Distinguished members of the Security Council,
I am honoured to brief you today for the very first time in my capacity.
As you know, the collaborative spirit between the leading parliamentary blocs four months ago allowed the consensual nomination of Mr. Adel Abdul-Mahdi as the Prime Minister-designate.
However, to date, the Government of Iraq remains incomplete. Four ministerial positions are still vacant, with three of them (Interior, Defence and Justice) being subject to fierce disagreements between political parties and among political blocs.
Within this context, multiple parliamentary sessions have been adjourned, interrupted or boycotted. And as a result, the implementation of the government programme has made little headway.
As we speak, the Iraqi parliament is in a one-month recess and will only reconvene in early March.
Long government formation processes are not new, nor unique to Iraq. However, in the Iraq context there is a real urgency to complete the process without delay to focus on rebuilding the country after years of conflict.
Therefore, I would like to call upon the political actors, once again to overcome political infighting and to demonstrate that political compromise can prevail in the greater interests of the Iraqi people. And in doing so, I would also like to remind them that there are excellent and experienced Iraqi women well-qualified to perform the job.
Ultimately, the people of Iraq are bearing the brunt of the political stalemate. Bearing the brunt at a time when it is critical to address their needs and demands for better services. At a time when the Iraqi citizens ought to be able to rely on strong democratic governance and viable state institutions.
So yes, it is high time for Iraqi leaders to shift focus from factional politics, and to invest efforts in addressing the immediate needs of the Iraqi citizens as further delays could give space to significant repercussions on the stability of the country.
On a more positive note, I am pleased to inform you that the 2019 Federal Budget Law was approved by Parliament on January 23. Prior consultations as well as effective cooperation, made this achievement possible.
The good news is that it does demonstrate that space for constructive political dialogue and partnership is out there. And I truly hope that we will see lots more of it in the months to come.
The 2019 budget allocations for some key development sectors, such as electricity, do reflect the government’s efforts to improve the delivery of basic services. But still, allocations for reconstruction in liberated areas are far less than the actual needs. Moreover, Iraq’s state finances remain strongly reliant on oil sector revenues and thus very vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices.
Another positive step is last week’s decision of the Council of Ministers to convert the Government Programme activities into an implementation plan. It will allow for close monitoring of progress as well as accountability.
Additionally, I would like to welcome the steps taken by government to address corruption. Within the last month, the Prime Minister chaired three meetings of the Supreme Council for Corruption which aims to unify efforts to combat corruption by any party or person, regardless of their post or position.
The fight against corruption will not be an easy one, but it is a much needed one as corruption is vast and pervasive at all levels in Iraq. It is a much-needed fight in order to revive public trust.
During our meeting in Najaf last Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Sistani also underlined once again the urgent need to show progress in fighting corruption.
Turning to relations between Baghdad and Erbil, I would like to welcome the agreement reached on January 16 to unify customs duties. This decision is an important step in reinforcing Iraq’s unity. A speedy implementation of this agreement should now be a priority for both sides.
Moreover, the finalisation of the 2019 federal budget guaranteed federal funding for salary payments to Kurdistan Region civil servants and Peshmerga forces. And I would like to call upon both, Baghdad and Erbil, to capitalise on this positive momentum and to overcome their differences.
There is little to report on the government formation within the Kurdistan Region, as to date, negotiations continue. In my meetings with Kurdish leaders, both in Erbil and Sulaimaniya, I emphasized the need to expedite the government formation in order to serve the needs of the people of the Kurdistan region soonest. Some developments seem to be unfolding though, with a possible session of the Kurdistan Region Parliament to be held on 18 February.
During this reporting period, Iraq’s leadership has made significant efforts in recalibrating its external relationships, reaching out to many international, regional and neighbouring partners – important as strength abroad and strength at home is a package deal indeed.
During this period, Iraq has also received high-level international delegations seeking to engage with the new Iraqi leadership. And I truly hope that support for sustainable stability in Iraq will continue to be on top of the regional and international agenda building upon mutual interests and in accordance with the principles of respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Security remains a concern. Although terrorist activities have decreased, during the past month attacks have been carried out against both civilians and the Iraqi Security Forces.
In short: despite its military defeat, ISIL continues to pose a security threat to Iraq and the region.
Another concern relates to armed groups operating out of State control and also expanding their control of economic and social control in Iraqi daily life. Regardless of their affiliation, the government needs to take quick measures to reform its security sector and act resolutely against these groups and their activities.
As you are also aware, Turkish military airstrikes near the Iraqi-Turkish border in northern Iraq have been condemned by the authorities in Iraq as violations of Iraq’s sovereignty. Turley maintains these airstrikes are against PKK targets. I regret the loss of civilian lives and the loss of civilian livelihoods during these operations. It is important that both the Governments of Turkey and Iraq accelerate their efforts to resolve this, as well as other issues of mutual concern through bilateral dialogue.
Following a series of meetings with parliamentary committees and the Council of Ministers, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has formally recommended that Iraq’s Provincial Council elections take place on November 16.
UNAMI will continue to provide the requested technical assistance and support to IHEC. However, in preparation for these elections a number of steps will need to be taken – urgently – by the Government of Iraq and the relevant institutions.
When speaking of a more structured and focused support by UNAMI to promote accountability for human rights violations and to ensure that the rights of all citizens are promoted and protected, I would like to emphasize that promoting a more consistent adherence of the Government of Iraq to international standards of due process and fair trial is of the greatest importance. An impartial and transparent process of judicial accountability – for the gross violations of human rights by ISIL – will prove crucial in rebuilding social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
Equally important is the need to strengthen community cohesion and to counter collective community blame as it undermines the legitimate efforts of the government to ensure accountability for individuals responsible for these gross human rights violations. Moreover, marginalization of one group over another, leaves communities vulnerable to extremist messaging.
On equal opportunities, I launched (on January 24) the Women’s Advisory Group on Reconciliation and Politics.
I therefore renew UNAMI’s call on the political leaders to fulfil the many pledges made during the electoral period and thus to appoint women in senior decision-making positions.
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners have finalised the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Iraq and will soon launch the Humanitarian Response Plan.
This year, the humanitarian community will focus on meeting the needs of 1.75 million vulnerable Iraqis including IDPs living both in and out-of-camp settings, returnees in areas of severe need as well as host communities that have been strained by several years of armed conflict. And the needs are vast indeed!
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan seeks $700 million from donors and contains specialised programming to address protection. Humanitarian programming will, of course, be implemented alongside recovery and stabilisation efforts.
While significant efforts are underway to reconstruct infrastructure and to restore basic services it will take many years and billions of dollars to rebuild the country. And Iraq will – undoubtedly – need the continued attention of the international community to make this transition successful and sustainable.
Thanks to the generous support of the international community, the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilisation exceeded $1 billion at the end of 2018. However, a gap of $338 million still exists. In other words: additional funds are needed including contributions by the Government of Iraq, which does acknowledge the quick impacts and efficiency of this programme.
It goes without saying that the UN Country Team (UNCT) continues to assist help the Government of Iraq in meeting the needs of its citizens. Some examples from the past few months include:
• the provision of medical kits and supplies to save lives (WHO);
• the digitisation of Iraq’s largest social safety net: the Public Distribution System (WFP);
• the provision of food entitlements (WFP);
• the clearance of explosives; and
• the finalisation of a reconstruction plan for Mosul.
The UN system also continues to support the Government of Iraq in the implementation of some key reforms such as in the security sector.
During my visit to Mosul a couple of weeks ago, I witnessed the important UNCT contribution, assisting the government in the rehabilitation of houses as well as the restoration of water plants, both essential needs (shelter + water) for the return of life to this war-torn city.
As you know, mine action organisations manage the threat of IED’s on a daily basis. I cannot stress enough the importance of this effort. Further action is required by the Government of Iraq to overcome certain challenges in facilitating these activities.
Since the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq almost a year ago, the Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme (RRP) has been rolled out.
The Programme is national in its coverage and has a two-year budget of $1 billion. Resource mobilisation efforts are ongoing, with over $300 million pledged so far for projects, and I would like to encourage other donors to contribute.
With your permission, I would like to turn now to the twenty-first report of the Secretary-General on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.
Let me – first of all – emphasize my determination to engage with this file. In my first official visit to Kuwait 10 days ago, I emphasized this once again.
And while UNAMI continues to assist the governments of Iraq and Kuwait on this important humanitarian issue I would like to call upon member states to strengthen their support, for example through the procurement of field equipment, the provision of forensics, anthropological training as well as capacity-building for Iraqi and Kuwaiti technical teams.
The return of valuable Kuwaiti property last November was a positive and long-awaited step. And I encourage the Iraqi government to continue its search for the still missing National Archives.
In conclusion, I would like to underline that, yes, the atmosphere of despair during the period of ISIL occupation has given some way to hope and optimism for the future in Iraq. However, one cannot shy away from the fact that the road to well-deserved long-term stability in Iraq will be far from easy.
Realism and great determination will be necessary in facing the challenges ahead, also on our side. Obvious ownership and engagement of all Iraqi components will prove crucial, political will a precondition and taking pride in a shared history and a common future a necessity. And yes, continued support from the International Community will be of paramount importance.
Finally, Mr. President, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to UNAMI – and UNCT staff. I am truly delighted to be working with them and I look forward to reporting back to you on (I hope) some substantive achievements over coming months.