10 April 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
6747th Meeting (AM)
With Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq at End of 2011, Iraqi Government
Poised to ‘Turn Page in History, Assert Full Sovereignty’, Security Council Told
Top Envoy Says United Nations Assistance Essential as Iraq Confronts Domestic
Political Impasse, Terrorism, Displacement, Potential Fallout from Regional Crises
Following the completion of the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, it was critical for the United Nations to continue comprehensive assistance in the areas of political facilitation, electoral support, human rights, reconstruction and development, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council this morning.
“The withdrawal has provided the democratically elected Government of Iraq with the opportunity to turn a page in its history and assert its country’s full sovereignty,” Martin Kobler, who is also Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said in a briefing that was followed by a statement by Iraq’s representative, Hamid Al-Bayati and consultations on the situation in the Middle East country.
“I firmly believe that UN assistance at this critical juncture in Iraq’s history remains essential,” Mr. Kobler added, as he introduced the Secretary-General’s latest report (see Background). He noted that recent months were also particularly significant due to the 29 March hosting of the League of Arab States summit in Baghdad, along with steps between Iraq and Kuwait to normalize their relations, culminating with the 14 March visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the neighbouring State.
On the other hand, the domestic political impasse, continued terrorism and displacement and potential fallout from regional crises such as the one in Syria still posed obstacles for Iraq “as it marches on the road to full recovery”, he said. In particular, “the continued delays in convening a national conference underscores the urgent need for Iraqi leaders to summon the requisite political will and courage to work together to solve the country’s problems through an inclusive political dialogue”. He pledged that UNAMI would remain steadfast in its commitment to help Iraqis address those challenges.
He said that in the six months since taking up his position, he had expanded consultations with political leaders of all Iraqi political parties and components, including several visits to the Kurdistan region and other governorates to try and reduce tensions that had created a “political impasse”. He said that the Iraqiya party’s decision to end its boycotts of the Council of Ministers and Council of Representatives was the right step. President Jalal Talabani suggested holding the national conference as a way forward to end the stalemate, but an inclusive forum was needed as a first step. He called on all Iraqi leaders to sit together to address all their differences in that light.
Arab-Kurdish relations and the resolution of boundary issues, he said, remained at the heart of UNAMI’s mandate. In that regard, the Standing Consultative Mechanism launched by the Mission was critical, but the series of political crises had made it difficult for that mechanism to convene. During his last visit to Kirkuk, all interlocutors had emphasized the need to conduct provincial elections in that locale as soon as possible with the facilitation of the United Nations.
UNAMI, he said, had been instrumental in its assistance in the selection process for new members of the High Electoral Commission before the expiration of the current board’s term this month, as noted in the report, but the final vote was now unlikely to take place. For that reason, and in order to avoid delays in the Kurdistan elections planned for September and the provincial elections slated for early 2013, he encouraged the Council of Representatives to extend the mandate of the current board.
He said terrorist attacks threatened to heighten communal tensions, as the attacks targeted pilgrims and had resulted in the killing and wounding of scores of defenceless people practicing their religion. Other attacks across the country had resulted in large numbers of deaths of civilians, including children. In the first three months of 2012, a total of 613 civilians were killed and 1,835 injured, slightly less than the same period of last year, but still horrific. Gender-based violence also continued, much of it due to entrenched cultural practices. Iraqi leaders were duty-bound to counter those violations. Violence and marginalization against minority groups were unacceptable, he said, noting that he had expanded regular consultations with those communities, including Christians, Shabaks, Sabean Mandaeans and Yazidis.
On displacement, he said that there were still more than 1.3 million persons unable or unwilling to return to their places of origin. Baghdad hosted the largest number, with over 300,000 in almost 60,000 families registered. The United Nations was working to ensure that the displaced were adequately cared for followed by their voluntary return, resettlement and local integration. He welcomed, in that context, progress on the establishment of the first High Commission for Human Rights, including an endorsement of the first commissioners on 9 April, as well as steps taken to implement the National Action Plan on Human Rights. The Government must build on those positive steps, he stressed.
Among recovery efforts, he said that the United Nations Country Team would focus on youth, water resource management and the environment, all critical issues for the political, security and governance situations. In particular, he called on all countries in the region to work together on finding a durable solution to managing their shared water resources.
Finally, he said that the issue of Camp Ashraf — which had housed Iranian groups for more than two decades and was now called Camp New Iraq — had placed a heavy burden on UNAMI. In an effort to reach a peaceful and durable solution following last year’s violence, the Government and the Mission had signed a Memorandum of Understanding and were extending the deadline for the camp’s closure. Between mid-February and the present, almost 1,200 persons had been safely relocated to a temporary transit location in Camp Hurriya in Baghdad, where United Nations monitors were deployed and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was carrying out verification and adjudication of claims for refugee status. On 8 April, a confrontation at Camp New Iraq, however, momentarily disrupted relocations from that camp to Camp Hurriya, but he anticipated that soon half of the residents would have been relocated.
He encouraged the Iraqi authorities to pursue the relocation of the remaining residents in a manner that guaranteed their human rights, safety and security, pledging United Nations support for the relocation and signalling the possible need for flexibility on deadlines. He added that camp residents had shown goodwill and cooperation in the relocation process, overcoming their initial lack of cooperation in the relocation process. He encouraged them to continue to work in a cooperative spirit. In addition, he reiterated his call to Member States to accept the residents of the camp in their countries, noting that none had yet made commitments and only one country had pledged funds for the relocations. Meanwhile, he said that the relocation process was still fragile and vigilance against further violence was required.
Mr. Al-Bayati affirmed that the convening of the Arab Summit in Baghdad, as well as diplomatic activity with Kuwait and the completion of the withdrawal of United States forces, represented historic steps forward for his country. Regarding the domestic political situation, he said that, under the auspices of President Talabani, the political blocs had agreed on 6 February on guiding principles of a united stand against terrorism and armed groups, the constitutional resolution of conflicts, inclusive representation of all Iraqis and the independence of the judiciary. A few days later, on 12 February, the general framework of a National Conference had been agreed and sub-committees had been formed to study all the issues raised in preparation for the Conference.
He said that the achievement of security and stability was and would remain a central priority for the national partnership Government, a principle clearly embodied in the Iraqi security forces’ ability to take full responsibility for the country’s security before and after the withdrawal for foreign forces. That move had clearly led to a decrease in the levels of violence, he said, adding that the Prime Minister, in a meeting with senior Iraqi security officials, had stressed the need to ensure control of the security situations and to fill all possible gaps that could be used by terrorists to destabilize the country. He had also called for more cooperation and coordination between local governments and the military and security forces.
Turning to economic and social issues, he said that a Federal budget of some $100 billion had been ratified on 8 March, reflecting a 20 per cent increase over 2011. Further, Iraq’s economy had improved noticeably since 2003, buoyed by significant decreases in unemployment, poverty levels and inflation. He went on to note that Prime Minister al-Maliki had also called for more cooperation between the Ministries of Oil and Electricity, in order to boost fuel supplies to power stations and to address the challenges that had arisen from a sharp increase in electricity consumption. Along with initiatives to bolster the agricultural sector, the Government had also inaugurated the country’s first “floating port”, in Basra, which had an export capacity of 850 barrels of oil per day.
On human rights, he said that the 9 April ratification of the Independent Commission for Human Rights was “a milestone in improving human rights in the new Iraq”. The Commission would aim to improve the country’s effort to protect and promote fundamental rights and promote wider human development. In the framework of efforts to determine the fate of missing persons who were victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Ministry of Human Rights had signed in March a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Commission for Missing Persons, which would allow Iraqis to carry out DNA tests on the remains of victims discovered in mass graves.
He went on to highlight several key regional developments, including the recent agreement between the Iraqi and Egyptian Foreign Ministries to immediately pay Egyptians who worked in Iraq under the former regime. Iraq, which had long faced the threats posed by Al-Qaida, had cautioned all States in the region and beyond to ensure that recent Arab revolutions were not “hijacked” by terrorist groups. Such groups must not be allowed to steal the people’s “Spring” and distort the great principles for which they had fought. Terrorists must not be allowed to tarnish the image of Islam.
Since the outbreak of violence in Syria, Iraq had confirmed its rejection of military options when dealing with the demands of the Syrian people, he said. The Iraqi Government had called on Syrian authorities and the opposition to avoid such military options. “Historical and moral responsibility urges us all […] to exert pressure on both sides of the conflict to start a national dialogue,” he said.
On the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, he said that the mid-February meeting between Prime Minister al-Maliki and the Emir of Kuwait had led to “a final and comprehensive settlement of many issues and claims against Iraqi Airways by the Kuwaiti Government”. That meeting had also emphasized Iraq’s full commitment to fulfilling its obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions, including the payment of Iraq’s share of $600,000 to the United Nations to cover the expenses of the border pillars maintenance and to find a solution to the problem of Iraqi farmers. The historic meeting between the two leaders had been an important step and the results achieved had marked the beginning of a new stage in bilateral relations between the two countries.
Finally, on the issue of Camp Ashraf, he confirmed that, with the help of Mr. Kobler, 1,200 members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran — known as the MEK — had been transferred from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, also known as Camp Hurriya. “The Iraqi Government urges the Security Council members to help in relocating these people to other countries, as, under the Constitution, the Iraqi Government cannot allow them to stay in Iraq,” he said.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:52 a.m.
The Security Council had before it the Second report of the Secretary-General pursuant to resolution 2001 (2011) (document S/2012/185) on the situation in Iraq and progress made towards the fulfilment of the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for that country, known as UNAMI, since 28 November 2011. The report states that Iraq has entered a new chapter in its history following the completion of the withdrawal of the United States forces and that the Iraqi people have been steadfast in rebuilding their country, despite continuing problems.
The Secretary-General expresses concern, however, over a rise in tensions between the main political blocs in the country, noting that, in December, the Al-Iraqiya party called for full implementation of the November 2010 Erbil agreement on power-sharing, after which the Higher Judicial Council issued an arrest warrant for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi, a senior member of Al-Iraqiya, on charges related to terrorism. As a result, the party decided to stop attending the meetings of the Council of Ministers. In the effort to end the current political stalemate, the Secretary-General urges all political blocs to engage in dialogue and to work for the success of the national conference proposed by President Talabani under the principles of inclusiveness, compromise and constitutionality. He pledges the support of UNAMI for such an initiative.
Regretting that the deadlock is hindering resolution of disputed internal boundaries and other matters, including Arab-Kurdish issues, he urges Iraqi leaders to work together with the support of UNAMI to build trust and find common ground. Welcoming progress in the appointment of new members of the High Electoral Commission, on the other hand, he strongly encourages timely and credible completion of that work, reiterating UNAMI’s commitment to support the body ahead of its busy electoral calendar. He also welcomes recent constructive discussions between Iraq and Kuwait, as well as the holding of the Arab League summit in Baghdad.
Expressing continued concern over the almost daily attacks on civilians, as well as the increased use of the death penalty in the country, he calls on the Government to take further steps to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Iraqis are protected, in light of the welcome adoption of the National Action Plan on Human Rights. He encourages the Government to work with the United Nations to find a durable solution to the high number of displaced persons in the country and warns of an influx of Syrian refugees if the situation there deteriorates further. He reminds the Iraqi Government of the continued need to safeguard the security of residents being relocated from Camp New Iraq to Camp Hurriya.
Noting that Iraqis are looking to their leaders to do more to improve services and rebuild infrastructure, he welcomes Government allocations for co-financing projects under the United Nations Development Assistance Framework and calls upon Member States to further contribute to that work. Outlining the activities of UNAMI, he urges the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure the earliest enactment of a status-of-mission agreement with the Mission, stating that the lack of an agreement adversely affects the Organization’s work. He expresses gratitude, at the same time, for the security support Iraqi forces are providing to United Nations personnel following the United States withdrawal.