Since I arrived to Baghdad at the end of March, I have endeavoured to meet as broad a range of Iraq’s political, community and religious leaders as possible, to hear their views on how Iraq and its different components can overcome the challenges and threats the country faces, and set a steady course towards unity, cooperation, reconciliation, stability and development. Whilst major differences of opinion and approaches exist, there is a general consensus that to successfully counter Iraq’s common enemy, the so called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, unity and cooperation among all the components of the Iraq society are needed, and that the way forward is to accelerate implementation of the Government Programme and the National Political Accord, to start a process of national reconciliation.
The Iraqi security forces (ISF), together with the Peshmerga, patriots of the Popular Mobilisation Forces and Sunni tribal volunteers supported by the international coalition and countries of the region are making advances and liberating territory from ISIL. I salute their bravery and commitment. They are saviours of Iraq. However, ISIL is far from being defeated and government gains remain at times fragile. An ability to liberate a city, a territory, doesn’t necessarily mean an ability to hold it.
Vast areas of Iraq and millions of Iraqis remain under ISIL control and influence which continues to perpetrate horrendous crimes and human rights violations against the Iraqi people, in particular women, children and minorities. ISIL recently added to their crimes the barbaric destruction of Iraq’s cultural and historical heritage in another attempt to destroy its national identity. Many areas not under ISIL control, including Baghdad, are rocked by violence, terrorist and sectarian. Particularly appalling is violence against IDPs that are increasingly targeted and criminalised.
It is important that local fighters and authorities are properly empowered to take their share of responsibility for the liberation from ISIL and for holding and governing of their areas. The Government’s efforts to provide the necessary financial and material support to tribesman and local authorities need to be expedited. All that, and notably military supplies and assistance, must be coordinated with and sanctioned by the respective authorities of the State. In that regard, I welcome the recent establishment of a Government committee to oversee the implementation of support. I also welcome the determination of the Government of Iraq to exert firm control over all elements taking part in liberation operations across Iraq and to hold to account those who have committed crimes, as indeed some opportunistic and criminal elements continue to engage in atrocities, revenge killings, looting, expropriation and destruction of property of the local population and returning of IDPs. I applaud the clear stance of both Prime Minister al-Abadi and His Eminence Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who took a firm stance against such transgressions.
In the majority of my meetings with Iraq’s political representatives, I have heard one message - a military solution alone will not be enough to defeat ISIL. For any military gains to be sustainable, the Government of Iraq must also restore the confidence of disaffected communities that they will assume a share in governing their matters, in the State’s ability to ensure their protection from violence, to deliver justice and create conditions for their fair participation in society. Until the majority of IDPs conclude that the conditions for the safe and sustainable return of civilians are created, such returns will not happen. And one of the consequences might be the continuation of involuntary demographic changes, including in the disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil.
As a priority, the Government needs to urgently continue taking measures to restore civilian responsibility for security and the rule of law in the liberated areas. In addition, the Government needs, in coordination with the local authorities, restore as soon as possible, public services and rebuild basic infrastructure to facilitate the return of the displaced. Worryingly though, Prime Minister al-Abadi has underscored to me his Government’s great difficulties to respond to these urgent stabilisation needs, on top of massive humanitarian needs. The Government faces serious constraints in terms of funds and material for stabilisation and rehabilitation. The liberated areas are in urgent need of clearance from explosive remnants of war. I hope to see in particular UNMAS returning in force to Iraq and that cannot happen without donors’ support. Withdrawing resources from other areas of the country to meet these stabilization needs bring additional pressure to the already heavily impacted areas from the IDPs’ influx and beyond.
I strongly urge the Security Council members and the whole international community to support the Iraqi Government’s efforts and to provide funding for the multitude of needs. Despite being a middle-income country, Iraq is temporarily unable to cope alone with the challenges of the security and humanitarian crisis and stabilisation and rehabilitation efforts. Unfortunately, however, critical is the urgency of continuous and massive support for Iraq, the international community’s response is grossly insufficient, as if the existence of other old and new crises were enough to excuse a waning attention to the plight of Iraq and its people. Lack of support, though, might eventually mar the existing opportunities to make Iraq successful in its fight against terrorism, to make it an example for other parts of the region and beyond, contrary to some trends prevailing elsewhere. Without such support, this fragile chance might disappear.
Political processes, national reconciliation efforts are essential to overcome the underlying challenges facing Iraq and its unity, creating sustainable solutions for peaceful co-existence, cooperation and development of Iraq’s diverse components. As such, more vigorous and productive Government and political forces’ efforts to adopt priority legislation that will aid national reconciliation efforts are needed. A draft amnesty law is with the Prime Minister. Parliament is finalising legislation to restore balanced representation in Iraq’s institutions. The National Guard law is under discussion. I urge Iraq’s political leaders to work together to find consensus, while the Government of Iraq and the Parliament of Iraq need to take the steps necessary to accelerate the adoption and enactment of these laws. I therefore welcome the extension of Parliament’s session.
These efforts towards political dialogue must also be accompanied by efforts to promote reconciliation at the community-level. Religious leaders, scholars, and community, tribal and political leaders alike must promote the principles of non-violence, religious tolerance, inclusiveness and forgiveness, as well as accountability for crimes committed.
All these messages were also echoed in my meetings with the leadership of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As the implementation of the December 2014 joint agreement on energy exports and revenue-sharing takes hold, so the relations between both sides strengthen. Prime Minister al- Abadi’s visit to Erbil on the 6th of April is a clear expression of this goodwill to cooperate. I encourage both sides to continue working together towards resolving open issues and towards the enactment of the legislation that will be necessary to secure the sustainable management and fair distribution of Iraq’s natural resources. And let’s not forget – the Kurdistan Region of Iraq also needs international support. Currently, in a major way it contributes to the fight against ISIL and hosts over one million IDPs within its own estimated population of above five million people.
Prime Minister al-Abadi’s determination to strengthen Iraq’s regional ties with its regional partners in mobilising their support for Iraq and in promotion of a common regional approach to the regional and global threat of ISIL has been received positively by Iraq’s neighbours. During my recent visit to Kuwait and Jordan, I clearly heard a message that a united, peaceful and stable Iraq makes for a stable and prosperous region, a message of support to the Government of Iraq and readiness to coordinate closely with it in all areas.
The unpredictable, unstable security situation and violence continues to take a terrible toll on the men, women and children from all of Iraq’s communities. Since June last year until the end of April 2015, over 44,000 civilian casualties have been reported, including at least 15,219 killed and 29,493 wounded. UNAMI has also been affected when on the 26th of April a UNAMI national staff member was abducted by unidentified gunmen in Baquba, Diyala. The UN is increasingly concerned by the lack of progress on this and strongly urges the respective authorities of Iraq to ensure his swift release.
The humanitarian consequences of the conflict are enormous. The Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, will speak on this and I fully support her analysis and appeal while commending the work of the humanitarian community.
Allow me now to turn to the sixth report of the Secretary-General, pursuant to paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013), on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party persons and property.
On 26 April, I visited Kuwait as my first regional visit as the Secretary General instructed me to pay personal attention to this mandate. During my visit, I was struck by the commitment and dedication of the members of the National Committee on the Missing and the Prisoners of War Affairs. Many of the members of the Committee lost relatives in the tragic events of 1990. Yet we run the risk that future generations will continue to carry this burden lest progress be made after so many years without tangible results, notably on missing persons.
The respective Iraqi authorities are called upon to urgently take practical steps that will move forward this caseload. UNAMI will continue to assist.
As regards the question of missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, Iraq has found and turned over some objects such as books and artefacts belonging to Kuwait, a move that is sincerely appreciated. Again, government commitment must be swiftly translated into action.
To sum up, my first impressions after just several weeks in Iraq are mixed, but with a positive perspective. Complexities and complications are enormous, as are constraints and risks. Progress is slow, regardless of a clear vision of the Government and political resolve of the Prime Minister. The plight of Iraq and its people is unjustly and unjustifiably overshadowed by other developments in the region at a time when more support is needed to counter and degrade terrorist ISIL, to work for the unity of Iraq based on balancing the rights and interests of its components. Yet, opportunities are there as well. Continuous and long-term adequate political, financial, and material support for Iraq, its government and its people by the international community and notably the countries of the region is needed to turn those opportunities into reality, for the benefit of Iraq, the region and beyond.
Thank you, Madam President.