6397th Meeting (AM)
TOP UN ENVOY IN IRAQ TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL POLITICAL STALEMATE, DEMONSTRATIONS,
TERRORIST ACTS COULD FUEL EXISTING CHALLENGES, THREATEN GAINS OF PAST DECADE
Mission Head Urges Iraqis to Remain Determined, Steadfast in ‘Challenging Time’;
Iraq Describes Government’s Efforts to Meet ‘Legitimate Demands’ of Demonstrators
An ongoing political stalemate, protracted demonstrations, terrorist attacks and strained Arab-Kurdish relations could fuel existing political and security challenges in Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council this morning, urging the country to remain “determined and steadfast” during a very challenging time.
“Iraqis face a complex set of interrelated problems, among them, the very real potential for a spill-over of violence from Syria,” Martin Kobler, who is also Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said in a briefing that was followed by a statement by Iraq’s representative, Hamid Al Bayati.
Nothing illustrated that risk more than two recent, contrasting events, he said, noting that, on 27 February, an Iraqi Airways flight landed at Kuwait International Airport, which marked an end to a 22-year suspension in commercial air traffic and start of a new chapter Iraq’s relations with Kuwait. A few days later, on 4 March, more than 40 Syrian soldiers and 10 Iraqis were killed inside Iraqi territory, followed by a series of terrorist attacks against civilians. “Such destabilization would add to and fuel the existing political and security challenges facing Iraq, which threaten the achievements of the past decade,” he said.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2013/154), Mr. Kobler said that since late December, tens of thousands of demonstrators in Iraq’s western provinces had taken to the streets to voice their grievances related to human rights and access to basic services. They felt unprotected, insecure and excluded. In Ramadi, Samarra, Mosul, Falluja, Tikrit and Kirkuk, he had listened to their frustrations, which had grown more critical over time.
The volatility on the streets was also reflected at the political level, he said, as the Sunni bloc al-Iraqiya continued its boycott of Cabinet meetings, which had lasted for almost four months. Political coalitions were weakening. “The political fabric is fraying,” he said. The Government had taken steps to address demonstrators’ demands, including with the formation of the committee, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minster, which had facilitated the release of 3,400 prisoners and reinstated pension payments for 11,000 public sector retirees who were members.
For its part, UNAMI had sought to advance inclusive, direct political dialogue and national reconciliation, he said, offering its good offices as a means of relaying information between the demonstrators and the Government. In such work, UNAMI was an impartial actor and kept an equal distance from all sides in the mediation, convening or witnessing of any negotiated agreement. However, UNAMI was not neutral on human rights. “One case of torture is one too many,” he said, noting that UNAMI had advocated the principle of non-violence, including to the demonstrators. It had urged Iraq to respond immediately to demands that could be met in the short-term. Other demands would require more time for a response.
The demonstrations, ongoing for three months, spoke to the deep distrust among Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, he said, threatening the social bonds that should bring Iraqis together in one united, federal country on the basis of the Constitution. Every ethnic and social group had been targeted by terrorists who sought to “turn the clock back” on Iraq’s nascent stability. From November 2012 through February 2013, terrorism had killed almost 1,300 civilians and 591 Iraqi Security Forces. He called on leaders and religious authorities to “rise as one” to stop the bleeding.
Elsewhere, he described Iraq’s ties with the Kurdistan regional government as “strained”, saying Kirkuk was the flashpoint for Arab-Kurdish relations. To improve the situation, it was crucial to pass the revenue-sharing and hydrocarbon laws. The equitable sharing of Iraq’s immense natural resources was required for rebuilding trust. “We will continue to build trust no matter how difficult it is,” he observed.
Turning to Provincial Council elections, less than a month away, he said he had expressed concern about the Cabinet’s decision to postpone elections in Ninewa and Anbar provinces, due to deteriorating security conditions. He called on Iraq and the Independent High Electoral Commission to ensure that elections would be held as scheduled in all 14 provinces in a secure environment. Despite his efforts, no consensus had been reached to pass the law on holding elections in Kirkuk.
Regionally, Iraq was committed to strengthening relations with its neighbours, he continued, adding that in normalizing ties with Kuwait, a major milestone would be the removal of obstacles along the border, notably three houses in Umm Qasr, which must be done by 31 March. On his 5 March visit to Kuwait, he had sensed a “spirit of optimism”. He also sensed potential for better relations with Saudi Arabia, citing a prisoners’ exchange, the opening of a border crossing and participation of both countries in efforts to combat dust storms.
As for UNAMI’s resettlement programme, he said the urgency of relocating residents outside Iraq was underlined on 9 February, when an attack on Camp Hurriya killed eight residents. “The only durable solution is to relocate the residents outside of Iraq”, he said, welcoming Albania’s decision to accept 210 residents next month and urging others to take similar steps. Despite additional offers, residents of Camp Hurriya continued to boycott relocation interviews with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and he urged them to fully cooperate. The 100 residents at Camp Ashraf refused to join the larger group at Camp Hurriya until the end of property negotiations.
Larger humanitarian efforts focused on Syrian refugees, returnees from Syria and internally displaced persons, he said. Iraq currently hosted nearly 120,000 Syrian nationals. In addition, approximately 80,000 Iraqis had fled from Syria and were now included in the larger group of 1.2 million internally displaced. On the broader human rights situation, he voiced concern about the administration of justice, saying that detainees complained of abuse and torture in prisons under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. He also urged Iraq to consider a moratorium on all executions. Despite such problems, Iraq was making progress in establishing the High Commission for Human Rights, which would serve as a cornerstone of an Iraqi-owned and led system to guarantee human rights protection for all Iraqi citizens.
In closing, he pointed to the urgent problems facing young Iraqis, who were caught amidst a soaring political crisis and largely left to fend for themselves. Youth unemployment was at 23 per cent. “With their potential and passion, they are the future of Iraq,” he said. They would carry forward the stability, security and prosperity that all Iraqis sought to build.
In his remarks, Hamid Al Bayati (Iraq) agreed that his country was witnessing a political stalemate and continued protests in a number of cities. The protesters’ demands included the adoption of the General Amnesty Law, and the Justice and Accountability Law, as well as the release of detainees, especially women. Demonstrations had been infiltrated by terrorists, who aimed to stir sectarian tensions and civil war. Foreign and regional players had been exposed when the flags of the Free Syrian Army and portraits of foreign leaders were displayed.
The protesters’ demands were both legitimate and illegitimate, he said, adding that efforts had been made to respond to them. The Council of Ministers, on 15 January, had approved a number of actions, among them: the extension of the time mentioned in the Justice and Accountability Law relating to the submission of requests to be returned to service or retirement; the acceptance of pension applications for all persons subject to that law; the request from the Judicial Council to permit judges to facilitate the release of female detainees on bail, except in cases where prohibited by law; and the immediate implementation of release decisions on site by the Ministry of Justice. Those procedures led to the realization of the legitimate demands of the demonstrators, including the release of approximately 5,500 detainees.
Regarding the sectarian slogans and calls to terminate the Constitution, he said the Ministry of the Interior had raised the alarm that such language threatened national security. “This language lays the foundation for a culture of hatred, the rejection of others and promotes sectarianism under the pretext of defending the rights of this or that sect,” he said. However, the demonstrations themselves were still peaceful, as was witnessed by the United Nations mission during its visit to Al Anbar in February.
Stressing Iraq’s rejection of violence, extremism and sectarianism, he added: “We have warned several times — including in our last report before this Council — of the effect of the continuation of the Syrian conflict on the instability of the whole region.” The recent murder of Syrian soldiers by terrorists, after they had surrendered to Iraqi authorities, was proof of the link to armed groups and the impact of the Syrian conflict on the stability of the region. Al-Qaida had announced its responsibility for that murder, in collaboration with the Al-Nussra Front terrorist group.
Overall, violence in Iraq was lower than in 2009 to 2011, he said, and much lower than its peak in 2006-2007. Rebel groups, including Al-Qaida, were still active in parts of Iraq. Although sectarian violence was less than in previous years, it was still critical in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salah Al Din, Al Anbar and Diyala. The Government had condemned the attack on Camp Liberty on 9 February, and immediately launched an investigation to uncover the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
As for the political process, he said the Independent Electoral Commission was pressing ahead to hold the provincial council elections, slated for 20 April. In the economic arena, Iraq had curbed inflation, achieved economic growth and increased its oil exports. In 2012 the economy grew by 10 per cent for a second year in a row, and was expected to grow by 13.5 per cent in 2013. Iraq also was working to diversify and create new job opportunities. In December 2012, it ratified the framework agreement for trade and investment with the United States.
“Iraq is making an effort to support the moderate current in the region, encourage dialogue and steer the region away from the dangers of regional interventions,” he asserted, recalling that a settlement had been reached with Kuwait over the Iraqi Airways issue, and that Iraq’s Foreign Minister had visited Kuwait in February aboard an Iraqi Airways plane to inaugurate the first such flight in 23 years. A joint technical team was working on border maintenance, which would pave the way for relations based on mutual respect and common interest, and see Iraq’s exit from the restrictions imposed under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
“ Iraq today is not the Iraq before 2003,” he stressed, in closing remarks. “Iraq must regain the status it enjoyed before 1990.”
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and adjourned at 10:58 a.m.