Protecting #human rights, social cohesion & reconciliation are the first line of defence against the rise of #extremism in the #MiddleEast
Earlier today I deliver my brieifng to the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. I took note of the Presidency’s interest in discussing a number of issues pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa region. That is why I highlighted some of them in my presentation and deferred to my fellow UN envoys who regularly brief the Council for greater detail on many of these challenges. Today a perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East and continues to threaten international peace and security. Millions have been displaced in the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. In many countries, societies have fractured along ethnic or religious lines. Non-state actors have taken control of territory and terror attacks have spread, indiscriminately striking civilians of all origin and confession.
From the onset, I paid tribute to the countless victims of these senseless acts of violence and called on the international community to show its full and unwavering commitment to defeat terror and incitement; to support the forces of moderation against extremism; to untangle the Gordian knot of political, economic and foreign forces that are driving the myriad of conflicts in the Middle East.
Developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to resonate across the region.
The question of Palestine remains a potent symbol and rallying cry that is easily misappropriated
and exploited by extremist groups. Ending the occupation and realizing a two-state solution will not solve all the region’s problems, but as long as the conflict persists, it will continue to feed them.
Sporadic violence has continued in recent weeks as five Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in various acts of violence. Among the fatalities were two Palestinian teenaged boys, shot by Israeli security forces outside Ramallah, as well as a British woman who was murdered by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem. In March Israel approved the establishment of a new settlement and declared some 240 acres as “state land” inside the occupied Palestinian territory. These moves further undermine the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. Tenders for close to 2,000 housing units, the vast majority in major population centres close to the 1967 lines, were also issued. I noteed recent reports that Israel has adopted a policy of restraint by which construction will be advanced “almost exclusively” in the built-up areas of settlements but it is too early to determine how this policy will manifest itself on the ground.
Settlement construction is illegal under international law
and I urge for all such activities to be ceased.
On the Palestinian side, multiple worrying developments are further cementing the Gaza – West Bank divide and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation. In April, the Palestinian Government reduced payments to thousands of Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip. It is important that the burden of decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with due consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live. Four months ago Palestinians in Gaza went to the streets when people were left with only a few hours of electricity per day. The situation was temporarily resolved with the help of Qatar, however a more serious crisis is now unfolding again as electricity is down to less than 6 hours per day. The social, economic and political consequences of these developments should not be underestimated. I call on all parties to come together and ensure the vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all.
Meanwhile Hamas continues to tighten its iron grip over Gaza
by forming an administrative committee that is seen by many to be a direct challenge to the legitimate Palestinian government. Following the assassination of one of its militants, it temporarily put in place a series of restrictions preventing Palestinians and internationals from leaving and banning fishing for two weeks. On April 6th three Palestinians were executed by Hamas in gross violation of international law and without a fair trial. These actions were condemned by the Secretary-General and I said that I am deeply concerned that further extrajudicial executions are anticipated in Gaza.
On 7 April, nine people were killed in armed clashes between the newly formed Palestinian joint security forces and members of Islamist militants with links to al-Qaeda, erupted in Lebanon’s Ein el-Hilweh Palestine refugee camp. Young Palestinians in refugee camps across the region remain particularly vulnerable to extremists and religious radicals as living conditions in these communities remain extremely harsh.
On 17 April, an estimated 1500 Palestinian prisoners and detainees began an open-ended hunger strike to protest their conditions in Israeli prisons. I also noted my concern by today’s report of an attempt to smuggle explosive material from Gaza into Israel via medical material. These actions will only exacerbate existing tensions.
I then turned to some broader regional dynamics as several states in the region continue to bear a massive burden from the flood of Syrian refugees. While the international community must do more to stand in solidarity with Syria’s neighbors by increased assistance and burden sharing, the underlying causes of displacement must be addressed through a political solution to the ongoing conflict.
In Syria, a democracy deficit, systematic repression, and wholesale human rights violations, including by the Government – which holds the primary obligation to protect the human rights of all civilians in the country – have combined with a prolonged conflict to create a fertile ground for sectarian polarization, radicalism and violent extremism. One of the greatest contributions we all can make to the defeat of listed terrorist organisations such as ISIL and Al Nusra Front is to achieve a comprehensive and credible political settlement to the Syrian conflict and a political transition to an inclusive, democratic and participatory state. Such an outcome would also help to enable a more unified international counter-terrorism response.
I focused on recent reports of the alleged
use of chemical weapons in Syria.
If confirmed, this abhorrent action would amount to a serious violation of international law and present a threat to international peace and security. This is an area in which the Security Council has the primary responsibility and I expressed my hope it can unite to send a strong collective message that the perpetrators of such attacks will be held accountable.
In Lebanon, on 12 April President Aoun decided to adjourn the tenure of the Lebanese Parliament for one month. It is hoped that this will allow time for Lebanon’s leaders to agree on an electoral law, in accordance with the Constitution. The Council will soon receive the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Resolution 1559 (2004), which called on the disbanding and disarming of all militias. Recognizing the vital progress achieved in restoring Lebanon’s institutions to their full functioning, it will be essential for the country to seize the current momentum to counter the maintenance and alleged increase of weapons outside the authority and the control of the state.
Libya, as Special Representative Kobler briefed the Council a day earlier, has made important strides in the fight against ISIL, which no longer holds territory in that country. However, the stalled implementation of the Libya Political Agreement is contributing to a political and security vacuum, putting Libya’s population and its neighbours at risk of further destabilization. Armed groups have committed grave violations and abuses of human rights. It is critical that the political process is resumed with the support of the international community.
In Iraq, the security forces supported by the international anti-ISIL coalition are making progress in retaking Mosul. I welcomed the efforts of the Government of Iraq to secure and rebuild destroyed areas and to advance the national reconciliation process. This will be essential for depriving ISIL of legitimacy, access to resources and support.
Across the region,
social exclusion and marginalisation, particularly in areas of prolonged and unresolved conflicts, provide fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism.
Unity across ethnic and religious lines, reconciliation and a fair sharing of resources help heal wounds and isolate extremists.
Listed terrorist organizations and other non-State actors, including armed groups such as Hezbollah, have thrived in the climate of weak governance and an absence of human rights that pervade the region. It is estimated that over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 Member States have travelled to the Middle East in recent years to join such groups. Their presence over expanses of territory and accumulation of resources and weaponry pose an increased threat to regional and international peace and security. Some foreign fighters have already returned to their home countries spreading violence in their own communities.
The humanitarian and social impact of the conflicts in the Middle East is catastrophic.
In Syria, hundreds of thousands have been killed since 2011 and approximately half of the population is displaced. Over five million Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR with nearly three million in Turkey, over one million in Lebanon and more than 650,000 in Jordan, putting a huge socio-economic and security strain on these societies.
In Iraq, over 334,000 people are currently displaced in total as a result of fighting in Mosul, most of them people who have lived for two years under the barbaric rule of ISIL. Owing to intensive efforts by the Government and humanitarian partners, operations have kept pace with growing needs, but capacities are strained.
In Yemen — the poorest county in the Middle East, the situation continues to deteriorate as 18.8 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, including a shocking 10.3 million who require immediate help. More than two million are internally displaced and over two million children are acutely malnourished.
I urgeed the Security Council and all stakeholders to do everything in their power
to protect and spare civilians from the brutal effects of these conflicts,
as required under international humanitarian law. Regardless of the causes, whether defense or counter-terrorism, the abuse for human rights in the conduct of any conflict can never be justified. It only serves to reinforce the fundamental drivers of extremism and violence. The complexities of the region’s conflicts means that political solutions based on justice, dignity and social cohesion are required to achieve and sustain peace.
Developments on the political front continue. In Yemen, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is consulting with key regional and international actors in an effort to build support for the framework for peace talks as well as to mitigate the effects on the civilian population of the military hostilities along the Red Sea coast.
On 12 April you heard from Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who underscored that there can only be a political solution to the bloody conflict in Syria. I reiterateed his urgent call for the Council to unite behind the UN-convened intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on political transition as per Security Council resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communique.
Efforts to revive engagement between Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a negotiated and sustainable peace must also be intensified. In this regard, I said that I was encouraged by ongoing efforts by Egypt, Jordan and the United States to advance the prospects for peace.
On March 29th the League of Arab States convened in Jordan for their 28th Annual Summit where the leaders of 22 countries once again endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative.
In closing, I reiterated the words of Secretary-General Guterres that
the region requires a surge in diplomacy for peace.
Member States, especially through a united Security Council, will have to assume the leading role, including by advancing the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions. In today’s world there can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit it. But without justice, dignity and the protection of human rights, communities will continue to fracture and provide fertile ground for extremists.
To this end the fragility of states must be addressed. Governments need to respond to the legitimate demands of their people and strengthen social cohesion and reconciliation. This is the first line of defense against extremism. Efforts to strengthen the voices of moderation, and build religious tolerance must also be strengthened. Divisions within the region have opened the door to outside interference and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife. Multilateral approaches and cooperation are necessary to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.
I closed by reminding the Council that behind the images of savagery, behind the shocking statistics of human suffering, are the millions fighting every day not only for their own survival but for the true humane essence of their cultures and societies. They are the true faces of the Middle East, and we must do all we can to help them prevail.
Originally published by the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.
FLETCHER FORUM: How did your experience as the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, and even further back, as a staff member with the Open Society Foundation and National Democratic Institute (NDI), shape your view of your time in Iraq
NIKOLAY MLADENOV: It all started in 2006, when I went to Iraq for the first time. I was working with NDI on what looked like a short-term project to the newly elected Council of Representatives set up their parliamentary committees. We really started from scratch. We started from zero.
I borrowed heavily on my own experience from back home. Between 2001 and 2005 I was a Member of Bulgaria’s Parliament, I had been a young MP who had gone through training too. It was fascinating to work with the Iraqis, they were all eager to learn. I ended up writing two booklets on committee works and the role of MPs. Both, I think, were used extensively later by NDI and reprinted.
The year 2006 was probably the worst time in Iraq. We had twenty to thirty rockets per day targeting the parts of Baghdad and the Green Zone every day. It was really unsafe. The difficult time however brought us all together and I started developing strong relationships with many Iraqis. The people I worked with were inspiring. They braved the security threats and day after day came to work to build their new country. Some, if not all, were not sure if they would get back to their families at the end of the day. It was a tough time.
After leaving my Iraq project I went home and delved back into Bulgarian politics. In early 2007 I was elected to the European Parliament, but Iraq stayed with me. I joined up with fellow MEPs and we set up the Iraq Group in the European Parliament.
I think what all of this has really taught me, and I’ve tried to use it now with the UN, is that you have to always be very practical and very specific when looking how to help a country in transition. Stay away from generalities, broad analysis and guidance but try to identify actionable items and specific policies. I guess when you speak from your own experience, having gone from dictatorship to democracy, that gives you more credibility to have that type of a discussion.
I’ve tried very much in the UN to be practical. Iraq faces massive problems, but because of the violence and the difficulties of transition, people don’t often enough look beyond their own plate. Many other countries have gone through great difficulties and been able to come through. Maybe somewhere out there, there’s a solution that they ought to consider. For me, one of the roles the UN can play is to bring that international experience, knowledge to people in Iraq. One of our roles should be exactly that — to help Iraq see that its not alone, that there is knowledge and experience out there in dealing with the tough problems of today and to help people use that to their own benefit.
FLETCHER FORUM: Where were you last summer on the day when you heard that fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIL) had taken Mosul?
MLADENOV: In the Prime Minister’s office telling him that ISIL would take over Mosul. On the 9th of June, in the morning.
We had been monitoring Mosul and Nineveh for a long time, and it was very clear that ISIL had been for months “harvesting” the city: kidnappings, assassinations of government officials and local council members. Nineveh is the only province in Iraq where practically every single elected official throughout the whole province had been kidnapped, killed, or chased away from their offices in some way.
The whole government infrastructure had been challenged at every single level by ISIL. At the end of May, early June, it was very clear that large numbers of fighters were coming across from the border of Syria and that they would make a push for Mosul. Our security analysis was that the city would not hold and would collapse under this pressure.
On the morning of the ninth of June, I went to see Prime Minister Maliki with a very big map saying, ‘look, this is our security analysis. The city will fall.” What we could not have foreseen was what would happen after that. What we believed would happen was a fight that might last for a few days and then perhaps the city would fall, like Falujjar earlier in the year. But we had no way of seeing that the Iraqi Army between Mosul and Baghdad, within 48 hours would melt away effectively without a fight.
My advice to the government was to strengthen the Iraqi army, but as an immediate priority to begin cooperating with the Kurdish Peshmerga. We could have helped find an arrangement to guarantee that the disputed territories would not be taken over by one side or the other. This cooperation was vital however if Mosul were to stand a chance. We had shared this analysis with the Kurds before, and they had also been in touch with the Prime Minister before the fall of Mosul to warn him too.
The Prime Minister saw things differently. I think it was about 3 A.M. on the 10th of June when I got a call saying, “it’s happening. The city has fallen, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing, and the Kurds are moving in to get involved.” By the next morning we could see this meltdown of the Iraqi Army all the way to Baghdad. After that things unfolded very quickly, we had to relocate most of the UN staff from Baghdad to other places because we didn’t know whether Baghdad would hold and I urgently briefed the Security Council on the situation on the ground.
FLETCHER FORUM: What was your initial reaction? What was Prime Minister Maliki’s reaction to the both the initial meeting and the 3 A.M. phone call?
MLADENOV: That 3 A.M. phone call came from the Iraqi security forces, but I think at that point they were scrambling to do whatever they could to hold on to Baghdad and to protect Samarra, which was the next city exposed to ISIL and the location of a big Shia shrine. If Samarra had fallen, or a big fight had occurred there, then it would have really been a sectarian conflict. Thankfully, Baghdad and the south of the country were preserved.
In that meltdown however ISIL gained not only territory, but access to vast amounts of weapons, old and cash. According to Government sources the Central Bank in Mosul had some $450 million in their coffers. They had control of almost the entire border between Iraq and Syria so that they could easily transfer people to Anbar, Nineveh. The myth that ISIL is invincible however was created not by their victories on the ground, but by the meltdown of the Iraqi Army. ISIL didn’t battle their way to the gates of Baghdad, they walked their way down to Baghdad.
FLETCHER FORUM: Not long after ISIL’s advance, negotiations over the formation of a new government in Iraq kicked into high gear. Here in the U.S. there were a lot of news reports about the haggling and whether or not Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would step down. Could you walk us through those weeks and tell us what the environment was like? What were people thinking? What were you thinking?
MLADENOV: If you go back to before the elections, there was speculation that the election would not take place. People were saying [Maliki] would postpone the election or find a way to not hold it. In fact he always adamantly denied such accusations and to his credit, he never tried to stop the election. When the election results came in, I think everyone was surprised for different reasons.
To me the election results had two pieces of good news in it. One, you had over sixty-two percent of Iraqis come out to vote, which is a pretty high turnout given the security environment. Secondly, no political party was even close to a majority. The message from the electorate was clear: ‘We are not going to give one person or one group the full mandate to run the country, we want you all to coalesce and save the country together.’
To me that was the reading of the election results. What followed was a typical debate about what happens next. Should they do what they did in 2009, when the spent almost a year negotiating a grand deal for the formation of a government? There were people saying that Iraq needed a grand deal. That they need to agree on who will be the Prime Minister, the President, the Speaker of Parliament, and once we have that done, they we can take it to a vote in Parliament and move forward.
Then there were others, and this was the UN line, that said ‘no, you have a Constitution and you have to base everything you do on it and its timeframe. If you do this grand deal thing you’re not really acting according to the Constitution, as it has clear timeline. You have to convene Parliament, elect a Speaker, elect a President and he should nominate a Prime Minister’.
I’ll admit that we pushed very hard with everybody trying to convince them that this is the way to go forward. And the logic behind it was that in an environment in which you have ISIL on the doorstep and the Army collapsing, people need to see the institutions of state working. Sticking to the constitutional timeline is the best option. If they had failed to do that, the message would have been one of complete chaos. People would have seen politicians squabbling over positions while the country is in a free fall. Abiding by the constitutional timelines was the legitimate response.
Thankfully, most agreed with this approach and the first session of the newly elected parliament was held on time with only a couple of days delay. Then the Speaker was elected, then the President was elected. Once that had been put in place the question came to who will the Prime Minister. Then there was another internal debate about who would constitute the largest group in Parliament, because the largest group gets to nominate the Prime Minister. This was an important step before the nomination of Mr. Abadi. Once he was nominated by the President, it was clear that the goal would be to have a government of national unity.
FLETCHER FORUM: Going back to this idea of national unity, when the Iraqi electorate is indicating that they don’t want any one segment of Iraq to take over, what is the role of leadership in this situation to create a more inclusive process?
MLADENOV: Leadership is extremely important. It’s not just political leadership. In all my statement I always referred to political, religious and civil leaders as they all had a role to play to bring the country together.
In Iraq, and Iraq is not unique in this sense, you have different authorities. You have the political authorities—the people that have their parties and lead their followers, define their platforms. You have the religious leaders, more specifically in Iraq and particularly within the Shia community, you have the Marja in Najaf that have a very strong moral guiding function within the Shia community. And then you have local tribes and leaders.
For agreement to be reached you need all of these leaders together on the same message. Before the elections it was quite common to see the Prime Minister talk about one thing, the President talk about something else, and the Speaker of Parliament talk about a third thing. And then the religious authorities would also get lost in this cacophony.
Now, I think one of the most encouraging developments is that you see all of these people coalesce around a similar message. Yes, they all still have their differences, but the message that they need to be united, to stand up to this terrorist threat, to rebuild their country, that they cannot have one community dominate everything and there needs to be a balance. This is the core of the political message that can hep save and rebuild the country.
In Iraq the leadership of Ayatollah Sistani is extremely important for the Shia community, I can’t overstate how important it is. Then with the tribal leaders you need to be careful because there are many different tribal elders and you need to work with a broader number of people. On the political side you have a very different picture.
If you look the Kurdish side of the equation, you know who the leaders of the parties are, you know the power that they wield within their community and understand how that works. Within the Shia community you can also see the political leadership. But the really tough challenge is the leadership within the Sunni community, because over the years it has broken into different groups and then with ISIL taking over their provinces, many of these Sunni political leaders in Baghdad really struggle because they are put between a rock and a hard place. Their constituency is gone because it’s under ISIL’s control, yet they have to fight for that constituency in Parliament. There is a leadership issue there that needs to be addressed somehow.
FLETCHER FORUM: In the lead up to ISIL’s advances in Iraq, there was a lot of dissatisfaction within the Iraqi Army. How do you think the difficulties of creating inclusive institutions to strengthening the Iraqi Army today?
MLADENOV: That’s one of the most fascinating topics and a very long discussion. If you go back to the very beginning in 2003, everyone focuses on Paul Bremer’s decision to dissolve the army and police. That was the wrong decision and we all pretty much accept that, but after that there was a period of time that the Sunni Iraqi community was refusing to be a part of the new democratic political establishment in Iraq. They were boycotting politics and staying away. That to some extent prevented Sunnis from joining the new Iraqi Army, the political process, or the institutions.
This helped create the environment in which the Shia from the south started dominating the rank and file of the army. They themselves had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein and they saw democracy as a tool to guarantee that they will never be in a position of weakness again. Some of the militias, Badr’s in particular, were integrated into the police or the army. The end result today is that Iraqi Sunnis have a leadership problem, while the state institutions dealing with security in particular, are dominated by the Shia community. There needs to be a balance if Iraq is to live in peace.
Then you had the de-Baathification laws. The affected all members of Saddam’s Baath party, including military officers. Over time some have been brought back in, however the process reeked of favoritism and lacked transparency. Coming back to Mosul, you had a big disconnect between the servicemen in the army—mostly Shia from the South, and officers and generals who had either joined the army recently or beloved to Saddam’s regime and had ‘adapted’ to the new reality. Not a very bright picture, right?
Ideologically the Iraqi army never developed a strong national base of what they were fighting for or what they were defending. Loyalty to the community, to the tribe was stronger than loyalty to the state. Corruption was everywhere. Money was getting lost and weapons were not being delivered. Living conditions for the soldiers were appalling. All of this had a demoralizing effect on the rank and file. And then when you see the enemy across the river and coming for you, and you see your generals say, “I’m going home,” everybody just left. That is what happens when you don’t have a strong esprit de corps holding the armed forces together.
The big challenge now is not to reconstruct the Iraqi army in the old way, but to reconstruct it on a truly national basis. This will take time, it will be slow and difficult. To succeed you need to go back to politics and prove that the government is inclusive, that is doing the right things and is engaging everybody and communities are not feeling marginalized. That message from the top of the country will inevitably get down to the rank and file and people will feel safe to join that army. But it will take time.
FLETCHER FORUM: What is the most important lesson on state building from your time in Iraq that you would impart to the person who takes on that role next for the UN?
MLADENOV: Many, many lessons. Where do I start? Its not your country, you can help, but you can’t do it for them. If you try and take decisions instead of allowing local people to take decisions, even when you know they are wrong, you will mess things up. Advise, help, give options, argue, encourage… but don’t try to do it for them. It’s their country and their ways. All we can do is help, but they have to take responsibility. This is the really big lesson.
The second thing is to bring in as much international experience as you can. At the end of the day, you are dealing with people who have for generations lived in some sort of war and dictatorship: Saddam Hussein, 1979, war with Iran, Kuwait, the first Gulf War, sanctions, the second Gulf War, terrorism, sectarianism, etc. Generations have grown up in this environment. You really need to help open people’s minds and show them the experience of other places and what’s been done elsewhere.
When you think about any issue related to minorities in Iraq, leave aside ISIL, you can just look Europe and you’ve got thousands of examples from country to country. And if you look into the details, you will find something that might work. Or at least it will give them ideas to look into, how about this or how about that?
Baghdad, March 5, 2015 (AFP) – Sectarianism is receding in Iraqi politics and hope is growing that the country can remain united, said Nickolay Mladenov, who left Thursday after 18 months as the top UN envoy.
In an interview with AFP, he praised Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for his efforts in averting Iraq’s breakup, which had looked imminent following a massive jihadist offensive in June last year.
Critics say sectarian policies under the previous prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, were partly to blame for marginalising Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and allowing the Islamic State group to take over swathes of land almost unopposed.
Mladenov said much had been achieved in the six months Abadi has been in office, despite the huge challenges that remain.
“The key change is that now there is hope that Iraq can reconstruct itself in a more inclusive way that allows the country to move forward,” he said.
IS jihadists still control two and half provinces in Iraq and more than two million people have been forced to flee their homes since the start of 2014.
But the Iraqi government is more inclusive, he said, and enjoys broader regional and international support, with a coalition of 60 countries helping in the fight against IS.
“Today you see a clear unity of purpose between the (Shiite) prime minister, (Kurdish) president and (Sunni) speaker of parliament both on security and on the major political challenges of the country — it’s encouraging,” Mladenov said.
“It used to be more acceptable to be sectarian, now it’s less acceptable to be openly sectarian in your speeches,” he said. “This changes the nature of the political environment, slowly but surely.”
With IS proclaiming a “caliphate” over nearly a third of the country in June and the Kurds aggressively expanding their borders in the jihadists’ wake, Iraq was experiencing what the UN and others had described as an “existential threat”.
“Abadi is the right man for Iraq,” Mladenov said.
“He is a consensus-builder. Some accuse him of being slow at taking decisions but the fact that he wants to ensure that all the decisions are taken on the basis of consensus is good for the country,” the outgoing envoy said.
While he could see an opportunity for real improvement, he admitted that many hurdles would have to be cleared.
“I’m optimistic about Iraq yet I’m paranoid that a lot of things can go wrong,” said the Bulgarian diplomat, who has been appointed UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
Source: AFP World News / English
Mr. President of the Security Council,
As I complete my tenure as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, to borrow a phrase, I remain a paranoid optimist. An optimist because despite the year-long security crisis, Iraq’s political, community and religious leaders have coalesced to save their country from terror. Today, more than ever, there is a growing understanding that Iraq can only move forward based on the principles of democracy, rule of law, respect for diversity and inclusivity. This understanding has been increasingly evident since the formation of a new national unity Government set on addressing many long-standing concerns of the Iraqi people. I am however also paranoid that things can go wrong — ISIL remains in control of most of Iraq’s western provinces, the fragile efforts towards unity and reconciliation need to be carefully nurtured if they are to bear fruit while the economy has been hit by falling oil prices and skyrocketing security costs.
Since its formation in September of last year, the Government has taken important steps in fulfilling its agenda. It has engaged countries in the region, all with a view to regaining the confidence of Iraq’s population in the political process and promoting stability. Whilst pursuing these objectives, Iraq’s most pressing goal remains to win back territory taken by ISIL. In this respect, the Government has taken important measures for security sector reform. The authorities have pledged to provide military and financial assistance to local leaders and tribal fighters to aid their struggle against ISIL. Since the beginning of the year, at least 4,000 Iraqis from Anbar and Ninewa have signed up as part of the popular forces, an important first step in securing local forces for the liberation of Iraq’s western provinces.
I encourage the Government to empower and quickly provide all necessary means to these local fighters as they seek to free their homes from ISIL while also supporting recovery and reconstruction. I also encourage the Council of Representatives to adopt the necessary legislation to establish the Iraqi National Guard so as to allow the provinces to take greater responsibility for their own security. In January the Government submitted to Parliament a bill to this effect.
An exclusively military solution to the problem of ISIL is impossible; indeed, it would be counterproductive. I therefore welcome the consistent calls for unity by the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. Any effort to achieve unity through reconciliation must be based on the Constitution and the full participation of political, religious and community leaders from across Iraq. A particular focus must be put on increasing the role and participation of women. As such, UNAMI has strongly supported the Government’s national reconciliation and social cohesion agenda.
Recently, we convened in Baghdad a roundtable on social cohesion with prominent Iraqi political, religious and civil society representatives. They discussed a number of recommendations which were presented to the Government. Subsequently, the UN convened roundtables in Karbala and Basra, bringing together civil society, community, tribal and religious leaders and scholars, during which participants reiterated the importance of strengthening social and religious cohesion, as well as rectifying divisions within Iraqi society. The United Nations Development Programme is also expanding its community reconciliation programme at the grass-root level.
In addition to these developments, the relation between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government has been improving following their historic agreement on energy exports and revenue-sharing. Improved cooperation is also evident between the Iraqi security forces, the Peshmerga, volunteers, local communities and the forces of the anti-ISIL international coalition. This cooperation has been key in dealing with the most recent security threats, including to the city of Kirkuk, the al-Assad air base and elsewhere in the country.
Despite these positive steps, the process is fraught with risks. Armed conflict and acts of terrorism continue to inflict a terrible toll on the people of Iraq. In 2014, at least 12,000 civilians were killed and over 23,000 were injured. Just in January this year alone, there were over 2,200 civilian casualties, including 790 killed and some 1,500 injured. Almost daily terrorist attacks continue to deliberately target all Iraqis, most notably from the Shi’ite community, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. The continued reports of massive human rights violations and abuses being committed by ISIL against civilians are gruesome. ISIL has made a point of not hesitating to openly publicise their crimes committed against men, women and children. The safety and security of members of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities in areas controlled by ISIL remain of grave concern, particularly the thousands of women and children who remain in captivity.
Equally worrying is the increasing number of reports of revenge attacks committed particularly against members of the Sunni community in areas liberated from ISIL.
All of these ongoing human rights violations present a serious threat to the cohesion of Iraq.
Some of Iraq’s recent military gains in Diyala, Salah al-Din and Ninewa governorates have been marred by claims that militias have killed unarmed civilians, and intentionally destroyed property and places of worship.
It is imperative that the Government act swiftly and decisively to bring under control all armed groups that are outside of the Constitution. Failing to do this risks to undermine the much needed process of national unity and reconciliation. Political parties, however, should also show restraint in their statements in the face of such acts that are clearly aimed at destroying Iraq’s social fabric.
It is in this respect that I welcome the Government’s decision to conduct a full investigation into the alleged massacre in Barwanah, Diyala. To paraphrase Prime Minister al-Abadi — a crime is a crime, no matter who has committed it and all responsible should be held accountable. It is also encouraging that today, as we speak, Iraq’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament are holding a joint meeting to identify measures to address these events in the recent days.
The Government faces the additional challenge of a fiscally-constrained environment. In a hallmark of success in January the Council of Representatives approved the 2015 budget. Despite very tight spending limits, due to the fall in oil revenue, spiralling security costs and a massively expanded public sector wage bill, Parliament was able to set aside some 500 million USD to help rebuild lives and livelihoods in those areas that are liberated from ISIL. The United Nations is working actively with the authorities to set up a Recovery and Reconstruction fund through which Iraq’s allies, neighbours and friends can contribute to this process as well.
Most urgently perhaps, Mr. President, the Iraqi authorities and the United Nations need to redouble our efforts at supporting over 2 million internally displaced who have been forced from their homes since January 2014. Let me recall to the Council the gravity of the situation on the ground by highlighting some numbers— 5.2 million people need humanitarian assistance in Iraq today, of them, 2.25 million are displaced and 235,000 are refugees from the country of Syria. To date the population of the Kurdistan Region has increased by some 30 percent because of the influx. Despite the generosity of local communities from across the country, one-third of IDPs in accessible areas are living in unfinished and abandoned buildings, make-shift shelters and spontaneous settlements. They are highly vulnerable and dependent on assistance to survive.
Mr. President; Honourable Members of the Security Council,
Let me sound the alarm bells: Sixty percent of humanitarian operations in Iraq are likely to shut down or be curtailed unless funding is received in the next few weeks. The food pipeline will break in mid-May unless funding is received before the end of March. The essential medicines pipeline will break at the end of March.
The UN humanitarian country team, led by the newly appointed Humanitarian Coordinator Ms. Lise Grande, has put together a list of fast track priorities which cannot be postponed or ignored. We urgently need some 150 million USD to support IDPs, whose life-saving and protection needs are enormous, and likely to grow.
I use this opportunity to appeal to the international community at a time when Iraq is highly vulnerable and when support for the humanitarian operation will make a decisive difference in the direction of the country ahead.
As I conclude my mission in Iraq I would like to use this opportunity to send also a message to the Government of Iraq. I would like to encourage the Government to move swiftly on the full implementation of the Ministerial Programme and the Political Agreement. Those documents hold the key to seeing Iraq successfully move forward. Discussions on approving the necessary legislation for a national guard should be swiftly finalised. This is important in order to empower provinces to take more responsibility for their own security; it will also help ensure that all weapons are firmly under the control of the state. Most importantly, the Government should act decisively to rebuild the armed forces on a truly national basis.
Part of this political agreement that has been the basis of the formation of the government of national unity is to grant an amnesty and to revise the Justice and Accountability Law in order to allow Iraqis who have not committed crimes under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein to move forward with their lives and find their place in their country.
While tackling the security and political challenges, the social and economic agenda must also remain in focus. Addressing pockets of deep poverty, particularly in the South of the country, providing quality social services, providing a business climate for investment, fighting pervasive corruption, and perhaps most urgently— facilitating the return of displaced persons to their homes and rebuilding areas liberated from ISIL, all such policies are all key to social peace in Iraq.
I use this opportunity to assure the people and the Government of Iraq that the United Nations will continue to provide international assistance and expertise in this process.
Let me turn now to the fifth 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.
Iraq-Kuwait relations today continue to be on the ascendant. High-level Iraqi visits and the results of the fourth Joint Ministerial Committee meeting are very encouraging. Kuwait’s consulates in Basra and Erbil, when opened, will take Iraq-Kuwait relations to the next level.
I wish that I could report similar progress to the Council on the missing Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti national archives since the last report.
The Kuwaiti Government and the people of Kuwait are understandably disappointed that nothing tangible has been achieved for many years now. UNAMI shares this disappointment. We have placed much emphasis on witnesses and continue to emphasise that the most modern scientific advances and technology should be utilised. A UNAMI identified witness travelled recently to Kuwait. During the visit, for which UNAMI and the Iraqi Government had worked hard, regrettably did not yield anything substantial. Time remains our most formidable foe. Our team is working to reach another witness, who has been overseas and who Kuwait believes holds the key to identifying a gravesite which possibly contains as many as 180 mortal remains.
Let me assure the Council and the families of the Kuwaiti missing persons that the UN will continue to do its utmost to fulfil its mandate. Nonetheless, the key to achieving tangible progress is primarily in the hands of the parties themselves. The goodwill between Kuwait and Iraq is at its highest since 1990. I believe that this is a very opportune moment for their respective leaderships to come together on this important humanitarian issue, review efforts so far and decide on a new course of action. Resources, technology and a fresh approach may all be required. UNAMI stands as always ready to support this process.
As I conclude my tenure as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq, let me say on a more personal level how humbled I have been by the people of Iraq. For decades they have lived with dictatorship, with conflict and with terrorism, yet they persist in their determination to build a democratic state. Generations have been scarred and brought up in fear— fear of oppression, fear for their future, fear for their lives. Iraqi society has been deeply scarred and will take a long time to heal. But the medicine is to look forward to unity and reconciliation, not to turn to the failed policies of the past.
ISIL, Mr. President, flourishes when Iraq is weak and Iraq is weak when it is divided by sectarian politics, when political patronage overtakes national loyalty.
My unyielding optimism for the country however stems from the spirit of the ordinary Iraqi people— those who stood up to defend their country in the summer of last year, those who went out to vote despite car bombs and terrorist attacks, those Iraqis who do not care whether someone is Shi’ite, Sunni, Christian, Yezidi, Kurd, Arab, or any other community member. It is the overwhelming majority of ordinary Iraqis who have no foreign country to flee to, no foreign passport to rely on. These are the women and men who will build the new Iraq. And what we, in the international community, can and must do is to help them succeed.
We must support them in building democracy, without which the majority of Iraqis will not feel secure, nor will their human rights be protected.
We must work with them to achieve balance among their diverse communities inside the country, because without balance, violence and extremism will persist.
We must assist them in ensuring justice— not reprisal, for the crimes of the past and the violations of today.
And finally— we must grant the people of Iraq the respect and dignity that they deserve.
This is the noble mission of the United Nations in Iraq.
Honourable members of the Security Council,
Allow me to thank your governments and the Secretary-General for the unity that you have shown in supporting Iraq, for the unyielding support for UNAMI, and for the trust you have placed in me to lead this difficult mission.
I want to express my gratitude to my colleagues in the Mission, in the Secretariat and in the UN country team for their commitment, bravery and hard work throughout the years.
I would like to thank the Government and the people of Iraq for the hospitality that they have extended to me, for their friendship and for their daily courage to never give up in the face of terror.
It has been an honour serving as the Secretary-General’s Representative for Iraq.
According to casualty figures released today by UNAMI, a total of at least 2,417 Iraqis were killed and another 2,287 were injured in acts of terrorism and violence in June*. This staggering number of civilian casualties in one month points to the urgent need for all to ensure that civilians are protected.
As large parts of the country remain under the control of ISIL and armed groups, it is imperative that national leaders work together to foil attempts to destroy the social fabric of Iraqi society. What can be achieved through a Constitutional political process cannot be achieved through an exclusively military response. Security must be restored, but the root causes of violence must be addressed.
UNAMI believes that the number of civilians killed last month was 1,531 (including 270 civilian police), while the number of civilians injured was 1,763 (including 276 civilian police). A further 886 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were killed, and 524 were injured (not including casualties from Anbar operation). Anbar excluded, Baghdad was the worst affected Governorate with 1,090 civilian casualties (375 killed, 715 injured), followed by Ninewa (470 killed, 327 injured), Salahadin (365 killed, 323 injured), Diyala (158 killed, 134 injured), Babil (92 killed, 99 injured), Kirkuk (58 killed, 83 injured).
* Data does not take into account casualties of the current Iraqi Army operation in Anbar.
As the newly elected Iraqi Council of Representatives is expected to convene on 1st July 2014, I encourage all MPs to attend the session and undertake their constitutional duties. The new Parliament should immediately engage in addressing the political, security, social and humanitarian concerns of all communities in Iraq.
The first and most important step is the election of a Speaker. Once this is done, the Parliament should promptly elect a President and approve a new Government, as stipulated in the Constitution. Any delay in the process, caused by a lack of quorum or unwillingness to show compromise will be detrimental to the country’s future.
Faced with a national crisis, the political leaders of Iraq should put the interests of the country and its people before everything else.
I am gravely concerned at the increasingly sectarian dimension of the fighting in Iraq and continued reports that the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) and other armed opposition groups are persecuting members of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities, including the Shia Muslims, Shabaks, Yezidis, Christians and Turkmen.
UNAMI’s Human Rights Office monitors all sides of the conflict and has verified reports of ISIL carrying out summary executions and abduction of members of these ethnic and religious communities. Thousands of civilians from these groups in Ninewa province, including from Qaraqosh, Tal Afar, Qaratabah and Hamdaniyah are now fleeing their homes in fear. There are also concerning reports of harassment and reprisals against Sunni Muslims by some in the Secuirty Forces and militias.
Armed opposition groups, the Iraqi Security Force and the Peshmerga are all bound by international law to protect civilians. The Government of Iraq must make sure that human rights and humanitarian law are observed in the course of counter-terrorism operations. Targeting civilians by all sides must cease immediately and urgent steps should be taken to ensure that all Iraqis, including religious and ethnic communities, and other vulnerable populations are protected from violence. Some acts may amount to war crimes under international law.