Updated: Jul 28
Five months away from national elections in Iraq — a milestone event in the country’s young democracy — violent attacks against both civilian and military targets continue with “troubling” regularity, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, as delegates called for continued vigilance against terrorist activities and the enactment of economic reforms.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said the elections, slated for 10 October, were a central demand of the protest movement. Yet, many of its members are being persecuted with “rampant impunity”. The assassination of prominent activist Ihab Jawad al-Wazni just two days ago by unidentified gunmen in front of his house in Karbala, is yet another tragic example.
“They may think they have silenced a voice,” she said. “The truth is: they have only amplified it. And our heart goes out to his loved ones and all of those who have lost friends and family in the fight to have their voices heard.” She also expressed condolences to those who lost friends and family members in the fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad in April. Presenting the Secretary-General’s two latest reports — on UNAMI (document S/2021/426) and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, as well as missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives (document S/2021/395) — she said that, after intense political negotiations, the Council of Representatives approved the federal budget law for 2021. While any budget is a work of compromise, efforts to control public spending and invest in the private sector were thwarted as the law underwent parliamentary revision. She likewise raised concerns that Iraq remains heavily reliant on the oil sector, which accounts for 80 per cent of Government revenues under 2021 projections. Beyond COVID-19, the economic outlook will depend on both structural reform and the oil markets, she said, noting that minimal progress can be reported on the implementation of Iraq’s White Paper for Economic Reforms. “One cannot overstate the need for transparency, good governance and integrity in achieving these results,” she said. “The return on investment must benefit the Iraqi people and not illicitly flow into private pockets.”
Turning to the Baghdad-Erbil relationship, she underscored the dire need for a constitutional way forward. While parties express their willingness to come to the table, progress will remain stalled in the absence of institutionalized, regular, structured dialogue. Ambiguous wording in a revenue‑sharing deal opens the door to divergent interpretations and mutual accusations of non-compliance. “This bodes ill for the future of Baghdad-Erbil relations,” she said, calling for sustained, strategic dialogue, and clear-cut implementation mechanisms. On the elections front, she welcomed the adoption of all necessary laws, including the federal Supreme Court law, noting ongoing UNAMI technical support to the High Electoral Commission. She called on all Iraqi stakeholders to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, stressing that “the world is watching”. Candidates, campaigners, the media and voters must be free to exercise their democratic rights before, during and after the election. The failure to hold credible elections would cause “significant, lasting, widespread anger and disillusionment”.
She said accountability for human rights violations remains “very, very limited”, with few prosecutions for the killing and serious injury of protestors. No information has been made public on the violent attacks against demonstrators that critics attributed to so-called “unidentified armed actors”. This climate of impunity only emboldens perpetrators and erodes trust in the State, she said. The curtailment of free expression in Kurdistan is also worrisome.
Regarding Kirkuk, she said that, while UNAMI has facilitated dialogue for two years, agreement has not been reached and she urged all stakeholders to conclude a fair accord without delay. As for Sinjar, federal and Kurdistan regional authorities are engaged in discussions on security provisions in the October 2020 agreement that remain unimplemented. She pointed to the passage of the Yazidi survivors’ law as a brighter development, as it provides reparations and legal recognition of atrocities committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) against women and girls as genocide and crimes against humanity.
On the security situation, she cited progress in combating the remnants of ISIL/Da’esh. However, terrorism persists, with rockets and improvised explosive devices now a constant presence in Iraqi life. Despite Government efforts to bring all arms under State control, non-State actors are using new capabilities. Emphasizing that Iraq is deeply committed to playing a constructive regional role, she said it has great potential to operate as an honest broker in promoting peace and stability. To succeed, these efforts must go hand in hand with actions to bring all arms under State control.
As for the humanitarian outlook, she said that 16 camps for internally displaced persons have been closed or reclassified over the last seven months, affecting around 50,000 Iraqis. When camps are closed before return conditions are appropriate, families are rejected by home communities, denied protection by local authorities, stranded by security escorts en route and even physically attacked. “The focus must be on solving displacement rather than closing camps,” she asserted.
Finally, she said the remains of eight Kuwaiti missing persons and one third-country national were identified since her last briefing to the Council. Additionally, the remains of an Iraqi soldier were handed over by Kuwait to Iraq, in the first transfer of its kind since 2013. Indeed, persistence by the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Tripartite Commission has collectively achieved progress. “It is my sincere hope that this cooperation will yield further positive advancements in the months to come,” she said.
In the ensuing debate, delegates expressed support for Iraq in delivering free, fair and inclusive elections, carrying out crucial economic reforms and combating terrorism. Many commended Government efforts to ensure respect for law and order and welcomed the passage of the 2021 budget. Some emphasized that Iraq should not become an arena for regional confrontation and called for the resolution of outstanding issues with Kuwait. The representative of Iraq said the Government is making significant strides and working at the highest levels to respond to people’s demands. This includes providing services, fostering peace and security, deploying resources to fight COVID-19, countering terrorism, implementing urgent economic and fiscal reforms, and above all, preparing for the conduct of free and fair elections. The Government’s main priority is the economic and fiscal situation, even as the spread of COVID-19 continues to grow, now reaching 8,000 cases per day. It is implementing the White Paper for Economic Reforms, aimed at reducing dependence on oil revenues, and the Council of Representatives has approved the 2021 budget and created the High Committee on Reform. To enhance anti-corruption efforts, it approved automation and e-governance measures for use in all Government institutions and has sought to build trust with the Iraqi people, listening to their voices and respecting their constitutional rights to free expression and protest. In addition, it made significant efforts to prosecute criminal gangs targeting protesters and compensate victims and their families, and created a fact-finding team tasked with investigating these violent acts. The Government also took action against security force members who targeted protestors.
Describing terrorism as “the most serious of threats”, he renewed Iraq’s commitment to cooperate with the international community in this regard and summarized steps to address these serious security challenges and other issues ahead of elections, from the newly approved federal Supreme Court law to the Council of Representatives’ decision to dissolve itself in October. Iraq is also committed to creating an environment conducive to its ongoing dialogue with Kurdistan. Committed to cooperating with Kuwait on outstanding issues outlined in paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013), he said Iraq has made timely compensation payments, with $380 million paid on 8 April, adding that $1.7 billion of a total $52.4 billion remains outstanding. As for missing persons, he said Iraq highly values Kuwait’s announced identification of eight missing people, bringing the number of identifications to 28 of 69 missing people. He called on the Tripartite Mechanism and Kuwait to announce the DNA results related to 49 missing persons.
Drawing attention to two letters Iraq had sent to the Security Council requesting United Nations support in observing the electoral process, he said: “This is key for ensuing success for the most important pillar of democracy: elections.” Expressing support for the proposal to establish an observation team and to submit a report, he suggested that the United Nations launch an awareness campaign, and said that targeting United Nations missions are “attempts to silence the voices for our elections”, and these efforts will not be successful. The representative of the United States said Iraq’s elections and economic development both come down to building trust. Recognizing the request by the Government of Iraq for additional support for the holding of free, credible elections, she said both the United States and the United Nations are committed to providing assistance. Questioning whether the UNAMI mandate for electoral assistance is sizable enough, she called for a larger, more robust technical election monitoring team, as spoilers are threatening to undermine the process. Citing the recent killings of an activist and a journalist, she said such attacks target the lives of people alongside the freedoms of assembly and expression. Turning to economic development, she welcomed the passage of the 2021 budget law and the compromise made between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Expressing support for the Government in implementing economic reforms, she commended its efforts to eradicate corruption, which undermine economic development at every turn.
The representative of Norway said freedom of expression and assembly remains vital for the democratic development of Iraq. Condemning recent violence, including the assassination of an activist in Karbala and the shooting of a journalist in Diwaniyah, she called on Iraqi authorities to hold perpetrators accountable. Security and protection of all Iraqi citizens is essential ahead of October elections, and long-term stability can only be achieved by addressing the underlying causes of conflict and instability. Economic, social and political reforms must be initiated, with an increased emphasis on reconciliation efforts. She also underlined the need to address the issue of climate change and water scarcity as these challenges require joint solutions to ensure a stable and secure future.
The representative of Mexico expressed grave concern over the fragile security situation, condemning missile attacks around Irbil airport and on two air bases and calling for ending all acts of violence. Noting progress in the training of electoral officials and welcoming efforts to ensure female participation in the process, he said Mexico recognizes Iraq’s action to implement the women, peace and security agenda, which includes an increase in their representation in high-level positions. He likewise welcomed the recent approval of the law for Yazidi survivors, which condemns genocide and crimes against humanity committed by ISIL/Da’esh. Recalling the 3 March execution of 3 people accused of terrorism by authorities in Nasiriyah prison and the 21 others that occurred in November 2020, he rejected the death penalty as “inhumane and degrading treatment with irreparable consequences” and urged the Government to institute a moratorium on the practice, towards its abolition. He also called for expedited renewal of the UNAMI mandate.
The representative of Niger expressed support for an inclusive national dialogue to restore unity in Iraq, stressing that “the international community must play a role in its march towards stability and hope”. International cooperation is also urgent so Iraq can address such issues as COVID-19 and climate change. Expressing concern over the arrests of and violence against demonstrators, civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists, he urged the Government to honour its commitment to operationalize the body responsible for investigating such violence. Calling on the United Nations to ensure UNAMI has the necessary resources to support the electoral process, he urged the Security Council and all of the Organization’s relevant bodies to respond to Iraq’s related requests. He likewise called for enhanced cooperation to resolve issues around missing persons, remains and archives from Kuwait, noting such encouraging progress as the recent identification of eight missing Kuwaitis and one third-country national. Welcoming the return of an Iraqi soldier to Iraq, he called on authorities to remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism to thwart its resurgence.
The representative of Tunisia said Iraq’s series of reforms deserve international support, as this paves the way for free, fair and transparent elections. Given existing challenges in the electoral process, he expressed support for the enhanced role of UNAMI in providing technical assistance. Underlining the importance of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he warned that external Powers should not make the country a theatre for their battle for influence. Turning to the economy, he encouraged the implementation of recommendations contained in the white paper, including anti‑corruption efforts. Tunisia supports the renewal of the UNAMI mandate so it can help to strengthen capacities in Iraq. The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines recognized Iraq’s continued efforts to hold free, fair and credible elections, including the passage of the First Amendment to the Federal Supreme Court Law for the certification of electoral results. It is crucial UNAMI continue to support the Independent High Electoral Commission to facilitate thorough and effective preparations. This election is an opportunity to restore unity in Iraq, she said, welcoming the Council of Ministers’ focus on promoting and monitoring women’s participation and the General Secretariat’s proposed measures to prevent and address violence against female candidates. She also recognized the Prime Minister’s call for a comprehensive national dialogue geared towards enhancing mutual understanding among communities and rebuilding the social fabric of Iraq.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting the easing of pandemic‑related restrictions in New York, called on China, as Council President, to take steps to ensure that the organ can swiftly revert to its traditional work methods and format. Expressing concern over the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq, he said the resulting protests and sharp revenue reductions have amplified the spread of COVID-19 and incursions by terrorist groups. While commending Government efforts to ensure security and respect for law and order, he said it is impossible to quickly resolve all problems. International assistance, therefore, should focus on humanitarian issues and on the need to rebuild areas targeted by ISIL/Da’esh. Welcoming the approval of the 2021 budget, he said the security situation remains fragile due to increased terrorist activities. All those engaged in countering terrorism must respect Iraq’s sovereignty and coordinate their actions with Baghdad. Welcoming Iraq’s request for UNAMI to monitor elections, he recommended that the Council further discuss this matter. He also expressed support for Iraq and Kuwait to resolve outstanding issues. However, Iraq should not become an arena for regional confrontation, he said, urging all external players to refrain from taking steps that could negatively impact the situation.
The representative of Kenya commended preparations for inclusive, transparent, free and credible elections, which would lay a solid foundation for social cohesion, political stability and State building. The recent establishment of a higher committee to promote and monitor women’s participation in the electoral process is a positive step on inclusivity. Condemning Da’esh attacks in several Governorates, he said terrorists must never be legitimized as political actors. In terms of advancing inclusive political dialogue and reconciliation, he expressed support for the Mission’s mandate to assist with the Government and people of Iraq.
The representative of Viet Nam said the elections must be owned and led by Iraq, and his delegation stands ready to work with other members of the Council on the Government’s request for related assistance. Elections must be held in a free, fair and inclusive manner, with broad participation by all segments of society, especially women and young people. Welcoming efforts undertaken by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women) and Iraqi institutions to promote and monitor female electoral participation, he commended UNAMI for assisting the Independent High Electoral Commission in developing procedures to ensure that all eligible voters, including internally displaced persons, can cast ballots. Viet Nam looks forward to working with Council members to renew the mandate of UNAMI by the end of May.
The representative of France expressed hope that the Security Council would respond positively to Iraq’s request, emphasizing that the international community must be relied upon in the conduct of free and fair elections. Welcoming the formation of a committee to monitor women’s participation, she encouraged Iraq’s partners and regional organizations to play a role in related efforts. More broadly, the international community must mobilize support for Iraq’s sovereignty, including reform efforts to modernize the economy and prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses. Iraqis must also be able to exercise their rights to free expression and assembly, which are crucial for the proposed national dialogue. In addition, Iraq must be protected from regional tensions. Affirming that Iraq could serve as an example of coexistence, she said a sovereign Iraq requires control over all armed groups. Indeed, support from the global coalition remains indispensable. Calling for the full implementation of the Sinjar agreement, she welcomed projects carried out in Mosul, the adoption of the Yazidi survivors’ law and progress made on missing Kuwaitis and third-country nationals.
The representative of the United Kingdom said his delegation stands with the Government of Iraq as it seeks to deliver free, fair and inclusive elections, implement crucial economic reform and combat terrorism. The October elections could be a defining moment and a step towards increased stability, he said, welcoming efforts to promote and monitor women’s electoral participation. Expressing concerns about the estimated 1.2 million internally displaced people and the closure of camps for them, he said the United Kingdom has since 2014 committed more than $380 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq. Welcoming the national plan for the return of internally displaced people, he urged the Government to prioritize finding sustainable, durable solutions and coordinate closely with the United Nations to ensure their safe, dignified and voluntary return.
The representative of Ireland welcomed the establishment of a committee to promote and monitor women’s electoral participation and the introduction of measures to prevent and address violence against female candidates. Similarly, the Electoral Commission’s recommendation to register internally displaced persons to vote is a significant step that should be enacted without delay. She also welcomed the Government’s efforts to combat corruption and to ensure that those found guilty of such crimes are held accountable. Expressing a concern about reports of continued terrorist attacks, she reiterated her delegation’s firm rejection of any attempts to destabilize Iraq, declaring that its peace and stability is essential for the prosperity of its people and for the entire region.
The representative of India said high voter turnout in the upcoming elections will be key to ensuring a representative Parliament and Government that has the people’s confidence. The United Nations and international elections observation, as requested by the Government, will help to build this confidence. India fully supports this request and the Security Council should respond to it positively. Successful post-conflict recovery and economic development in Iraq requires stability and security in the country, he said, expressing a concern at the increasing number of attacks by ISIL. However, the violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the pretext of counter-terrorism operations must come to an end. In this vein, neighbouring countries must work with Iraqi authorities to address all security challenges faced by them.
The representative of Estonia said an inclusive dialogue involving all political forces, communities and groups — including women and youth — will promote reconciliation. He called on all Iraqi stakeholders to foster a conducive environment for holding credible, transparent and inclusive elections, welcoming the establishment of a higher committee to monitor women’s electoral participation and to prevent violence against female candidates. For its part, the Security Council must carefully consider the best feasible way to respond to Iraq’s request for election observation, he said, urging the Government to ensure accountability for violence against protesters, civil society activists and journalists. He strongly condemned attacks against diplomatic missions and personnel involved with the global coalition, reiterating support for Iraq’s fight against ISIL/Da’esh, as well as the need for all actors to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and refrain from military actions that would threaten stability. The Government meanwhile should take additional measures to ensure State control over all armed forces, welcoming its agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government on the federal budget law.
The representative of China, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity to describe a grim security situation and press the international community to help Iraq to tackle the problem of foreign terrorist fighters. A peaceful Iraq is contingent upon a favourable regional setting, he said, encouraging parties to uphold the principles of non-interference and full respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Any military operations on Iraq’s soil must have prior consent, he said, cautioning that Iraq should not fall victim to geopolitical manoeuvres. He welcomed the cooperation demonstrated on Kuwaiti missing persons and property, encouraging support for Iraq in the conduct of its elections. Urging the Government to ensure “peaceful and smooth” elections that fully reflect the aspirations of Iraqis, he said the United Nations should take on board Iraq’s related request and play a positive role. “Greater unity is vital to a stable Iraq,” he said, welcoming agreement with Kurdistan Regional Government on the 2021 budget and calling for international support in the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Ms. HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, responding to a question on the status of prosecutions of ISIL/Da’esh fighters in national courts, said UNAMI has monitored more than 800 of these trials, which have recently resumed after a temporary suspension due to COVID-19. The Mission also issued a “fair trial report” containing recommendations to the Government for revising the anti-terrorism law to comply with international standards. To questions raised about the spread of ISIL/Da’esh ideology, she emphasized that strengthening security is as much about addressing the root causes of extremism as it is about tackling direct threats on the ground. “We do see way too many communities vulnerable to extremist messaging,” she said, pointing to the closure of camps as a sign that “we are not building the stabilized communities we are looking for”, and stressing that “ISIL/Da’esh remains a clear threat, not only in Iraq, but in the region”.