Briefing to the Security Council by SRSG for Iraq Ján Kubiš New York, 9 November 2016 (AS PREPARED)
I have the honour to present the first report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 7 of resolution 2299 (2016), as well as the twelfth 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.
Let me start by congratulating the Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga, the Popular Mobilization Forces and allied tribal and local volunteers, supported by the international community, on the steady progress in their historic battle to liberate Mosul. We honor the martyrs who have paid the highest sacrifice for a free Iraq. This liberation operation marks the beginning of the end of the so-called Da’esh caliphate in Iraq. Increased support of the civilian population for this and previous liberation operations speaks best about the fact that the liberation of Iraq is a fight of all Iraqis in their unity for the future of their country as the common house of all Iraqi people from all components and ethnic and religious groups, minorities living together in justice, equality, peace and tolerance. We witness the birth of a new Iraq and its security forces, who are welcomed by civilians as liberators.
Let us not forget that the people of Iraq also fight on our behalf in defense of human values shared by the whole world, against the terrorism and intolerance represented by Da’esh and its underpinning ideology. Today, we also stand here in solidarity with the abducted, abused and violated women and girls, their families and communities. Women and children are the first victims of Da’esh crimes and we insist on full accountability for the human rights abuses and atrocities perpetrated by Da’esh against civilians, notably against women and children, and call for justice for all the victims of these heinous crimes that might amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide.
“This is the new Iraq” stated recently Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hailing the victories in the offensive to retake Mosul from Da’esh. “All peoples are here to fight with us, Kurd with Arabs, Shia with Sunnis, and all the minorities are here with us – Christians, Yezidis and Turkmen all fighting shoulder-to-shoulder”. For the first time in Iraqi history, the Iraqi federal forces and the Peshmerga are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder.
The Prime Minister also confirmed that Popular Mobilization Forces act under his authority as commander in Chief and under the general command of the armed forces. He stated “they are volunteers from the sons of Iraq, sons of Basra, Karbala, Salah ad-Din, Anbar and Diyala. They are fighting here not for land or any interest but to defend the people of Mosul. When they have liberated Iraqi territory, they will return back to their own homes, as they did in Anbar and in other places. They are Iraqi citizens. They sacrifice themselves”.
Based on lessons learned from the past, for the Mosul operation the Government of Iraq and the leadership of the ISF and PMF prioritised the protection of civilians in an unprecedented way in the planning and conduct of the military operations, fully cognisant of its domestic and international commitments and obligations, political implications and reputational risk. Also, the Shia religious leadership, the Marja’iya issued strong statements to this extend.
The campaign for Mosul’s liberation is on its 25th day and is progressing well. The progress is planned and controlled in order to avoid excessive risks, notably to the civilian population. The battle already moved to the city of Mosul. Nevertheless, it is expected that the urban warfare might take some time, well into the harsh winter period.
As expected, desperate Da’esh has increased its terrorist activities mostly against civilians; it has also carried out several complex attack and plans for more. On 21 October Da’esh attacked major government installations in Kirkuk city. More than 100 civilians and security forces were killed and over 230 injured as Peshmerga and police forces repulsed the coordinated attacks. 100 Da’esh militants have been killed while some have been caught alive. Da'esh’s expectations, however, of massive support from within Kirkuk, notably from the IDP community, did not materialize. Following certain disturbing developments concerning IDPs, the Governor of Kirkuk recently confirmed that there will be no retaliatory action or forced eviction of IDPs. This attack on Kirkuk nevertheless confirmed the necessity to start in good time the liberation of the adjacent Hawija pocket controlled by Da’esh.
There has been unprecedented cooperation over the planning and conduct of the Mosul liberation operation between the governments of Baghdad and Erbil. The Kurdistan Regional Government allowed the ISF to stage operations through the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for the first time since 1995. The Joint Coalition Coordination Centre, a joint ISF-Peshmerga-Coalition military coordination headquarters in Erbil started functioning earlier this year.
As confirmed during the visit of President Barzani to Baghdad, his first one since 2013, and the visit of Prime Minister al-Abadi to Erbil in the past days, this cooperation and dialogue has expanded to cover also a range of political, economic and administrative issues and arrangements on which future Baghdad-Erbil relations will be built. On 27 October, speaking at the Middle East Research Institute in Erbil, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, said “we need to find a new formula for coexistence in Iraq. We have hopes for decisive dialogue with Baghdad. “We have been working with Baghdad for over 11 years to implement the constitution and we cannot continue for another 11 years without reaching a solution.”
Da’esh caliphate in Iraq is crumbling away before our eyes. But just recapturing territory and power is not enough; it is necessary to capture the hearts and minds of all Iraqis from all parts of the country, to facilitate the return of IDPs to their towns and villages that need to be cleared of unexploded remnants of war and rehabilitated, to demobilise different volunteer groups that helped defeat Da’esh, to give perspective for the increasingly young population, to carry out political, economic and social reforms, to establish law and order, and to curb the activities of criminal groups, corruption and patronage. Also the ideology of Da’esh remains present in some minds in Iraq, throughout the region and beyond, with a specific concern about hundreds of thousands of young Iraqi boys and girls that for more than two years have been brainwashed by Da’esh.
Leaders of all components, communities and groups would have to address numerous grievances of the past periods and find the way to live together after Da’esh in justice and equality for all. Reconciliation at both community and national level is the way to make military victories against Da’esh sustainable, to make Iraq truly peaceful and united. This understanding is widely shared in Iraq.
Encouragingly, the head of the Iraqi National Alliance, Said Ammar al Hakim, recently confirmed that the National Alliance, as the largest parliamentary bloc, is planning to submit “an important document for national compromise that considers an important political project to be implemented in conjunction with the liberation of Mosul to unify all Iraqis”. Al Hakim stated “this political project will be achieved at the same time as military victory” and called for the building of a country of coexistence and free from violence, dependency and crises, where all Iraqis feel compelled to the unity of their lands, peoples and democracy. He also stressed that the division of Iraq should be rejected under any circumstances, and emphasised the importance of constitutional obligations.
The pace of returns in the previously liberated areas has accelerated in some provinces, but in some places it has not, and in general despite the Government’s and international community’s efforts it is still rather slow. The rebuilding of infrastructure, restoration of essential services, rule of law, schools and employment are ever more important to restore confidence in the Government. Returns of IDPs holds the key to rebuilding Iraq’s solid societal fabric. It is part of the reconciliation and healing.
As the Mosul campaign reaches heavily populated areas such as the city centre, it is bound to get difficult and protracted, with Da’esh digging in with its network of tunnels, full of explosive devices, fortifications and importantly using terrorist tactics against civilians. As part of its resistance Da’esh has engaged in setting fire to oil fields in Qayyara and burning sulphur, destroying roads and bridges and any remnants of Iraq’s heritage before its end.
Credible reports suggest that Da’esh has been forcing tens of thousands of women, children and men from their homes in sub-districts around Mosul and has been forcibly relocating civilians inside the city itself, effectively using them as human shields. Da’esh fighters are killing civilians who refuse to comply with Da’esh’s instructions or who previously belonged to the Iraqi Security Forces, including 232 civilians who were reportedly shot dead on 26 October. Forced out at gunpoint, or killed if they resist or try to flee, these people are reportedly being moved to strategic Da’esh locations, including in Tal-Afar.
Against these terrorist practices and policies of Da’esh positively stands out Prime Minister al-Abadi’s assurance at the 20 October Paris Conference on Stabilization for Mosul that he has instructed the Iraqi Security Forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces to protect civilians as their paramount duty. On 16 October, PMF spokesperson Ahmed al-Asadi stated that the Popular Mobilization Council (PMC) was committed to Prime Minister al-Abadi’s military plans, adding that the PMF would comply with his orders and emphasising that they would not violate human rights. Kurdistan Region of Iraq President Massoud Barzani stated on 16 October that Peshmerga would participate in liberating Mosul without ethnic or religious discrimination, as a “unified force in action and word”. He insisted that legal action would be taken against any Peshmerga fighter or military commander committing breaches.
During Friday prayers on 21 October, representatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reiterated the need for civilians to be protected, particularly women and children, and that captured Da’esh fighters must be treated according to the law: “we stress to our fighters, as we have before, the importance of extreme caution in battle to preserve the wellbeing of civilians in the conflict zones. We emphasize to all parties taking part in the battle to observe all humanitarian and Islamic standards, and to deal with the prisoners in a legal manner without any sense of vengeance.”
The protection of civilians, prevention of revenge attacks and dealing with accountability issues of captured Da’esh fighters or their suspected sympathizers in a fair manner with due respect to international human rights norms and duly constituted tribunals is of vital importance towards striking the right note on the post-Da’esh phase. I urge the Iraqi authorities to continue the liberation operations in this spirit, ensuring full respect for the cardinal principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution and justice for the victims.
Thus far, there have been only a few sporadic reports of violations committed by pro-government forces, mostly of individuals committing ad hoc acts of revenge against captured Da’esh fighters or persons accused of supporting Da’esh. UNAMI has referred these cases to the Government of Iraq for investigation and appropriate action and has reiterated that the Government must continue its efforts to prevent such incidents from occurring and to investigate and punish any such incidents should they occur. As reported there have also been several air and artillery strikes against civilian locations and infrastructure including a clinic, whether by accident or design.
I am nevertheless concerned about the spectre of vengeful violence, particularly by tribes who suffered atrocities committed by Da’esh supporters, also against their own tribal members who joined Da’esh. A few tribal leaders appeared on television towards the end of October calling for revenge against Da’esh and those who supported them. However, in a positive step, a number of tribal sheikhs informed UNAMI that they had reached an agreement that any captured Da’esh fighters or persons suspected of supporting Da’esh would be handed over to the Government of Iraq to face formal justice procedures.
I am also concerned about the possibility of revenge attacks by members of religious and ethnic communities, who have suffered terribly from Da’esh atrocities. I have exhorted the Government of Iraq to take immediate action to restore the rule of law and formal justice mechanisms to liberated areas as quickly as possible, and to put in place policies to deter revenge attacks by ensuring justice for the victims, protection of the innocent, and accountability of the guilty.
Since last December, the presence of Turkish troops in camp Ba’shiqa, considered by Iraq as violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, remains unresolved. On 17 October Minister of Foreign Affairs al-Jaafari once again wrote to the Secretary-General reiterating the Iraqi view that the troops were in the country without Iraqi consent and should therefore withdraw.
Although both countries have endeavoured to contain the situation through diplomatic channels and bilateral mechanisms, there has been no publicly visible progress so far. Public exchanges from Baghdad and Ankara continue to escalate. This is even more disturbing now, when the Mosul liberation operation is in full swing with all its risks and complexities.
I urge the Governments of Turkey and Iraq to tone down their rhetoric and accelerate their bilateral efforts to find a mutually acceptable resolution over this problem and related issues in a way that will fully respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference into the internal affairs of Iraq and to ensure that all activities that take place in Iraq are conducted in coordination and with the full agreement of the Government of Iraq while taking into account the security concerns of both countries.
Although the two countries have differed on the issue of troop presence and activities, both struck a positive chord when on 28 October they decided to mutually lift visa requirements for diplomatic, service and special passports.
Mosul and Ninewa are a microcosm of Iraq’s rich plurality and diversity. One cannot over emphasize the importance of post-Da’esh governance arrangements to preserve this rich mosaic of cultures, ethnicity and faith. Competing claims and aspirations of Iraq’s different components have to be accommodated in the most representative and inclusive way and with the necessary guarantees both at local and central levels.
In this context, it is worrisome that on 22 October the Council of Representatives passed the Municipalities Revenue Law, which in its Article 14 placed a ban on the manufacture, import and sale of alcohol. Many MPs and especially those representing minorities are concerned that this is an assault on their constitutional rights of equality.
In a statement, President Masum stressed the need to adhere to all the principles of the Constitution regarding personal freedoms and rights related to different religious and sectarian components and called on the Council of Representatives to conduct a corrective review of the law based on constitutional and democratic grounds taking into account the interests of the people in these current circumstances to ensure the principles of liberties and rights. These fears are compounded by the fact that this comes on the heels of the National Identity Law, which construes the family of an individual who chooses to convert to Islam as also having converted. Despite assurances and a year-long campaign the law remains in force much to the discomfort of those who believe in an Iraq which is capable of seeing that constitutional rights are guaranteed to all its citizens. Similarly, minorities have objected to them being listed under ‘others’ in the application form for the national identity cards while some others, notably the Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen have the capability of listing themselves as such.
On 10 October the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the Council of Ministers decision to abolish the three Vice President positions was unconstitutional on procedural grounds. On 30 October the three Vice-Presidents Nouri al-Maliki of the State of Law Coalition, Ayad Allawi of the Wataniya Coalition, and Osama al-Nujaifi of the United for Reform Coalition met President Masum who welcomed them to resume their duties.
The selection process for the new Board of Commissioners of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights is continuing and is hoped that the process will be completed by the end of November so that the new Board of Commissioners will be fully functional by mid-December.
UNAMI has also been providing technical support and advice and conducting advocacy in relation to a number of key pieces of legislation that are currently before the Council of Representatives. In July an anti-discrimination bill was presented to the Council of Representatives and referred to a number of parliamentary committees for further review and consideration.
Furthermore, a bill on freedom of assembly and freedom of information was referred by the Council of Representatives to its human rights and legal affairs committees for review. There are a number of concerns that the draft does not comply with Iraq’s international obligations.
UNAMI is also working with a range of stakeholders on drafting a bill that would prevent sexual and gender-based violence, protect the survivors of such violence, and ensure accountability of the perpetrators. The Family Protection Bill has been stalled before the Council of Representatives for over four years – and many of its provisions are not in compliance with international standards. Accordingly, it is hoped that the new draft will address these deficiencies.
Postponing the 2017 provincial elections scheduled in April/May 2017 to a later date has been actively discussed by political leaders and forces and it seems that such postponement will be eventually accepted. At the same time IHEC has recently submitted a letter to the Council of Representatives requesting funding for the 2017 Provincial Councils elections. It is thus pertinent that any election-related decision including on revision of the current legal and institutional frameworks and on holding the elections be made in a timely manner.
The recent Joint Communiqué to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) signed between the Republic of Iraq and the United Nations has been widely welcomed by both the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, civil society groups and members of minority communities. Willingness to swiftly commence the implementation of the agreement has been expressed.
A new set of challenges has now emerged, including how to address the status of children borne out of rape and the stigmatization of CRSV survivors returning as single mothers with children born out of rape from “an enemy”. The issue of women who were married under Da’esh control also needs to be addressed as many are without marriage certificates due to the breakdown of rule of law and the imposition of Da’esh regulations, marriages were done out of courts. These challenges will require legislative actions and consultations with religious, political, community and tribal leaders to identify workable solutions.
The human rights situation in Iraq remains of serious concern as civilians continue to suffer from the direct effects of armed conflict and terrorism through deaths, injuries and destruction of property.
It is sobering to recall that since this phase of the conflict in Iraq erupted at the beginning of 2014 through to the end of September 2016, at least 58,495 civilians have become casualties of the violence – that is some 20,442 men, women, and children have been killed and a further 38,053 have been injured. This year alone, from the beginning of January until 30 September, at least 4,446 civilians were killed and a further 9,387 were injured.
As of 9 November up to 42,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of the Mosul operation. The population of Mosul increasingly suffers from lack of food, water, medicine and electricity. Fighting inside Mosul city continues to drive displacement eastwards through the suburb of Gogachly. People are also moving southwards from Hamam Al Alil, Al Shura and Nimroud sub-district, seeking refuge in the Al Qayyarah area. Fleeing families are highly vulnerable, including from direct and indirect fire, improvised mines and other explosive remnants.
In accordance with the military’s concept of humanitarian operations, authorities are providing transport for families to four key emergency sites. At present, more than 20,000 people are being supported at existing camps. The remaining 30 per cent have found shelter in host communities and public facilities. A total of seven emergency sites are ready to receive 40,000 more people. At least 450,000 more spaces are under construction. Humanitarian agencies have provided direct, first-line support to 65,000 people including families who have remained in re-taken areas but not fled.
Humanitarian partners are continuing to prepare for a mass response. In a worst case scenario, 1.2-1.5 million people could be affected by the military operation, including one million people who may try to flee the city to safety. Also preparations for winter are underway.
In July, the Humanitarian Country Team issued a flash appeal requesting USD 280 million to prepare for Mosul. Close to 80 per cent of the required amount has been received, although most funding came on line only recently, delaying preparations until nearly the start of the operation. The 2016 Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan, which targets 7.3 million highly vulnerable Iraqis, has received only 60 per cent of the USD 860 million required for the year. Half of all emergency programmes have either shut or could not start as a result; tens more will close in coming weeks if funding is not urgently received.
UNDP’s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization (FFIS) continues to be one of the highest profile and most successful programmes of the UN in Iraq. In Tikrit, where stabilization activities began over a year ago, nearly 95 percent of the population are estimated to have returned. In Ramadi and Fallujah, where numerous stabilization projects are still ongoing, more than 300,000 and close to 60,000 people, respectively, have returned to their homes.
Stabilizing the city of Mosul following the liberation of Mosul will be a daunting task. Experiences from other liberated cities, notably Ramadi, point to the possibility of widespread destruction of civic infrastructure, public buildings and private housing, creating rubble that will impede safe movement for months. Extensive IED contamination is also likely. To help restore services in the city, the Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization is pre-positioning over USD 40 million of water, power, municipal, and health equipment. FFIS is also identifying and pre-qualifying partners for Small Business Grants and public works schemes and working to bring together tribal, government and security officials to discuss steps necessary to prevent violence and accelerate community reconciliation.
At the request of the Government, UNDP is developing a flagship stabilization programme for areas in the Ninewa Plains that were inhabited by minority communities prior to Da’esh. The aim of the programme is to rapidly restore services in these mostly rural areas and to help jump-start the local economies so families can return as quickly as possible.
FFIS is coordinating with UNMAS to conduct rapid Threat Impact Assessments in key neighbourhoods and expedite clearance of IEDs in the liberated areas. For its part, UNMAS, in close cooperation with Iraqi authorities, is leading and coordinating the activities of the mine action sector in retaken areas of Iraq. UNMAS is providing an emergency response, building the mine action capacity of Government entities and ensuring that an appropriate mine action lens is fully integrated within broader UN humanitarian planning to support IDPs.
In Ramadi, Fallujah and Karma, explosive contamination is currently being addressed, with more than 1,800 explosive hazards cleared since April to enable stabilization efforts at 188 priority sites. In Mosul, UNMAS is coordinating a multi-faceted response to protect civilians fleeing the fight.
Also, UNMAS is entirely reliant on bilateral contributions to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action. Additional resources are urgently required to fund and sustain essential mine action services. The mine action community will require USD 112 million in 2017 depending on the rate of areas retaken. This is almost entirely unfunded at the moment.
In addition, on 25 October, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, acting in close cooperation with UNAMI, organised a joint meeting in Baghdad to assess the progress achieved in facilitating the delivery of technical assistance to the Government of Iraq in the sixteen priority areas identified by the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee.
Allow me to turn now to the twelfth report of the Secretary-General on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, and missing Kuwaiti property, including the National Archives.
I would like to commend the Government of Iraq and particularly its Ministry of Defence for bolstering activities geared towards finding missing persons, injecting much needed energy and momentum into the file. Actions taken by the Iraqi counterparts, including following-up with witnesses in order to obtain more detailed information in support of the identification of potential burial sites, conducting numerous field visits, and internally reaching out to various departments and authorities to seek new leads, have demonstrated Iraq’s willingness and commitment to move this dossier forward.
A call for witnesses that was broadcasted on local and satellite television channels by the Iraqi Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs on 18 September, inviting all those with information pertaining to the missing Kuwaiti persons and property to come forward, has resulted in hundreds of phone calls from citizens claiming to know the whereabouts of both. This information is currently being verified. This is just an example of how perseverance and targeted activities can deliver results despite the passage of time.
Echoing the statement issued by the Security Council on 29 July, I would once again urge the Government of Iraq to continue with its efforts, to employ a multidimensional and innovative approach in its search for the missing persons, to rely on the wisdom and advice of the tripartite members, and to use inventive and creative ways of finding information, particularly in regards to the invaluable National Archives, so it can achieve tangible progress.
I would like to highly acknowledge the Government of Kuwait that has consistently shown support and understanding towards challenges faced by the Government of Iraq over the years. While Iraq strives to reach results, all of us will continue assisting the country in its effort to achieve peace and stability.
Thank you for your attention.