Security Council: Iraq 19 May

Note: A complete summary of today’s Security Council meeting on Iraq will be made available after its conclusion.


JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), addressing the Security Council ahead of the Mission’s imminent mandate renewal, observed that, over the past few months, there had been numerous analyses of the events that shook Iraq 20 years ago and the developments since. It has been “a very rough road”, she said, attributing this to the compounding of existing fragilities, inherited from the previous decades, and the exposure of new weaknesses. Despite the dark times, she underscored that the drivers of instability remained the same, for the most part: corruption, weak governance, the presence of armed non-State actors, impunity, factional politics, poor service-delivery, inequality, unemployment and an overreliance on oil.

Against that backdrop, she reiterated the observation made during her last briefing to the Council in February that the Government has shown its resolve to tackle a number of the pressing issues, adding that, however, “it is early days”. However, she underscored that, given that there is “low or no tolerance for a return to the status quo, which existed before October 2022, the harsh reality is that there is no time to lose”. Therefore, she emphasized the need for relentless commitment from actors; placing national interest over that of any individual or party; the critical role of independent State institutions, and the need for an active, empowered and protected civic space. While the Government programme has been signed off on by all coalition parties united in the State Administration Alliance, constant compromise is needed to balance differing interests. “The fact is that Iraq has a full ‘to-do’ list,” she said, adding: “And narrow or partisan actions will not help in checking it off.”

Turning to budgetary matters, which are needed to turn goals such as public service delivery into realities, she said that the passing of the federal budget is yet to happen, with all eyes on Iraq’s Council of Representatives. She underlined the critical need for agreement on a functioning budget, including for the organization of the long-awaited Provincial Council elections, now announced for no later than 20 December 2023. Iraq continues to be over-reliant on oil, and with the public sector remaining the biggest employer, necessitating the need for economic diversification and major structural reforms, she said, pointing out that such measures are stymied by a tendency to create public sector jobs to hush civil unrest, leading to “a wage bill no country could afford”. She emphasized the need for patronage and graft to be checked for much-needed reforms to take root, with the help of independent State institutions. On Government reforms, she took note of its efforts to push Iraq towards energy independence, including through the issuing of new licensing rounds to efforts to reduce energy waste, including a clampdown on gas flaring.

Turning to the Kurdistan region, which was driven to the brink in recent months due to disagreements between the two ruling parties, as a result of their unwillingness to compromise on various issues, she welcomed that the Kurdistan region’s cabinet met in full on 14 May, after a gap of six months. She reiterated the need for the region’s long-overdue parliamentary elections to take place, noting that election day has now been set for 18 November. On Baghdad-Erbil relations, which are “good, but complicated”, she said that, on 4 April, following a ruling by the Paris-based International Court of Arbitration, Baghdad and Erbil announced that they had reached a temporary agreement to allow for the resumption of oil exports through the Turkish port of Ceyhan. While the Iraqi Government requested Türkiye to restart the exports on 10 May, they have not resumed, she said, adding that, as a result, it is likely that hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue have been lost since taps were turned off on 25 March. On all issues, including the budget, disputed territories or the implementation of the Sinjar Agreement – on which little to no progress has been made – she emphasized the need to move beyond ad hoc engagements. Such stagnation creates space for spoilers and blocks thousands of displaced Sinjaris from returning to their areas of origin, she warned. However, the return of citizens from north-east Syria served as an example, with new rounds of returns expected and previous returnees being reintegrating into their areas of origin or subjected to the pursuit of accountability, where applicable, she added.

On the issue of water, which “represents the most critical climate emergency for Iraq”, she pointed out that, by 2035, it is estimated that the country will have the capacity to meet only 15 per cent of its water demands, adding that 90 per cent of its rivers are polluted, with 7 million people currently suffering from reduced access to water. “This is a significant multiplier of threats to Iraq’s stability,” she said. To tackle this challenge, she emphasized the need for bold domestic actions and close regional cooperation.

Turning to the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property – including the national archives, she noted that the Iraqi authorities are continuing efforts to locate witnesses and possible burial sites for Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Tripartite Commission. She welcomed progress on the issue, including the Iraq Prime Minister’s decision to establish a committee to support activities in this regard. However, progress is awaited on the retrieval of missing Kuwaiti property – including the national archives, she added.

She went on to underline the need for an empowered, protected civic space, facilitating the hearing of different voices, including those which disagree or critique prevailing decisions. She voiced hope that the country’s leaders will embrace civic engagement to avoid fomenting a renewed sense of isolation and disillusion among Iraqi people, particularly the younger generation and women, adding: “Accountability, rule of law and respect for human rights are equally essential to preventing recurring cycles of crises.” Underscoring the need for ambitious Government plans to be fully implemented to address the drivers of instability, she stressed: “Now is not the time to be complacent, or to take for granted that Iraq has turned a corner. All must remain committed.”

KHANIM LATIF, Founder and Director of Asuda for Combating Violence Against Women, said that the current situation in Iraq is characterized by widespread violence against females, including women human rights defenders. She pointed to recent campaigns against women human rights defenders in the Kurdistan region simply for using the term “gender”. The precarious situation of Iraqi women – coupled with socioeconomic inequality and the low numbers of females in decision-making – have led to severe restrictions on their rights, she said, adding: “Hardly a day goes by without reports of women being killed, maimed and targeted by their own family members, simply because of their gender.” Besides the alarming levels of violence against women across the country, the brutal nature of these crimes is also of grave concern. So-called “honour killings” of women for transgressing social norms, early and forced marriage and incest are also widespread. The sharp increase in gender-based violence is occurring against a backdrop of impunity for perpetrators and lack of access to legal protection and justice for survivors. She underscored that “for women to have a voice in determining their country’s future, the violence must end”.

Accordingly, she urged the Iraqi Government to protect girls and women from all forms of gender-based violence and to support access to justice for survivors. This requires adopting the long-overdue draft anti-domestic violence law, amending the Penal Code, and preventing the interpretation of the Personal Status Law on sectarian grounds. Further, survivors must be provided with robust access to shelters for those fleeing domestic violence and ensure their access to psychosocial support, justice and legal services. She also called on Iraq’s Government to allocate a budget for and fully implement the Yazidi Survivors Law approved in March 2021. On women’s political participation, she said that, despite the fact that 29 per cent of the members of the Iraq Parliament are women and the cabinet includes three female ministers, there must be far greater efforts to ensure the meaningful participation of women in all processes. “Without women at the table, decisions will remain the preserve of men in the political process and fail to reflect women’s rights,” she asserted. Therefore, she called for the establishment of a national mechanism for women, with a sufficient budget to implement resolution 1325 (2000).

Turning to the gendered impact of climate change, she highlighted that Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change in the world, with 92 per cent of its lands exposed to desertification. Noting that “the first victims of climate change are women,” she recalled that, after the agricultural lands dried up in Iraq, migration from rural to major urban centres exposed women to sexual harassment, economic violence, loss of adequate shelter and deprivation of their most fundamental rights. In this regard, Asuda organized awareness campaigns to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change on women and girls. She stressed that the Government of Iraq should abide by the Paris Agreement and the Helsinki Principles on climate change, adding that this would help ease internal migration to large cities and provide livelihoods for displaced women. On the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate, she emphasized that the Mission must report on any violations against women human rights defenders and civil society leaders, engage with Iraqi civil society and provide the necessary support to the Government of Iraq to carry out judicial and legal reforms. “Iraq is currently in the process of being built,” she said, urging the international community to relinquish militarized approaches and to instead support that country with technical expertise and resources to work towards lasting peace.


JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States) welcomed the Iraqi Government’s focus on combating corruption, empowering women politically and socially and promoting democracy, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development. Encouraging the Government to maintain its commitment to these essential reforms and to work with UNAMI to achieve them, he noted that the Mission is well-positioned to provide assistance with facilitating elections, promoting human rights, combating climate change and instituting governance reform. He also encouraged Iraq and UNAMI to support full implementation of the Sinjar Agreement and to ensure that victims of Da’esh’s brutality can access the compensation they deserve without burdensome evidentiary standards. Further, regional integration in areas such as energy, water, environment and trade will enhance security for all and create new opportunities for economic growth. Adding that the United States has circulated the first draft of UNAMI’s mandate renewal, he said that his country looks forward to working with Council members in constructive negotiations on this item.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said regional dialogue contributes to economic integration, including on regional climate and environmental challenges. She also reiterated the importance of Iraq and Kuwait’s cooperation on the disappeared Kuwaiti and third-country nationals. “Iraq is not a place to settle scores between the countries in the region,” she stressed, calling on reginal actors to stop interfering in the country’s internal affairs. Welcoming reforms to combat corruption and impunity, she underlined the importance of adopting the federal budget. She spotlighted the Prime Minister’s mobilization in the face of the climate challenges during the climate conference in Basra in March and noted that Iraq will become the first Middle Eastern country to accede to the Helsinki Water Convention. To this end, she called on the international community to help the country anticipate climate change consequences. Encouraging dialogue between Bagdad and Erbil on sharing oil revenues, she said France is willing to facilitate this cooperation. Further, she commended the organization of the Da’esh victims’ funerals and welcomed the efforts of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes committed by ISIL/Da’esh (UNITAD) to this end.

NAME TO COME (China) expressed hope that the federal Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government will step up dialogue on outstanding issues, in pursuit of sustainable solutions. To eliminate remnants of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, he urged the international community to remain steadfast in its support for counter-terrorism efforts. Iraq has recently made considerable efforts to improve relations with countries in the region, to enhance solidarity and cooperation and to respond to challenges, he observed, calling on the international community to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while providing continued assistance to that country. Expressing support for UNAMI’s assistance to the Iraqi people, he said that an independent strategic review of the Mission’s work should be carried out, accurately capturing the situation on the ground, systematically assessing its work and introducing recommendations on how to optimize its mandate.

PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), also speaking for Gabon and Ghana, welcomed the Government’s decision to hold provincial elections by December, emphasizing that this measure is “an important sign of the continued strength and resilience of Iraq’s democratic journey”. Iraq’s stability is also dependent on addressing outstanding issues between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, he observed, welcoming progress between Baghdad and Erbil in resolving disputes related to revenue sharing and hydrocarbon management that led to a temporary agreement on the resumption of oil exports. He urged both parties to seize this positive atmosphere to secure a more-permanent accord. Turning to the security situation, he expressed concern over the persistent threat posed by Da’esh and other groups of terrorists and violent extremists in Iraq and underlined the need to combat terrorism while respecting the country’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity.

He went on to say that the Government’s efforts to meet with neighbouring countries and regional and international actors is “an unequivocal expression of willingness” to advance a foreign policy focused on achieving peace and stability in Iraq and the region. In this vein, he welcomed the Government’s role in concluding the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia – a diplomatic effort with important ramifications for regional détente. He expressed concern, however, over Iraq’s growing vulnerability to climate change, noting that the reporting period witnessed severe flooding, worsening desertification and the rapid disappearance of arable land. In response, the United Nations country team and UNAMI should continue innovative experiments related to water resources. Adding that the increased frequency of climate-related crises constitutes a serious threat multiplier, he urged raising the Council’s profile on climate, peace and security.

DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) expressed support for the Government’s reform agenda, while reiterating a call for the federal budget to be passed. He also recognized UNAMI’s efforts in promoting participation of women in the judiciary and the provincial council elections. While commending the first payments to Yazidi female survivors, he also called for the additional requirements imposed on survivors to submit criminal complaints be revoked. He further welcomed the federal and the Kurdistan Regional Governments’ steps in addressing regional parliamentary elections in November and the intent of holding provincial elections by the end of 2023. The Independent High Electoral Commission must retain its independence and be provided with an adequate budget and an elections timeframe. Stressing the need for tackling recurring Da’esh attacks, he welcomed the selection process for a new board of commissioners for Iraq’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and the action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Popular Mobilization Forces. Noting that Iraq is the fifth most effected country by climate change, he spotlighted the Government’s mitigation efforts.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania) called for robust action and inclusive leadership to tackle challenges that remain to be addressed, including corruption, overreliance on oil and caring for vulnerable returnees and internally displaced persons. Implementation of the plan to tackle such challenges requires cooperation, resolve and overcoming fractional interests. To this end, he called for a swift agreement to be reached for the adoption of the draft budget, as well as for efforts to be made on human rights reform. Work must also continue to recompensate Yazidi women in line with the Yazidi Survivors Law. Further, he underlined the need for a healthy civic space and for enhanced and structured dialogue to forge progress on cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil. Continued attacks, including by Da’esh, are concerning, he said, denouncing any attempts to destabilize the country. On climate change impacts being felt in the country, including through longer and more intense droughts, he welcomed the new package of climate change and biodiversity measures passed in March. He looked forward to engaging in a constructive discussion on renewing and strengthening UNAMI’s mandate, he added.

/Public Release. View in full here.