NEW YORK – Beset by violence in neighbouring Syria and a political stalemate at home, Iraq had reached a “crucial phase” from where it could either continue to deepen its democratic roots or surrender to increased instability, the head of the United Nations mission in that country said today, as he delivered his final briefing to the Security Council in that capacity.
Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said that 10 years after the fall of the former regime and less than two years after the withdrawal of United States forces, the country faced two paths. “The country can continue to make important strides in deepening the roots of democracy, pursuing reform, embracing diversity, as well as improving its stature in the international community,” he said. “Or Iraq can go down a dangerous path, potholed with political impasse and sectarian violence at each turn, leading to increased instability.”
Mr. Kobler, whose term at UNAMI’s helm is scheduled to end this month, said the last four months had been among the bloodiest of the last five years, with some 3,000 people killed and more than 7,000 others injured. The perpetrators were taking advantage of two leading factors of instability, namely the ongoing political stalemate within Iraq and the conflict in neighbouring Syria, he said.
“The violence in Iraq cannot be separated from the civil war in Syria,” he continued, emphasizing that the battlefields were merging. Iraqi armed groups had an increasingly active presence in Syria. Indeed, the conflict was no longer merely spilling over into Iraq; it had spread to Iraq as Iraqis took up arms against each other in Syria and at home. “This violence could easily spiral out of control if not urgently addressed,” he warned, pointing out that more than 160,000 Syrian refugees were currently registered in Iraq.
Turning to the political sphere, he noted that more than seven months after the first protest had broken out in Ramadi, demonstrators were still holding sit-ins on international highways and public squares throughout Iraq’s western governorates, claiming that the Government had yet to fulfil their demands.
“I have continued to pursue UNAMI’s mandate to promote national reconciliation,” he emphasized, in particular by consulting with key actors and offering his good offices. To promote a negotiated solution to the crisis, UNAMI had established a set of principles that should guide any dialogue initiative. They included the unity and integrity of Iraqi territory; rejection of all forms of violence; eradication of all forms of sectarian incitement; respect for the Constitution as the supreme law; and upholding all fundamental freedoms and human rights.
In that context, he appealed to all leaders and representatives to end the political stalemate by enacting recently proposed amendments and laws ‑ which had been tabled for consideration by Parliament but remained pending ‑ and called on demonstrators to maintain the peaceful nature of their protests and engage in a sincere and constructive dialogue without further delay.
Iraqis had been reminded of the urgent need to resolve the crisis on 23 April, when security forces had clashed with demonstrators in Kirkuk Province’s southern town of Hawija, he said. The security forces had used excessive force that had led to the deaths of 45 people and injured another 110, almost all of them civilians. The violence had then unleashed a wave of deadly standoffs and attacks across Iraq, and a number of armed groups were now once again active, including some affiliated with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida.
Nevertheless, recent provincial council elections pointed to Iraq’s ability to take another path towards peace and stability, he said, recalling that on 20 April, more than 6 million Iraqi voters ‑ including 3 million women ‑ had cast their ballots. As the newly elected representatives formed their local governments, it was to be hoped that the process would translate into tangible improvements in the lives of citizens.
The factors contributing to Iraq’s instability, including the spread of violence from the Syrian conflict, were having a direct impact on the lives of Iraqis, he said. A “legacy of conflict is prevalent throughout society,” he noted, pointing out that one in three Iraqi children was deprived of basic services and fundamental rights, while minorities had fallen victim to targeted attacks.
Turning next to the issue of Camp Ashraf and Camp Hurriya Temporary Transit Location, he said that since December 2011, when a major crisis had been defused, almost all residents of Camp Ashraf had been relocated to Camp Hurriya. While it was understood that the Government was not yet satisfied with the relocation’s overall success, “major bloodshed could be averted”, he stressed, pointing out that UNAMI’s main concern was the security of Camp Hurriya’s residents.
However, the situation in Camp Ashraf remained tense, and its remaining 100 residents were unwilling to leave without a resolution of the property question, he said. While the Governments of Albania and Germany had offered to relocate several hundred people, relocations were still being sought for about 90 per cent of the residents. Meanwhile, human rights abuses by Camp Hurriya’s leadership were another growing concern.
Concluding with several personal observations, he said a striking feature of the country and its people was that Iraqis were enjoying new-found freedoms. Indeed, “choosing the right path now can ensure the peaceful conditions for tomorrow”. He highlighted four principles that he deemed important at the end of his tenure: First, the Constitution should be upheld and implemented in full. Second, Iraq’s resources should be utilized efficiently and distributed equitably. Third, the environment should be protected. And fourth, the Government should scale up and implement a national policy on women while helping young Iraqis shape their own futures in the land of their birth.
Mohamed Alhakim ( Iraq) conveyed his Government’s wish for an extension of UNAMI’s mandate for another year. Reviewing recent developments, he reported that the success of the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait in resolving outstanding issues had culminated in the Council’s adoption of resolution 2107 (2013). On the national front, UNAMI played a positive role in the convergence of views among political entities, and had contributed to the success of governorate council elections on 20 April. The polls had paved the way for parliamentary elections to be held in the first half of 2014, for which the Government sought the Mission’s support, particularly in securing a sufficient number of observers.
Turning to the protests held in a number of cities, he said the Government confirmed that peaceful demonstration was a right guaranteed to all Iraqis, and had worked very hard to meet their legitimate demands. Concerning Camp Hurriya, he said the Government condemned the recent lethal shelling by terrorist groups and militias, reaffirming the imperative to protect camp residents from future attacks and providing humanitarian and health assistance as necessary. Iraq welcomed the decision by the Government of Albania to accept the resettlement of 270 residents, as well as the departure of the first group, numbering 71. It also welcomed the offer by the Government of Germany to resettle 100 people.
In closing, he said that, in harmony with its goals, Iraq had joined the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and withdrawn its reservation to paragraph 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, thereby giving children born to Iraqi mothers the right to Iraqi nationality.