Iraq: UN officials urge respect for constitution as Prime Minister-designate named

Mass polio vaccination campaign supported by WHO and UNICEF kicks off in Iraq. Photo: UNAMI

11 August 2014 – Amidst ongoing insecurity in northern Iraq, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his representative in the country expressed support today for President Fouad Masoum’s office, as politicians are working towards creating a new Government, and warned that heightened political tensions could lead Iraq into even deeper crisis.

Mr. Ban “commends Iraqi President Fuad Massoum for having charged Dr. Haider al-Abbadi, in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution, with the formation of a new government,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

He also encouraged Mr. al-Abbadi to form a “broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society, in accordance with the constitutional time-frame.”

According to Article 76 of the Iraqi Constitution, the new prime minister has 30 days from the date of designation to name members of his Council of Ministers. At that time, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is legally obligated to step down.

According to media reports, Mr. Maliki spoke in a televised address at midnight, making it clear that he was not planning to step down, and challenged Mr. Massoum’s authority.

Hours later, Mr. Ban’s representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov voiced support for Mr. Massoum’s office, saying that the President “is undertaking his duties in line with the Constitution and the democratic political process.”

In line with his constitutional obligation, Mr. Masoum will ask the largest bloc to nominate a candidate for Prime Minister “who can establish a broad-based and inclusive Government that is acceptable to all components of Iraqi society,” added Mr. Mladenov, who is also the head of the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMI).

Mr. Mladenov also addressed Iraqi security forces which have reportedly took up positions around Baghdad, telling them that they “should refrain from actions that may be seen as interference in matters related to the democratic transfer of political authority.”

Mr. Ban had called on all Iraqi political parties to work towards the formation of a new Government that would be able to confront the threat from the armed group, the Islamic State (IS).

The UN, with international and national partners, is studying the possibility of opening a humanitarian corridor to try to extract people from this area, the spokesperson said.

Attacks by IS have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The situation is particularly dire on Jebel Sinjar, or Sinjar Mountain, where an estimated 50,000 people are believed to be trapped since ISIL displaced them from their homes more than one week ago.

The mountain is like a camelback that is 100 km long and about 10 km wide, with a large and rocky, barren hilltop, according to Kieran Dwyer, head of communications for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Speaking to reporters by phone from Erbil, he said that people are trapped in multiple locations on the mountain, with those on the south side more exposed to the armed groups.

“We can confirm that in the last 72 hours, some thousands of people have been able to escape from the mountain with assistance of Kurdish security forces and others,” he said.

Most of the people who escaped were from the north side of the mountain, which is close to the border with Syria, and from there, they moved by foot, about a 7-hour walk, or sometimes with the help of vehicles, to get to a point on the Tigris river, and then back into Iraq.

Mr. Dwyer stressed that the situation on the mountain, particularly for young children and the elderly, is absolutely dire with very little vegetation to provide shelter from the searingly hot temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius, 110 plus degrees Fahrenheit.

“People coming off the mountain are every single day in much worse condition than the day before,” Mr. Dwyer said, underscoring to need for food, water and medical support.

UNAMI spokesperson, Eliana Nabaa, who is also in Erbil, told UN Radio that the situation is extremely fluid. She said the people lack everything, from food and water to shelter, mattresses and medicines. “There were some air drops operations but it is not enough because the situation is extremely difficult.”

The UN, with international and national partners, is studying the possibility of opening a humanitarian corridor to try to extract people from this area, the spokesperson said.

In addition to the humanitarian concerns, UN Women and local authorities are gravely concerned about the fate of hundreds of women and girls being held in the city of Mosul, Mr. Dwyer said.

More than 650,000 people have been displaced since 9 June when the local crisis broke out, with an additional 200,000 people fleeing in the past 10 days, half of them children under the age of 12, reported the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). According to the latest figures, there are now 1.2 million displaced people throughout Iraq.

“We are facing a mounting humanitarian crisis that is not likely to be reduced or lowered in the days to come,” Ms. Nabaa said, “so we are extremely mobilized in the sense of providing the necessary life-saving assistance to whatever number of people.”

Also today, the Iraqi Ministry of Health, supported by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF launched a polio immunization campaign aiming to protect over four million children under the age of five.

“This campaign comes at a critical time while the country is witnessing a huge internal exodus of children fleeing violence and turmoil,” said Marzio Babille, UNICEF Iraq Representative.

The WHO representative in the country, Dr. Syed Jaffar Hussain added that “as the violence spreads, children are being displaced up to three times with their families, often living in overcrowded conditions where they are at a much higher risk of contracting infectious diseases.”

The four-day immunization campaign is part of the national response to the re-emergence of the polio virus earlier this year, which ended nearly 14 years of Iraq’s polio-free status.


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