Structural Reforms Key to Meeting Rapidly Growing Population’s Needs
With long-overdue financial reforms and an ambitious federal budget, Iraq’s Government continues to forge progress in tackling the challenges it faces, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, adding that more efforts are required to address its rapidly growing population’s needs.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2023/700) on key political, security and operational developments in the country since May. Outlining initiatives of Iraq’s current Government, headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, in its year in power, including the recently adopted federal budget and the passage of a new law on social security, she said, “To cut a long story short: with last year’s gains in political stability and an ambitious federal budget in hand, Iraq is well-positioned to seize the many opportunities in front of it.”
Nonetheless, she cautioned that without structural reforms to guarantee job opportunities or advances in quality of life to Iraq’s growing population, which is poised to double over the next three to four decades, the embers of discontent could flare up easily “again and again”. As well, she stressed the need to tackle other obvious “threat multipliers”, such as water scarcity, citing figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which recorded almost 14,000 families as internally displaced because of drought conditions across 10 of Iraq’s governorates this June, adding: “Needless to say, if left unaddressed, this is only the beginning of a rather nightmarish situation.”
She also underscored the need to tackle feelings of exclusion and marginalization, calling for progress on enabling people to return to their areas of origin, including Jurf al-Sakhr and Sinjar, and for legislation to be enacted on enforced disappearances. On the Kurdistan region, whose parliamentary elections have been repeatedly postponed, most recently to 25 February 2024, she said: “With the current administration in a caretaker capacity, the region’s democratic process must prevail. There is so much at stake.”
Also briefing the Council was Dhefaf Al-Jarahi, Country Manager of the Iraq Foundation, who highlighted remarkable progress made in the last two decades in the political participation of women in Iraq, pointing to an increase in the percentage of women in the House of Representatives as well as in their membership in political parties and in decision-making positions. Nonetheless, gender-based discrimination still impeded women’s formal participation in decision-making and in investing materiel and political resources, she said.
Against this backdrop, she called on the Iraqi Government to complete the plans and policies aimed at integrating the National Strategy for Women 2023-2030 in cooperation with the United Nations, and to bolster the role of women as pivotal actors in formulating public policies and implementing relevant programmes. “Achieving equality and supporting women’s participation in political life must be a joint and cooperative issue between the international community and Iraq,” especially as the country is about to engage in an electoral process, she said.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members welcomed the progress made by the Iraqi Government, in combating corruption and improving public services. Many delegates commended the support lent by UNAMI to Baghdad, ahead of its independent strategic review slated for 2024. Several speakers voiced concern over the acute water scarcity, calling for more efforts to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change.
Among them was the delegate of Ghana, also speaking for Mozambique and Gabon, who underlined the importance of addressing Iraq’s increasing vulnerability to climate change impacts, noting that they were an argument in favour of raising the Council’s profile on climate, peace, and security. On the electoral front, he welcomed that the number of registered women candidates in December’s provincial council elections represents 27 per cent, stressing: “An inclusive electoral process is essential for Iraq’s democracy.” He also commended the holding of parliamentary elections in February 2024 in the Kurdistan region.
On that, the representative of the United Kingdom urged the Kurdistan regional government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the planned elections take place on 25 February 2024 without further postponement. He also welcomed steps taken by the country to tackle climate change, including through ending gas flaring by 2030, noting that progress on this crucial priority will bolster its security.
The United States’ delegate encouraged the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to find solutions to all outstanding issues. He commended considerable progress made by the Iraqi Government and UNAMI in recent years, including on female participation in politics, and looked forward to UNAMI’s independent strategic review and the team’s continued work, as the country transitions from conflict to peace to prosperity.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation, noting Prime Minister Al-Sudani’s recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, commended the ongoing dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil to address existing disagreements, primarily in the oil and gas sector. While voicing support for UNAMI’s efforts, including to improve State functioning, he objected to any attempts to refocus its mandate onto issues not appropriate to a UN special political mission, such as climate change and transboundary environmental disputes.
Rounding out the discussion, the speaker for Iraq outlined his Government’s ambitious reforms over the past year — among them repairing infrastructure and tackling the scourges of drugs and corruption — as well as important developments over the past four months, including agreements on fundamental issues on Kurdistan, implementation of a federal budget allocation, protection for Constitutional rights, as well as a draft law on oil and gas. He spotlighted the country’s “Development Road Project”, a network of interconnected roads and railways intended to turn the country into a regional transport hub, pointing out that the initiative will generate jobs and help reduce oil dependence. Tackling water scarcity is a major Government priority, given that it affects 7 million Iraqis and has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others, he said, outlining steps to strengthen renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and manage water.
THE SITUATION CONCERNING IRAQ
JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2023/700) on key political, security and operational developments in the country since May. Briefing the Security Council on the year’s important initiatives since the formation of Iraq’s current Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, she said that long-awaited reforms in the banking and finance sectors are under way, spotlighting the launch of an electronic platform for foreign currency sales. She also touched on other positive steps, including the setting up of the Iraq Fund for Development, the recently adopted federal budget, and the passage of a new law on social security, which enables all Iraqi workers to benefit from public entitlements, such as health insurance, maternity and unemployment benefits. As well, Iraq is taking steps towards leveraging its own natural resources more effectively and responsibly.
She outlined the scope of the newly adopted federal budget, with allocations to address critical needs such as infrastructure development and reconstruction, adding: “To cut a long story short: with last year’s gains in political stability and an ambitious federal budget in hand, Iraq is well-positioned to seize the many opportunities in front of it”. She also noted challenges, including pervasive corruption, citing Prime Minister al-Sudani, who said the issue is one his Government “has been working on, is still working on and will continue to work on”. She highlighted initiatives including a new campaign called “Where Did You Get This?”, which has the Federal Integrity Commission auditing the financial records of electoral candidates. However, the intricate web of graft and vested interests, built up in Iraq over decades, will not be dismantled overnight. Iraq’s economic structure is in a precarious place, heavily reliant on oil and a public sector so big that it is simply unsustainable.
Against this backdrop, she underscored the need for structural reforms and modernization, pointing out that these are necessitated by Iraq’s rapidly growing population, which is poised to double over the next three to four decades. She said that because more Iraqis are coming of age “without corresponding job opportunities or advances in quality of life”, it is easy to see where this trend may go. The embers of discontent could flare up easily — “again and again.” Climate change and water scarcity are other obvious “threat multipliers”, she said, noting figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which recorded almost 14,000 families as internally displaced because of drought conditions across 10 of Iraq’s governorates this June. “Needless to say, if left unaddressed, this is only the beginning of a rather nightmarish situation.”
She underlined the need to tackle feelings of exclusion, marginalization, and stigmatization, calling for progress on enabling people to return to their areas of origin, including Jurf al-Sakhr and Sinjar, and for legislation to be enacted on enforced disappearances, among other measures. Turning to regional issues, she welcomed engagement with Iraq’s neighbours on energy, water, economic cooperation and security, highlighting the implementation of the Iraq-Iran security agreement. However, she reiterated that a lack of specificity in Iraq’s 2005 Constitution continued to shape the debate between Baghdad and Erbil. She thus underscored the urgent need to move to comprehensive and solid solutions. She regretted that no progress has been made on the Sinjar Agreement, noting the existence of power competitions in which non-state armed actors have the upper hand. On the Kurdistan region’s parliamentary elections, which have been repeatedly postponed, most recently to 25 February 2024, she said: “With the current administration in a caretaker capacity, the region’s democratic process must prevail. There is so much at stake.”
DHEFAF AL-JARAHI, Country Manager of the Iraq Foundation, speaking via videoconference, said Iraq is considered a pioneer in the development of policies and plans that support women’s participation in society compared to other countries in the region. However, gender-based discrimination is still an obstacle to women’s formal participation in decision-making and in investing materiel and political resources. Highlighting remarkable progress in the last two decades in the political participation of women in Iraq, she noted that the increase in the number of women’s organizations, networks and movements is reflected in the strength of their influence in local, national and international policies.
Several women have assumed important political positions, she continued, noting the increase in their percentage in the House of Representatives, as well as in their membership in political parties and in decision-making positions. Women’s participation in the protest movements in the country in recent years has also broadened: “Today, we look forward to the increase in the representation of women in higher ranks and leadership positions that affect decision making.” Spotlighting Iraqi civil society organizations “outstanding” job in supporting women’s participation, she referred to studies they have presented to show the magnitude of the challenges women face and ways to overcome them. They have also trained hundreds of young women and urged them to participate in the political process, she added, noting too civil society organizations’ role in urging the Government to adopt comprehensive policies and plans for women’s rights.
She appealed to the international community to provide those organizations with the necessary support, resources and expertise in their ongoing efforts to promote women’s political participation. She also called on the Government of Iraq to complete the plans and policies aimed at integrating the National Strategy for Women 2023-2030 in cooperation with the United Nations. The Government must also support all those working in the Government on women’s issues, strengthen their role and involve them as pivotal actors in formulating public policies and implementing relevant programmes. To that end, it must ensure the provision of adequate financial and human resources and support. “Achieving equality and supporting women’s participation in political life must be a joint and cooperative issue between the international community and Iraq,” especially as the country is about to engage in an electoral process. The Government’s provision of full and necessary protection for women’s participation in the elections will serve the country’s stability and progress towards a brighter and fairer future.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) expressed hope that the Government of Iraq will maintain a commitment to reform to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people. He noted that UNAMI had played an important role in this regard, such as upgrading wastewater treatment plants. It is in a good position to do more, including on elections and facilitating cooperation on the adverse effects of climate change. He encouraged the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to find solutions to all outstanding issues. The Iraqi Government and UNAMI have made considerable progress in recent years, including on female participation in politics. He fully supports the Government’s desire to integrate further into the region and foster good relations with its neighbours. He commended it on reaffirming its full respect for Kuwait’s sovereignty. Additionally, he looked forward to UNAMI’s independent strategic review and the team’s continued work, as the country transitions from conflict to peace to prosperity. He also looks forward to seeing how much more progress UNAMI and the Government can achieve in the coming year.
ALEXANDRE OLMEDO (France), deploring the tragic fire that took place recently at a wedding in Qaraqosh, commended work done by UNAMI to lend assistance and solidarity to Iraq. He noted the independent strategic review, and reiterated France’s commitment to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and firmly condemned any violations, including those targeting the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He urged all interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs to cease. He welcomed the work done by the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD), as a means to combat impunity. He called for a lasting solution to the border dispute, and for close cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals, as well as missing Kuwaiti property. He welcomed the adoption of the federal budget in June, and called for continued efforts to combat corruption, impunity and climate change.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) said the passage of a federal budget law will equip the Government to transform its longstanding commitments, such as tackling corruption, improving public services and developing the private sector into tangible improvements for all Iraqis. Welcoming the federal Government’s intent to hold provincial council elections in December, he said the Independent High Electoral Commission must be provided with necessary resources to organize them in an effective, orderly and timely manner. He highlighted the importance of the 2021 Yazidi Survivors Law and called for its speedier implementation without unnecessary obstacles. He voiced concern, however, about the lack of adoption of a law against domestic violence. He commended Iraq’s diplomatic efforts to advance stability in the region and called on all States, particularly neighbouring countries, to refrain from unilateral military actions. Respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and democratic political process are essential for enhancing regional stability, he stressed.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador) acknowledged UNAMI’s work in supporting the Iraqi Government to consolidate political alliances with neighbouring countries and implement reforms to shore up confidence, boost the economy and ensure the provision of basic services. He said that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, and other non-state armed groups remain worrying. He hoped that bilateral, regional and multilateral strategies will contribute to addressing the deep-rooted causes of violence, terrorism and violent extremism. The support of the international community for a sustainable solution to the problem of internally displaced persons will be decisive in promoting their return and reintegration, as well as to prevent them from being recruited by terrorist groups. He called for an expansion of civic space, an evaluation of the effects that drought and other phenomena may generate, the combating of impunity, the respect for the rights of all groups, and a return to the path of national reconciliation to bring about security and well-being.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHABAB (United Arab Emirates) welcomed remarkable progress taken by the Iraqi Government over the past year, including reforms in public services and the economy, and the adoption of the federal budget. However, in light of challenges to the country, the coming period calls for firm measures to complete ongoing reforms and to consolidate long-term stability and security. On the political front, he looked forward to the provincial council elections at the end of the year, and hoped that the postponed parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan will take place next February, on schedule. He urged concerted efforts to ensure women’s political participation. He also called for the empowerment of Iraqi youth, noting that they represent more than half the country’s population. He urged priority action to tackle climate change, and for regional parties to reach consensus on agreements on the equitable use of shared water resources.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said the Government’s proactive governance must take into account the issues of corruption, climate change and water scarcity in the implementation of reforms. Voicing hope that the provincial council elections and elections in the Kurdistan region can be held on schedule, he welcomed the creation of the Supreme Committee to Support Women’s Participation in Provincial Council Elections, which will address the issues of hate speech and violence against women. Intensifying dialogue on outstanding issues between Baghdad and Erbil is also important for the country’s stability and progress. Underscoring the need to defend the civic space, he stressed that perpetrators must be held accountable for human rights violations, including the violence against demonstrators four years ago. The atrocities committed by Da’esh also must not go unpunished. Noting Iraq’s “great efforts to become a force for dialogue and cooperation in the region”, he encouraged it to continue to play that role and maintain good relations with its neighbours.
GENG SHUANG (China) said that since the start of this year, the Iraqi Government has made important reforms, such as improving public services, adopting a national budget, and cracking down on corruption. He supported Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government in strengthening dialogue to find sustainable solutions to their outstanding issues. He called on the international community to continue to support Iraq to eliminate terror. Peace in Iraq cannot be achieved without a stable regional environment, and he called on all neighbouring countries, especially which have violated Iraq’s territorial sovereignty, to respect it. Development of good neighbourly relations with Kuwait is in both countries’ interests. He supports an independent assessment of UNAMI and the streamlining of its work. The Council should look at the Mission’s work so that it can better react to needs on the ground.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan) welcomed progress made by the Iraqi Government to tackle pressing domestic issues, including fighting corruption and pushing forward with economic and fiscal reforms. The provincial council elections and the Kurdistan region’s parliamentary elections should take place in accordance with the specified timeline. On regional and international relations, she welcomes the convening of the “The Third Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership” and stressed that any attacks threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, including in the Kurdistan region, are contrary to international law, and must cease. She welcomed the cooperation between Iraq and Kuwait on missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals as well as missing Kuwaiti property and took note of the progress made in this regard. On the humanitarian front, she underscored the need to find solutions for internally displaced persons and returnees, and to repatriate people from Al-Hol camp. In this context, she underlined the need for humanitarian assistance and the strengthening of public services to facilitate social reintegration for returnees.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania), commending the Iraqi Government’s continued commitment to the reform agenda and its shift from a “security” focus to an “economic” one, encouraged it to move swiftly and prioritize the fight against corruption, diversification of the economy, building confidence for the private sector and strengthening the green transition. Gender and women’s empowerment are universal values that should not conflict with culture, religion, or tradition. Protection of human rights must also be integral to the Government’s reform initiatives. Voicing concern about acts targeting religious symbols, such as Qur’an burnings, he emphasized the role of political and religious leaders in countering hate speech, discrimination and religious hatred. Regarding Iraq’s security situation, he was concerned about ongoing attacks, particularly by Da’esh, and expressed support for the Government’s endeavours to establish State control over armed militias.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking on behalf of Mozambique and Gabon, said he was encouraged by the Iraqi Government’s commitment to improve public services, carry out economic reforms, and build confidence in the private sector. He noted the efforts to hold provincial council elections in December, saying it was a significant indication of the continued maturity and resilience of Iraq’s democratic journey. “An inclusive electoral process is essential for Iraq’s democracy,” he said, highlighting that the number of registered women candidates represents 27 per cent and should be greatly encouraged. He commended the holding of parliamentary elections in February 2024 in the Kurdistan region. He called for constructive relations between the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to ensure stability and said both sides should engage in dialogue to address remaining issues.
He said that efforts to counter ISIL should be sustained by the Iraqi security forces and through strengthening regional and international cooperation. Regionally, he welcomed a meeting of the Iraqi-Saudi political, security and military committee, with particular focus on countering illegal narcotics. Illicit drug trafficking contributes to the financing of terrorist groups, he added. He was concerned over the targeting of religious symbols, which exacerbates tensions. He noted the grave violations against children in armed conflict, including killings, abductions and sexual violence, and said that activities to prevent their recruitment and to institutionalize child protection are essential. He stated the importance of addressing Iraq’s increasing vulnerability to climate change and its outcomes, which are an argument in favour of raising the Council’s profile on climate, peace, and security. He strongly supported UNAMI’s efforts, he concluded.
THOMAS PATRICK PHIPPS (United Kingdom) supported the Iraqi Government and the implementation of its ambitious reform agenda. He welcomed the passage of the budget in June. On the Kurdistan region, he urged the Kurdistan regional government to take all necessary steps to ensure that the planned elections take place on 25 February 2024 without further postponement. He welcomed steps taken to tackle climate change, including through ending gas flaring by 2030, noting that progress on this crucial priority will bolster the country’s security. On the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals, as well as missing Kuwaiti property, and in connection with the recent court ruling on the Khor Abdullah, he welcomed Prime Minister al-Sudani’s recommitment to international law and Council resolution 833 (1993) and looked forward to the settlement of outstanding issues through dialogue.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), voicing his county’s steadfast support for the Iraqi Government, noted the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow and said his meetings with President Vladimir Putin included discussions on a whole range of issues facing the Middle East. Among them, the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which can be overcome solely by addressing the deep-rooted issues of the Palestinian people and non-compliance with and the relevant decisions of the UN Security Council. Commending the ongoing substantive dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil to address the existing disagreements, primarily in the oil and gas sector, he stressed that further improvement of relations between them will benefit the economic development and political stability of the whole of Iraq. Noting Iraq’s growing role in regional normalization efforts, he stressed that “it is unacceptable to turn Iraq into an arena for settling scores and confrontation between third countries”. He supported UNAMI’s efforts, including to improve State functioning, but disagreed with any attempts to refocus its mandate onto issues not appropriate to a UN special political mission, such as climate change and transboundary environmental disputes.
NOBERTO MORETTI (Brazil), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, said UNAMI’s latest mandate renewal offers an opportunity to streamline areas in which assistance is requested by the Government of Iraq. He commended Iraq’s progress on many fronts, including passage of the federal budget law, the scheduling of provincial and regional elections, and the launching of a plan to enhance women’s political participation. Iraq’s inability to make payments for foreign gas does not contribute to its stability. Also, repercussions of episodes of Qur’an desecrations in other countries show the importance of promoting religious tolerance to achieve a culture of peace. To fight terrorism, Member States must cooperate and abide by the prohibition on the use of force in their international relations. He welcomed the Mission’s offer to support negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait about their maritime border and hoped dialogue would bring about solutions.
ABBAS KADHOM OBAID AL-FATLAWI (Iraq), thanking delegates for their words of sympathy about the fire in the Al-Hamdaniya district, outlined ambitious reforms undertaken by his Government over the past year, including repairing infrastructure and tackling the scourges of drugs and corruption. He highlighted important developments over the past four months, including agreements on fundamental issues on Kurdistan, implementation of a federal budget allocation, protection for Constitutional rights, as well as a draft law on oil and gas, among others. On the security front, he denounced military operations that threatened his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and outlined his Government’s efforts to facilitate the return of displaced persons. The international community should support relevant Iraqi ministries in countering Da’esh. Turning to the issue of Iraqi families in Al-Hol camp, he said his Government has repatriated 1,561 families, with many undergoing rehabilitation in seven provinces.
The Global Coalition against Da’esh met in Riyadh in June, and welcomed Togo as its eighty-sixth member, he said, also noting efforts to prosecute 3,000 Iraqi terrorists transferred from prisons in north-east Syria. On the economic front, he spotlighted the country’s “Development Road Project”, a network of interconnected roads and railways intended to turn the country into a regional transport hub. It will generate jobs and help reduce oil dependence. He outlined other efforts to strengthen regional ties, including the third Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership to be held next month. On the Yazidi Female Survivors Law, he noted that on 7 August the Supreme Judicial Council recognized the admissibility of online testimonies. On climate change and water scarcity, major priorities for his Government, given that the latter impacts 7 million Iraqis and has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others, he enumerated steps to strengthen renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and manage water. Regarding cooperation with Kuwait, he outlined efforts undertaken to resolve all outstanding issues, and highlighted a joint committee on oil fields. Work is under way to identify a missing Kuwaiti, through DNA analysis.
Source: United Nation Organisation, 10. October 2023