Security Council: The situation concerning Iraq

(Note: A full summary of this meeting will be available later.)



JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), told the Council that, if attacks originating from within and outside of Iraq’s borders continue, this will undo the country’s hard-won stability and other achievements made over the past 18 months. Pointing out that history’s ability to impact the present is “searingly true for the Middle East”, she said that various Iraqi armed groups acting outside of State control “reference, as a justification for their operations, a doctrine which transcends politics and State borders”. Other expressed motivations pertain specifically to Iraq; however, she underscored that an enabling environment is essential for Iraq to continue on its path of stability and progress. Further, such an environment requires restraint from all sides, and she stressed: “Messaging by strikes only serves to heighten tensions, to kill or injure people and to destroy property.”

While stating that Iraq and the wider region “remain on a knife-edge, with the tiniest miscalculation threatening a major conflagration”, she reported – on a more optimistic note – that Iraq held local elections for the first time in 10 years on 18 December 2023. This electoral process took place in a broadly peaceful and technically sound manner and marked another milestone in the Government’s efforts to break from past cycles of dysfunction. A challenge for future elections, however, will be to rally higher voter turnout and encourage eligible voters to register. Noting that around 60 per cent of registered voters did not cast ballots, and that millions of Iraqis did not even register to begin with, she stressed that building public trust – and, thus, encouraging participation in the democratic process – will entail continuous, hard work. Aside from that, she spotlighted another positive development – the Government’s continued strengthening of the national finance and banking sectors.

Detailing additional progress, she noted that “ambitious construction projects continue apace”, and that national incentives for development projects indicate the Government’s determination to see these visions “take concrete shape”. However, she said that water scarcity, desertification, forced migration, conflict over natural resources and extreme weather events in Iraq “combine to paint a rather bleak picture, in which existing fault lines come under increasing pressure”. Focus must now shift to mitigation and adaptation, including through the implementation of inclusive, peace-positive environmental management programmes; the modernization of irrigation infrastructure; and immediate steps to reduce oil reliance. She stressed: “Without moving from promises to action, opportunities may slip away – and fast.” Also highlighting existing feelings of exclusion and marginalization – which often lead to recurring cycles of conflict – she underlined the importance of the rule of law.

Turning to the Kurdistan region, she reported that parliamentary elections there have been held up and emphasized that continued postponements neither help already-low trust levels nor contribute to Iraq’s stability. She also underscored that, if stability is to be preserved, the Kurdistan region must receive funding to pay its civil servants their monthly salaries. On the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals – and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives – she said: “The Government of Iraq remains undoubtedly committed to this file.” However, swifter progress is needed. She also said that the need for sustainable progress, for real reform and for better living standards will not decline. While many of the Government’s plans hold the key to meeting these needs, they will become more difficult to realize with each passing year and, thus, the time to act is now. Reiterating the importance of the need to cease attacks to create an enabling environment, she stated: “It is quite simple: the enormous risks and potential devastating consequences of continued escalation cannot be overstated.”


The representative of Malta stated that respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic process is essential for enhancing domestic and regional stability. All parties must act with restraint to avoid escalation. He also highlighted the risk of the situation in Gaza leading to regional spillover. On the domestic front, he hailed the governate council elections of 18 December as an important step for the democratic process, voicing hope that they will lead to new local governments able to deliver socioeconomic progress. Further welcoming preparations for elections in the Kurdistan region, he called for enhanced dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil. Stressing the need to promote social justice and equality and strengthening human rights, he expressed concern over grave violations against children and casualties caused by explosive remnants of war. He further reaffirmed support for the work of the Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD).

The representative of China welcomed the smooth completion of provincial council elections, as well as steps taken by the Iraqi Government towards economic reform, fighting against corruption and improving access to public services. He voiced hope that dialogue will continue between the Central Government and the Kurdistan regional government on outstanding issues to reach sustainable solutions. As well, he hoped Iraq and Kuwait would make headway on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property. Since UNAMI’s inception in 2003, it has aided Iraq’s reconstruction and development, he said, calling for the Mission to make timely adjustments, given the evolving situation. Turning to UNAMI’s forthcoming independent strategic review, he called for its mandate to be streamlined. Finally, he voiced concern over the escalating Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the worrying risk of regional spillover, calling on major countries with influence to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and play a constructive role in de-escalating the situation.

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