according to the Constitution) within 30 days of the election of the Speaker.
However, and following an initial nomination period, on February 7 the parliamentary quorum - for a session to elect a President - was not met. Parliament decided to reopen the nomination period for another three days: the Federal Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether this reopening was constitutional, but did rule one candidate ineligible.
Now, once the President is elected, he or she will (within 15 days, according to the constitution) charge the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc, that is, the Prime Minister-designate, with the formation of a council of ministers, to be endorsed by Parliament.
Well clearly, the current situation suggests that we’re not there yet.
And while political consultations continue (or perhaps more accurately: the political impasse continues) time just passes by. Precious time.
Mr. President, behind the headline debate of a majority vs. consensus government, many Iraqis increasingly wonder whether the national interest is actually ‘front and centre’ in the ongoing negotiations - rather than access to resources and power, or how the pie of political appointments and ministries will be carved this time around?
Needless to say: the priority should be to urgently agree on a programme of action that – immediately and meaningfully – tackles Iraq’s long list of outstanding domestic business.
So, what I am saying is: the elections are over four months behind us, and it is high time to return the spotlight where it deserves to be: on the people of Iraq.
The people of Iraq who continue to wait for gainful, productive employment opportunities, for safety and security, for adequate public service delivery, for the full protection of their rights and freedoms, for justice and accountability, for meaningful participation of women and youth – to name but a few.
Of course, one could be forgiven for being patient with a prolonged government formation phase, if we were witnessing vibrant exchanges on policy orientations, on development pathways and economic reform plans. If that was animating the negotiations, then indeed, patience would be a virtue.
However, so far, we are observing quite the opposite: hampering the change and reforms the country so desperately needs.
Moreover, and as I’ve pointed out countless times, a weak home front creates vulnerabilities. To Da’esh for instance, ready to take advantage of any political and security vacuum. But also to continued external interference. In the case of Iraq, not a hypothetical point.
In the meantime, the patience of the Iraqi people is being tested. In October 2019, this patience found its limit and many, many Iraqis took to the streets, protesting a lack of social, economic and political prospects.
We know how that ended. Hundreds killed; thousands injured. The very least Iraqis may expect now is a sense of urgency from their elected representatives.
A sense of urgency to overcome internal divisions, to agree on a programme informing Iraqis on what they can expect in the next 4 years, to manage public expectations, and to rise to the challenge of meeting the aspirations of the 40 million people who call Iraq home.
Mr. President, a few words on the Baghdad-Erbil relationship. As you know, I have consistently emphasized the importance of a regular, structured and institutionalized Baghdad-Erbil dialogue - with specific timelines - to address the long, long outstanding issues.
And as I’ve said before: this is a mutual responsibility.
Fact is that the inability to overcome differences (or even the unwillingness to find agreements) it comes - sooner or later - at a cost.
Also true, if a political vacuum exists for too long, the judicialization of what are otherwise legislative or executive domains can suddenly be a fact of life.
Now, with a caretaker government in office and political parties engaged in negotiations on the formation of a new government, a Federal Supreme Court case pending for 10 years was very recently adjudicated. Hence, this recent court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the KRG Oil and Gas law prompted questions by many, such as ‘why now’?
Fact is, it happened. Consequently, the importance of this ‘institutionalized dialogue’ has only increased. And not only that. The country needs its parliament to act.
More broadly, what I’m saying is: letting things slide is risky business, with potentially far-reaching consequences undermining Iraq’s stability in the short and long run.
So, once again, I call on all stakeholders to focus on what really matters, to unite instead of competing. Like it or not, but parties need each other to be their best. Hence, all efforts should centre on resolving outstanding issues, not by way of a power grab, but in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.
Mr. President, turning briefly to the economy: between a sharp rise in oil prices and a currency devaluation, the deficit has been reduced and foreign currency reserves have grown.
The safety net has been expanded, notably due to increased spending on social services in response to the pandemic.
At first glance, this can sound encouraging. But there is no denying it: with important governmental proposals and efforts actively being undermined, delayed or halted, these results cannot be considered a direct consequence of sustainable strategies.
Fundamentally, Iraq today is no less vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations, Iraq suffers no less from poverty or underemployment, and Iraq witnesses no less corruption, than it did last year or the year before.
I again repeat myself, but durable, structural solutions can only come through meaningful reform. And yes, this is easier said than done. I realise that.
However, Iraq is running out of time. As an Iraqi official put it to me some time ago: even if we had started implementing the most urgent reforms the day before yesterday, it will take supra human efforts to sufficiently address today’s financial, economic and environmental challenges.
And while I’d like to think in terms of the “glass is half full”, his remarks are not to be taken lightly.
Also, with regards to environmental challenges: they present a looming threat that is far too often considered less urgent, but is ultimately one of the greatest global challenges we collectively face.
A few weeks ago, I visited Iraq’s Marshlands in southern Iraq. A dramatic, beautiful landscape whose biodiversity is equalled only by its cultural significance.
However, water scarcity in this region is not just a threat on the horizon, it is a present danger. As is the case for other parts of the country, the salinization of water and soils, desertification and the disappearance of arable land are nothing less than existential environmental concerns.
Moreover, water scarcity, as we all know, is a threat multiplier. With it come heightened risks of poverty, displacement, instability and conflict.
Much, but not all of this scarcity can be explained by climate change: water flows are also actively being reduced by neighbouring countries.
Further, potable water and irrigation infrastructure and maintenance are significantly lagging behind. Iraq’s water resources have been ineffectively managed for too long.
In other words: Iraq is acutely vulnerable to the effects of water scarcity due to climate change and reduced inflows from its rivers.
While I know that this is a priority for the current caretaker government, I would like to emphasize that shared ownership of this crucial file across the political spectrum will prove essential.
Mr. President, something else: camps and prisons across the border, hosting many, many Iraqis, in North-eastern Syria to be precise.
All of us will have closely followed recent events. Events that have made the risks associated with this slow-moving catastrophe yet again clear.
The situation in these camps and prisons presents unprecedented challenges, with implications for the region and far beyond. Ticking time bombs.
Over the past 3 years, you’ve heard me repeat that the legacy of yesterday’s fight against Da’esh, could very easily turn into tomorrow’s war, that we should not wait for young children to come of age in a camp like al-Hol.
These children, living in dire circumstances, never asked to be part of this mess. However, they find themselves deprived of their rights. These children find themselves at risk of forced recruitment and exposure to violent extremism.
Of course, I recognize that a number of states have upheld their responsibilities by taking back children and, in some cases, also limited numbers of women. And I can only hope that other states will soon follow suit. As a growing number of countries have shown: this can be done successfully.
Fact is, the current situation is not sustainable. And keeping people indefinitely in the restricted and poor conditions of these camps ultimately creates greater protection and security risks than taking them back in a controlled manner.
Meanwhile, Iraq has demonstrated courage. So far around 450 families, or some 1,800 persons, have been repatriated to Iraq. And as thousands of Iraqis are still out there, the Iraqi authorities do realize that they cannot stop there.
Mr. President, turning from al-Hol camp to the suspected ISIL combatants currently in custody in North-eastern Syria. Again, an unsustainable situation.
Moreover, and as is the case for a camp like al-Hol, these facilities fuel resentment and also inspire terrorists: from breakout operations to large-scale attacks, as we have seen.
Also, the fact that some fighters (and associated family members) haven been able to make their way out, suggests it would be better to control the situation and manage returns, rather than take the chance of missing them as they slip back - undetected - into any country.
Also here, Iraq deserves to be commended. The Iraqi government did not only make a start with the repatriation of Iraqi families in al-Hol; it has also begun repatriating Iraqi ISIL combatants.
Essentially, what I’m saying is: in the interest of everyone, the ultimate security argument (as opposed to the short-term political one) is to recognize that a continued status quo is the riskiest option.
To appease festering grievances, to prevent the emergence of new conflicts, and to defuse ticking time bombs: it is important to anticipate and mitigate, it is important to step up and get things done.
Mr. President, turning now to the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.
On February 16, UNAMI facilitated the return (from Kuwait back to Iraq) of the last 6 human remains that were determined not to be part of the Kuwait or Saudi Arabia lists of missing persons.
With this transfer, the identification process of all human remains discovered in Samawah, Muthanna Governorate, in 2019 and 2020, has been concluded.
As I’ve stressed before, it is imperative for the Government of Iraq not to lose this momentum, but instead to take advantage of the experience gained so far and thus to move towards the overall conclusion of this important humanitarian file.
Mr. President, in closing: let me reiterate the importance of a sense of urgency. It is urgent for Iraq’s political leaders to overcome divisions, to put aside partisanship and to bury personal vendettas.
You know, Iraq truly has immense potential! If only this potential were fulfilled. How bright Iraq’s future could be.