Statement by SRSG for Iraq Jan Kubiš to the Security Council, New York, 16 February 2016

News and Press Release
Originally published


Mr. President,
I have the honour to present the second report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 7 of resolution 2231(2015), as well as the ninth report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013) on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, and property.

Mr. President,
In the past reporting period, the heroic people of Iraq have been steadily gaining ground against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is gradually losing its appeal to the disenfranchised population. The liberation and holding of Beiji, Sinjar, and most of all Ramadi, and continuing clearance of the surrounding areas from ISIL fighters, have instilled the people of Iraq with hope that the country can and will be liberated from ISIL. It has also documented how important it is to rely on local and tribal fighters from areas under ISIL control to participate in the liberation and take responsibility for the security of their cities and provinces, and has boosted the morale of all those engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The success also demonstrates the increasingly resolute and effective support to Iraq of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL in its fight against ISIL and provides lessons for preparations for the liberation of the remaining territories, most notably of Mosul.

Mr. President,
The terrorist organisation ISIL with its radical ideology and policies of sectarianism, violent extremism and terrorism constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security. Combatting ISIL by all means is a priority of the whole international community and Member States are called upon to re-double and coordinate their efforts.

Following the 18 December 2015 meeting of the Security Council, bilateral and diplomatic efforts, assisted by international partners and the UN, continue in order to resolve the issues of the presence of Turkish forces in Camp Bashiqa, so far without mutually acceptable results. I reiterate the calls made by the Secretary-General for a solution in line with the Charter of the UN and in full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. I also urge both sides to take steps that will enable the deepening of cooperation in the field of security and continuous support in fighting ISIL, based on consultations with and full consent of the Government of Iraq.

Mr. President,
Regardless of these successes, the threat of ISIL should not be underestimated. ISIL remains a formidable and determined enemy that constantly adjusts its tactics and attack patterns, taking into account also the developments in Syria. ISIL continues to retain a presence and the capacity to target the pro-government forces and civilian targets in government-controlled territories. In Baghdad, a complex attack with a number of suicide bombers at a shopping mall on 11 January 2016 represents such change in terrorism patterns.

ISIL cannot be defeated by military means alone, without addressing the root causes of violence and the underlying ideology, otherwise their effect will not be sustainable and lasting. Military victories need to be complemented by massive stabilisation and rehabilitation efforts that prioritise and allow for the safe return of IDPs to their towns of origin. Simultaneously, Iraqis must prioritise political and community reconciliation.

The lack of progress in implementing the National Political Agreement reflects the absence of political consensus and the continued pursuit of partisan interests. The stability, security and unity of Iraq hinge on an effective and inclusive political system and equality in decision-making at the federal and local levels. Tangible solutions to prevent political and sectarian exclusion have to include amendments to or adoption of priority legislation, followed by swift implementation, such as the Accountability and Justice Law, the National Guard Law and the General Amnesty Law.

Full and equal participation of the Sunni component in, and its co-ownership of, the national reconciliation programme is still a challenge. The absence of a single framework or vision for national reconciliation in Iraq is both symptomatic of long-existing problems and further impedes efforts to advance inclusive national and community dialogue and historic compromise.

Efforts by Sunni political forces and their leaders to unify their stance on national reconciliation, effective federalisation and decentralisation, and how to more successfully counter ISIL are equally necessary. I welcome such steps provided they add to internal consolidation and not divisions, while urging Sunni leaders and forces to continue such activities in the most inclusive manner possible.

In an effort to encourage Iraqis from all walks of life to accelerate steps towards national reconciliation and to address challenges related to ethnic and sectarian differences, UNAMI organised a series of events between 2 and 10 February to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week in Najaf, Baghdad and Erbil. The events promoted dialogue on preventative steps to address drivers of violent extremism, in consonance with the United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism of 15 January 2016.

Mr. President,
In early January, lethal attacks in Baghdad and in Muqdadiya, in Diyala governorate, perpetrated by ISIL and revenge violence by rogue militia elements and criminal groups prompted concern that the nation was again continuing down a spiralling trajectory of sectarian violence, compounded by internal political divisions along sectarian lines, as well as regional tensions and context. These attacks were an attempt to further stoke sectarian tensions and political polarisation in Iraq and weakened the unity of Iraq and its people. Through political action in response to the Muqdadiya events, the Sunni-led Iraqi Forces Coalition signalled their loss of faith in the Government’s ability to provide necessary protection to all of its citizens.

The Government has to take action to ensure that any person who is responsible for committing crimes is held accountable according to the law and through a fair and transparent judicial process.

We cannot allow the inciters of sectarian violence to continue pulling communities into the perpetuous cycle of violence and reprisals and drive a further wedge between various components of Iraqi society. They directly serve the interests of terrorism of ISIL.

Mr. President,
The unfortunate developments in Muqdadiya also highlighted the urgent need to reach progress in intercommunal relations and swiftly restore state and local authority, rule of law, good governance, justice and provision of services to the newly liberated areas and exert firm control over all fighters and weapons. Security sector reform addressing the issue of uncontrolled armed groups and their presence in cities, notably in liberated areas, is a priority. These are the conditions that are also essential in ensuring the return of the displaced, including ethnic and minority communities, to their places of origin voluntarily, freely and in full respect and protection of their rights.

I welcome the federal Government’s decision to send security forces to Basra to implement the rule of law and curb violent feuds between and among communities, militia groups, and to counter organized crime, as well as to seize illegal weapons.

The Government needs to institute a reform of the criminal justice system to ensure full and equal access to justice for all Iraq’s citizens, including for marginalized and disempowered groups and detainees. Addressing head-on the systemic weaknesses in the administration of justice in Iraq that have been a contributing factor to ongoing cycles of violence in the country is a must.

Mr. President,
Stabilization in liberated areas and the safe return of IDPs are of enormous political importance. I am happy to report that the stabilization phase of Tikrit is almost complete. Ninety percent of its population (167,000 people) have now returned home. Overall, the Government has given very high priority to returns and so far, more than 500,000 displaced Iraqis have returned to their home communities. The Government intends that up to 900,000 will return in 2016.

There are, however, a number of complicated factors impacting the pace of returns. These include a huge number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which have been laid by ISIL and which must be removed before populations can return home, as well as devastating destruction to infrastructure and homes. We are seeing this right now in Ramadi. The Iraqi Security Forces have limited capacity to deal with IED contamination. Furthermore, funding is insufficient. I call on Iraq’s regional and international partners to enhance their support to the Government of Iraq’s efforts to hold and stabilise areas retaken from ISIL. These efforts also ought to focus on building the capacity of local security and police forces through training and material support, in full adherence to human rights law.

Mr. President,
Persistent political polarization and divisions also continue to hamper Prime Minister Abadi’s ability to advance the reform agenda, including in decentralisation and fighting corruption. Discontent over the slow pace of the implementation of Government’s reform promise has been expressed by both the public and the influential Marja’iya. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement aimed at establishing a more professional Cabinet with members selected on merit, and not on sectarian or political quotas, should be accompanied by accelerated implementation of a genuine political, security and economic reform package. The complex and deepening set of challenges before the country and its people requires that the political blocks finally work together in support of comprehensive and profound reforms, as they did when adopting the budget for 2016.

However, Iraq’s persistent and rapidly-deepening fiscal crisis and growing budget deficit, compounded by the security and humanitarian situation and drastic decline in global oil prices, has almost halved the State’s planned income since then, and the Kurdistan Region faces at least a situation as grave as that of Baghdad. Iraq’s approved budget lacks a clear economic vision to adequately address the Prime Minister’s economic and financial reform proposals, including devolution of central powers to the local level, which could tackle many of these challenges in a longer-term perspective. This has already constrained the Government’s ability to fund community reconciliation, stabilization and reconstruction activities, and is leading to mounting difficulties in paying civil servant salaries and providing services. Fiscal challenges are also likely to impact the fight against ISIL as a significant number of fighters, notably the Peshmerga, have not received salaries for several months.

I am mindful that if left unaddressed, such an unsustainable situation may seriously undermine the renewed morale of pro-government forces and confidence of the people, including youths, communities, minorities and IDPs that they can have a future in Iraq. An increasing number of demonstrations have taken place due to delays in salary payments, the majority in Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah, including by members of the police. The Governments in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil will both need to take all possible measures to diversify Iraq’s oil-dependent economy, curb excessive spending, and to expedite structural reforms and privatisation to decrease losses through graft. They further need to ensure good governance and inclusive and equitable access to employment opportunities, education, heath and other public services. And while the Government must rapidly prioritise and take full ownership over the state finances and reforms, I urge the international community to assist Iraq in overcoming these difficulties through increased technical support and funding, including through lending by international and regional financial institutions. Genuine economic reforms by the governments in Baghdad and Erbil could pave the way to such financial and budgetary support.

Mr. President,
The severe economic crisis is having a sobering effect on the relationship between Baghdad and Erbil, with both sides showing renewed will to work together, militarily and economically, including on reforms. The long-awaited visit of a high-level Kurdistan Regional Government delegation, headed by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, to Baghdad in late January and a meeting last week of Prime Minister al-Abadi with President Barzani in Munich send positive signals. Baghdad and Erbil must be partners in navigating these troubled waters, now more than ever before. I am therefore hopeful that realism and pragmatism will prevail and help boost efforts in ensuring the stability and prosperity of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, needed to continue jointly the existential fight against ISIL.

The ongoing deadlock in the Kurdistan Region’s internal political crisis remains of concern. In my meetings with political interlocutors I have encouraged them to come together and reach an agreement based on compromise, inclusiveness and democratic principles.

Mr. President,
A UN human rights report released on 19 January 2016 details the severe and extensive impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering. The updated figures show that from January 2014 to 31 December 2015, UNAMI documented 57,778 civilian casualties in Iraq, including 19,797 people killed. In 2015 only, UNAMI documented 22,370 civilian casualties in Iraq, including 7,515 people killed. And even these figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians have suffered. Countless unreported cases as well as countless other victims of the lack of access to basic food, water or medical care should be also taken into account.

Women and children continue to bear the heaviest burden from human rights violations and the effects of armed conflict. ISIL continues to kill, maim, systematically abduct, rape, torture and displace Iraqi civilians in the hundreds, causing untold suffering with acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide. Regretfully, also continued absence of the rule of law in liberated areas, including in the Disputed Internal Boundary areas, reports of arbitrary arrests, killings and destruction of property, as well as of efforts to forcibly change the demographic composition of these areas, notably by manipulating and preventing returns of IDPs, including ethnic and religious minorities, are rising.

Ensuring the accountability of the perpetrators of crimes or of any violations of human rights committed anywhere or by anyone, is of paramount importance. I once again urge all parties to the armed conflict to ensure that every effort is made to spare civilians from the effects of violence, to respect human rights principles and humanitarian law, to abide by the principles of proportionality and distinction in the course of military operations, to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities, and to facilitate access to safe areas and to essential humanitarian assistance.

To this end, I would like to add my voice to that of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, calling on Iraq to consider becoming a Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions 1949, and that the Iraqi criminal code be amended to grant Iraqi courts the jurisdiction to deal with international crimes.

Mr President,
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is highly complex, and is expected to widen and worsen this year. Today not only 3.3 million IDPs, but altogether some ten million Iraqis - almost one third of the population - urgently require some form of humanitarian assistance. Let’s not forget – without the necessary support, today’s IDPs will become tomorrow’s refugees. The national effort to address the humanitarian crisis has been impressive. Both the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government have provided aid, coordinated assistance and helped to secure the safety of populations who need assistance. The people of Iraq continued to welcome displaced people into their homes and work tirelessly to provide care and support. Iraqi generosity remains unflinching; but there is a new reality this year. Humanitarian needs are now so great they far outstrip national capacities. The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government simply do not have the resources to keep providing assistance, not because of a lack of will or a reluctance to assume responsibility, but because of the grave economic and fiscal situation.

On top of this, a potential catastrophe from the Mosul Dam adds new grave challenges and pressures and requires an urgent action of both the Government of Iraq and the international community, including the UN, as well as public awareness campaign and disaster response plans, including evacuation of the affected population in case of such catastrophe.

On 31 January my Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator jointly with the Iraqi Minister of Migration and Displacement launched a humanitarian appeal requesting US$861 million to help ensure that the most vulnerable people receive the assistance they need. I urge that this appeal, which reflects the absolute minimum required to help Iraqis survive the crisis, be adequately resourced, as soon as possible, to meet growing needs and prevent a further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq given its impact for the security of Iraq, the region and beyond, and continued high levels of migration.

Mr. President,
Please allow me to turn now to the ninth report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013) on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.

As part of the Government of Iraq’s reform programme, the Council of Ministers agreed on the distribution of the files formerly under the mandate of the Ministry of Human Rights, deciding to transfer the technical overview of the missing Kuwaiti persons file to the Ministry of Defence. While this is a positive step, the Government of Iraq must now implement the decision and allocate the needed financial resources to ensure that work continues unabated. The same level of commitment is also necessary to reinvigorate efforts in search of missing Kuwaiti property.

On a positive note, cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait continues to reach new heights. In December, during the fifth session of the Kuwait-Iraq Joint Ministerial Committee, the parties signed agreements covering several fields, including youth and sports, inspection and control, and communications. The ever-expanding partnership between the two States is commendable. It is a strong indicator that animosities of the past can be overcome to build a better future based on good neighbourly relations. Nonetheless, full normalization of relations can only be attained if concrete results are achieved on this important humanitarian issue. The international obligation of the Government of Iraq, therefore, remains to ensure progress.

Mr. President,
The UN continues to operate in difficult and often dangerous conditions in Iraq. I regret to inform the Members of the Security Council that yesterday we received the news that UNAMI’s staff member abducted in April 2015 in Diyala was found dead. I am deeply shocked and saddened about this news. I strongly urge the Iraqi authorities to conduct immediately a thorough and transparent investigation into this abduction and murder and hold the perpetrators accountable. I remind the Government of Iraq that national authorities bear full responsibility for serving justice in this case, as well as they do to safeguard and protect all UN personnel serving in the country.