Most pressing goal for Iraq remains defeating ISIL, says outgoing UN envoy

Nickolay Mladenov delivers his final briefing as the UN Special Representative for Iraq. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

17 February 2015 – Delivering his final briefing as the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov today stressed to the Security Council the optimism he feels for the country’s future, while tempering those hopes with fear over the many things that can go wrong.

“I am a paranoid optimist,” said Mr. Mladenov, noting the efforts made by Iraq’s political, community and religious leaders to save their country from terror. “Today, more than ever, there is a growing understanding that the country can only move forward based on the principles of democracy, rule of law, respect for diversity and inclusivity.”

Even though the national unity Government was set on addressing many long-standing concerns of the Iraqi people, Mr. Mladenov said that he remains “paranoid.”

“So many things can go wrong,” he warned. “ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) 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 low prices and skyrocketing security costs.”

He pointed to the Government’s “important steps” on political and institutional reform, economic and social reconstruction and national reconciliation, as well as its efforts to engage countries in the region.

“Iraq’s most pressing goal remains to win back territory taken by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL,” he said. “The authorities have pledged to provide military and financial assistance to local leaders and tribal fighters to aid their struggle against ISIL.”

Moving forward would require expansion of the process of inclusion into the political sphere, as an exclusively military solution to the problem would be both impossible and counterproductive.

“ISIL flourishes when Iraq is weak,” he said. “Iraq is weak when it is divided by sectarian politics, when political patronage overtakes national loyalty.”

He drew attention to recent roundtables convened by the UN Mission (UNAMI) in Baghdad, Karbala and Basra which aimed at strengthening social and religious cohesions, as well as rectifying divisions within Iraqi society, and he also noted the improvement of relations between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Mr. Mladenov said many risks remained despite positive steps taken. He pointed to the toll taken by armed conflict and acts of terrorism, with over 12,000 civilians killed in 2014 and another 23,000 injured.

“Almost daily terrorist attacks continue to deliberately target all Iraqis, most notably the Shi’ite community, as well as ethnic and religious minorities across the country,” he said, decrying ISIL’s violations and abuses as “gruesome” and stressing the “serious threat” they posed to the country’s cohesion, with increasing reports of revenge attacks, and the marring of recent military gains by claims that militias have killed unarmed civilians.

The country was challenged also by fiscal constraints and UNAMI was working actively with the authorities to set up a Recovery and Reconstruction fund, while the challenge posed by supporting internally displaced persons was also huge.

He noted that 5.2 million people need humanitarian assistance, of whom 2.25 million are displaced and 235,000 are refugees from Syria, with the population of the Kurdistan Region having increased by 30 per cent because of the influx.

“Let me sound some alarm bells,” he said. “Sixty per cent 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 March. The essential medicines pipeline will break at the end of March.”

The UN’s humanitarian country team had listed fast track priorities which could not be postponed or ignored and he called for $150 million to support IDPs.

Mr. Mladenov also spoke about the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and property, pointing out that the Kuwaiti Government and people were “understandably disappointed” that nothing tangible has been achieved for many years on the matter.

With goodwill between Iraq and Kuwait at its highest now since 1990, he said it was an “opportune moment” for the countries’ leaderships to come together on an important humanitarian issue.

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