Briefing to the UN Security Council, SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert |10 October 2023 (As Delivered)
10 October 2023
Mr. President, thank you very much,
Distinguished members of the Security Council,
Today we are roughly one year on from the formation of Iraq’s current Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. Now, since its inception, several important steps and promising initiatives have emerged. To name but a few:
Long-awaited reforms in the banking and finance sectors are now underway. One example is the launch of an electronic platform for foreign currency sales, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to both transparency and efficiency.
A new Iraq Fund for Development has been established. This, coupled with the change ushered in by the recently adopted federal budget, has the potential to spur private sector investment.
The passing of a new law on social security means that, for the first time, allIraqi workers can benefit from public entitlements, such as health insurance, as well as maternity and unemployment benefits.
And, as most of you will know, a trailblazing initiative for regional infrastructure, known as the Development Road Project, was launched some months ago.
Meanwhile, Iraq is taking further steps towards leveraging its own natural resources more effectively and responsibly, thereby aiming to reduce energy waste and shore up its energy independence.
Also, and importantly, to address the concerning issue of rapid drug proliferation, the Government has developed a National Strategy for the Prevention of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, among other measures.
Now, Mr. President, I already briefly mentioned the recently adopted federal budget.
It charts an ambitious course for the country until the end of 2025 and includes allocations with the potential to address critical needs, such as infrastructure development and reconstruction.
Notably, this budget represents the highest proportionate allocation to the delivery of social services yet – which (hopefully) will expand access to healthcare, education and a number of other essential public services.
To cut a long story short: with last year’s gains in political stability and an ambitious federal budget in hand, Iraq is well positioned to seize the many opportunities in front of it.
That said, and as we all know, the country’s complex and (at times) fast-evolving environment also means that this is not an easy feat, let alone a given.
Corruption is still pervasive. And combatting it, as the Prime Minister recently said, is something the Government “has been working on, is still working on and will continue to work on”. He rightly added: “Without fighting corruption, we will not be able to implement our economic vision and development programs”.
And, true, the Government has made admirable commitments. From efforts to, for instance, increase transparency around custom revenue collection to pursuing the extradition of individuals implicated in the theft of federal resources. And a new campaign, called “Where did you get this?”, has seen the Federal Integrity Commission audit the financial records of electoral candidates.
At the same time, it is clear that the intricate web of graft and vested interests, built up in Iraq over decades, will not be dismantled overnight. Especially when those who stand to lose can draw from myriad financial, political and security resources – creating the community of collusion I have referred to in previous briefings.
Also, and as spelled out numerous times, Iraq’s economic structure is in a precarious place, heavily reliant on oil and a public sector so big that it is simply unsustainable.
And although steps taken so far surely signal positive momentum, further structural reforms are going to be critical. Otherwise, a thriving private sector with high levels of employment will remain elusive.
Now, all of this must be understood alongside Iraq’s rapidly growing population – with predictions that it could double over the next three to four decades.
Why am I saying this? Because with more Iraqis coming of age without corresponding job opportunities or advances in quality of life, it is not difficult to see where this trend may go: the embers of discontent could flare up easily – again and again.
Climate change and water scarcity are, of course, other obvious threat multipliers. This past summer, again, temperatures in Iraq exceeded 50 degrees Celsius. And last June, IOM recorded almost 14,000 families as internally displaced because of drought conditions across 10 of Iraq’s governorates.
Needless to say: if left unaddressed, this is only the beginning of a rather nightmarish situation. Hence, it is for good reasons that the Government has made the issue of water security one of its top priorities.
Another issue that should not be underestimated: feelings of exclusion, marginalization, and stigmatisation. Now, why does this matter for stability in Iraq? Because if these sentiments are left to simmer, among other spillover effects, people will (again) become vulnerable to extremist propaganda.
I am, of course, aware of the ongoing efforts by the Government to end displacement. But further progress on enabling people to return to their areas of origin, including Jurf al-Sakhr and Sinjar, remains critical.
Equally important is much-needed momentum to enact legislation on enforced disappearances, as well as the amendment to the Amnesty Law.
A further topic that cannot be overlooked is the influence of non-state armed actors in certain areas, which not only undermines confidence in the state but also creates an environment of fear and anger.
The Government continues to proactively engage with countries throughout the region on issues related to energy, water, economic cooperation and security. Important, as regional partnerships and integration are obvious catalysts for stability in Iraq - and beyond.
Now, within this context, I wish to highlight the implementation of the Iraq-Iran security agreement. Great efforts have been made by Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, to secure its borders. And further work to sustain these achievements is ongoing.
All sides consider long-term security as essential, and we can only emphasize Iraq’s genuine commitment to the agreement.
Now, as I said on many occasions, this is the way to go about addressing security concerns: through dialogue, joint committees and the actual implementation of agreements – all, of course, in accordance with international law.
With this in mind, I wish to express hope that Iraq and Türkiye will also embark on a sustainable way forward. Türkiye’s security concerns are well understood. And, on that note, Mr. President, I wish to echo the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the recent terrorist attack in Ankara.
In saying this, constant cross-border attacks are a risky way to advance interests - and one with numerous adverse effects. We therefore welcome ongoing efforts on the activation of bilateral committees between Iraq and Türkiye aimed at addressing border security concerns.
And, of course, Mr. President, I cannot talk about stability in the region without mentioning the unprecedented and horrendous developments in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which have already had a catastrophic human toll and could impact the entire region.
Now, still focusing on the region, Mr. President, I would also like to flag a recent decision of Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court regarding the 2012 agreement between Iraq and Kuwait regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway.
Taking into account the separation of powers, Iraq’s government has meanwhile made its commitment to the principles of international law, and its respect for bilateral agreements and UN resolutions, crystal clear.
Legitimate concerns have been expressed by Kuwait and the GCC. Given the priority attached by the Iraqi Government to dialogue as a means to finding solutions, as well as its commitment to maintaining positive relations with its neighbours, I hope and expect that cooperation and good neighbourliness will prevail.
Bearing in mind the risks of miscalculation and escalation, it is essential to resolve this matter expeditiously. Also important is the continuation of talks to demarcate the rest of the maritime border.
Mr. President, with regards to Baghdad-Erbil relations: to discuss the Kurdistan Region’s financial challenges, a high-level delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government, headed by its Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, visited Baghdad on 14 September.
Soon after, Iraq’s Council of Ministers agreed to provide financial relief in the form of ‘loans’ for the next three months. This enables the KRG to pay, for the time being, the salaries of its public servants.
A positive development, and frankly speaking, it was overdue. That said, the agreement is temporary in nature and therefore not enough. Hence, more and urgent work lies ahead so as to avoid a new period of uncertainty for the Region’s public servants.
Now, I said this in past years and will repeat it now: civil servant salaries should be shielded from political disagreements. Like any other Iraqi civil servant, those working in the Kurdistan Region have families to look after and obligations to fulfil.
In August 2020, I highlighted in my briefing to the Council that the lack of specificity in Iraq’s 2005 Constitution continued to shape the debate between Baghdad and Erbil.
With the situation persisting today, what does this mean?
It means that 18 years have gone by without an agreement on the gradual enhancement of the federal system; 18 years without a sustainable framework for natural resource distribution or disputed territories; 18 years without laws delineating rights and obligations. Instead, we continue to witness constant ad hoc crisis management.
So, what I am essentially saying is that, 18 years on from the Constitution’s adoption, it is imperative to move to comprehensive and solid solutions.
As for the Sinjar Agreement, Mr. President, I regret to inform you that no progress has been made. Sadly, instead, we continue to witness different power competitions in which non-state armed actors have the upper hand.
Recent events in Kirkuk, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries, are also of concern. While the situation has calmed down for now, the precariousness of this context cannot be overlooked.
As you know, in past years, UNAMI has facilitated dialogue sessions among the representatives of Kirkuk’s components. And we are still convinced that an agreement can be reached. But for that to happen, it is imperative that the needs of people are prioritized over political gain.
Of course, the Provincial Council Elections on 18 December are of great importance as well. Especially because Kirkuk has not seen local elections since 2005.
Mr. President, something else. Previously you heard me say that the Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary elections are long overdue.
Initially scheduled for October 2022, they were postponed to November this year, and recently further delayed to the 25th of February next year.
To state the obvious: we expect all parties to ensure that this new election date will not again fall victim to internal political strife. With the current administration in a caretaker capacity, the Region’s democratic process must prevail. There is so much at stake.
On a different note, Mr. President. As any other Member State, Iraq has committed – through its Constitution and international human rights treaties – to protect the fundamental rights of all its citizens, without discrimination. This point bears repeating in light of recent debates on the use of universally accepted terms.
Turning to the issue of Al-Hol returnees: last month, a further 173 households returned to Iraq. In other words, Iraq continues to serve as an example for other states with nationals in Al-Hol.
Now, there is no denying it, challenges on the ground abound. The accessibility of core civil and identity documents, in particular their timely issuance, must be addressed as a matter of priority.
And, as Iraq grapples with the vast needs of returnees and host communities, the criticality of continued international support cannot be overemphasized.
Mr. President, zooming in on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property – including the national archives.
The adoption of innovative DNA technology by the Government of Kuwait has led to the identification of one more missing person. I extend my deepest condolences to the family involved.
I further welcome the long-anticipated handover by Iraq to Kuwait of 22 genetic profiles that were discovered in March 2022 in Najaf. The regular exchange of genetic data is much needed to shed light on the fate of those still missing.
And of course, we continue to engage the Government of Iraq on the retrieval of missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives. Swift and decisive action is now needed.
Mr. President, in closing: I can only emphasize the importance of Iraq’s upcoming Provincial Council elections. For many reasons, including the stepping up of service delivery; they represent a critical imperative for all Iraqis.
As a former politician I know how tempting it is to go all out in an election campaign, but things get ugly - and even risky - if campaigns turn into platforms whipping up rage or fear about others.
Therefore, all actors - be they at the national or regional level – are therefore called upon to play their part in maintaining stability in the run up to the December elections. And this should include efforts to counter mis- and dis-information.
With the Government now one full year into its tenure, driving forward the many good plans which Iraq has committed to remains a collective responsibility.
Mr. President, a final word, as I cannot conclude without acknowledging the devastating fire in al-Hamdaniya last month, which claimed the lives of over 100 people. We again convey our sincere condolences.