Following Democratic Elections in Iraq, Tackling Sectarian Divide, Terrorist Threat Key to Prevent Rise of Violent Extremism, Top Officials Tell Security Council

SC/13359
30 May 2018
8271st Meeting (AM)

Following Democratic Elections in Iraq, Tackling Sectarian Divide, Terrorist Threat Key to Prevent Rise of Violent Extremism, Top Officials Tell Security Council

Speakers Urge Support for Ongoing Reconstruction, Displaced Iraqis

On the heels of largely successful democratic elections — viewed by many around the world as a historic turning point — Iraq still faced such challenges as continued terrorist threats and sectarian divisions, which must remain a priority on the international agenda, stressed the senior United Nations official in the country as he briefed the Security Council today.

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Iraq, outlined recent developments, focusing his presentation on the events surrounding the country’s 12 May parliamentary elections.  Noting that the vote had taken place within the constitutionally mandated time frame, he said people had been able to cast their votes freely and safely and that liberated areas had seen a free voting process for the first time since the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  “The post‑election phase represents a crucial time for Iraq,” he said, urging leaders to prioritize inclusive, non‑sectarian dialogue and ensure the swift formation of a Government that reflected the will of the people.  That was particularly true as Da’esh — though defeated militarily — continued to pose a threat, having carried out several deadly attacks in past months.

On that point, Vladimir Voronkov, Under‑Secretary‑General of the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism, called on Member States to redouble their efforts to strengthen cooperation to comprehensively address terrorism and bring perpetrators to justice.  Describing his recent visit to Iraq, he pointed to the military setback of ISIL/Da’esh as evidence of the resolve of Iraqi authorities.  During the joint mission to Iraq — carried out alongside the United Nations Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate — the team had visited Fallujah to discuss how to support the local population, concluding that a national reconciliation and reconstruction process owned and driven by the Iraqi people would be critical to prevent the resurgence of violent extremism and terrorism.

Michèle Coninsx, Assistant Secretary‑General and Executive Director of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, outlined efforts taken to combat Iraq’s terrorist threat through non‑military means since 2015.  The Directorate had identified 33 key recommendations on ways to strengthen its overall response, she said, spotlighting the need for technical assistance in such priority areas as legal and judicial matters, countering financing of terrorism, law enforcement and border control and countering radicalization and incitement to commit terrorist acts.  In the subsequent years, the Directorate and its partners had held follow‑up meetings and visits to Iraq to ensure that discussions at Headquarters continued to reflect the situation on the ground.

Several Council members took the floor to welcome Iraq’s largely peaceful recent elections.  Some urged the international community to remain engaged with the country’s ongoing reconstruction and reform processes — underlining their importance not only for Iraq but for the wider region — while others called for redoubled efforts to support displaced Iraqis and others in need of humanitarian assistance.

Kuwait’s representative was among speakers who described Iraq’s elections as historic and a step forward for the country’s rule of law.  Noting that Iraq was entering a new phase that would require international support in confronting remaining political, security and humanitarian challenges, he said Iraq’s stability was integral to that of the region.  He looked forward to further cooperation with Iraq as the countries sought to settle problems and build relationships based on good neighbourliness and non‑interference in State affairs.

The representative of the United States agreed with others that the elections and the success of security forces in taking back territory from ISIL represented “a key moment in Iraqi history”.  The next Government must decide whether it would value diversity and create opportunities for all Iraqis, including the most vulnerable.  It must also decide whether it was serious about elevating female leaders and closing the door on extremism.  Emphasizing the need for bold leadership, she said the new Government’s commitment to “keeping the lights on and paving roads” — as well as respect for human rights and the pursuit of accountability for those responsible for Iraq’s mass atrocity crimes — would be essential for its credibility.

Iraq’s delegate, stating that the elections marked a new chapter in his nation’s history, spotlighted the large and unprecedented number of women who had participated as both voters and candidates.  Young people, too, had come out in droves to choose the candidates that best represented them.  Outlining the Government’s efforts to revitalize Iraq’s economic and social sectors, he stressed that Iraq was committed to achieving the goals enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as its own national strategy to alleviate poverty and create opportunities for young people.  He also noted that Iraq had embarked on balanced relations with its neighbours, focused on building a new foreign policy based on “positive neutrality”.

Also speaking were representatives of Bolivia, Peru and Kazakhstan.

The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 11:31 a.m.

Briefings

JÁN KUBIŠ, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Iraq, presented the Secretary‑General’s latest report submitted pursuant to resolution 2367 (2017) on progress made in fulfilling the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) (document S/2018/359), as well as another submitted pursuant to resolution 2107 (2013) on the issue of missing Kuwaiti property and third‑country nationals and property (document S/2018/353).  Recalling that, on 12 May — within the constitutional time frame — Iraq had held elections for its national Parliament, he said people had been able to cast their votes freely and safely and that liberated areas had seen a free voting process for the first time since the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  Describing the election as historic and a step towards building a stronger Iraqi democracy, he said that despite overall calm, 47 security incidents had been recorded including attacks with improvised explosive devices.  Some attacks were claimed by Da’esh, whose threats to disrupt the elections failed.

Noting that the elections were marked by low voter turnout, with only 44 per cent — just 11 million of 24 million eligible voters — participating, he said they nevertheless sent a strong signal to the elites ruling the country since 2003.  They had been a loud call on the people’s representatives to finally rise to meet expectations, provide for the population’s needs and rise above partisan and sectarian interests.  Describing the candidates’ campaigns as broadly respectful and largely free from sectarian discourse, he welcomed that several female candidates had received high numbers of votes and 19 female candidates had been elected to Parliament.  Noting that some critics had raised concerns over some technical shortfalls associated with the electronic vote tabulation devices — as well as reports of fraud, vote rigging and political interference — he said the Council of Ministers had convened, on 24 May, an extraordinary meeting dedicated to discussing voter fraud allegations and to form a High Commission to investigate related reports.  Meanwhile, six Kurdistani parties had questioned the credibility of the electoral process in the Kurdistan region and were calling for a recount of the votes in its governorates.

Calling on all Iraqi political actors and their supporters to uphold peace and on the Electoral Commission to continue to safeguard the integrity of election materials and equipment, he said the United Nations stood ready to provide electoral advice and expertise.  “The post‑election phase represents a crucial time for Iraq,” he said, urging political leaders to build on the recent vote and prioritize inclusive, non‑sectarian dialogue and ensure the swift formation of a truly national Government that reflected the will of the people.  That Government must work across sectarian and ethnic divides and pursue much‑needed political, economic and social reforms based on the principles of equal rights, democracy and good governance.

While Da’esh’s so‑called caliphate had been defeated, that terrorist group continued to pose a threat, having killed 20 people in twin attacks on 12 April, he said.  On 16 May, Da’esh fighters opened indiscriminate fire on civilians at a funeral in Tarmiya, killing 12 and wounding 25.  On 29 May, a bomb was detonated near a girls’ school in Diyala Governorate, and explosives planted by Da’esh continued to cause civilian casualties in Kirkuk and other provinces.  Overall, 144 civilians had been killed between 1 April and 30 May, with 236 others wounded.  Warning against complacency in the face of such crimes, he said the Iraqi security forces had maintained constant pressure on the remaining Da’esh presence and activities across the country’s north, central and western regions.  The forces were conducting security clearance operations and re‑establishing their footprints in towns, villages and rural areas.  Work was also under way to clear explosive remnants of war.

Expressing hope that the incoming Government would work to reform and rehabilitate the overall security sector, he also described efforts to combat the threat emanating from the western deserts and from across the Syrian border.  In the past weeks, the Iraqi Air Force had launched three strikes on Da’esh targets inside Syria, coordinated with the latter’s Government and with the international coalition to counter ISIL.  Meanwhile, Turkish military air strikes on alleged Kurdish Workers’ Party targets near the Iraqi‑Turkish border in northern Iraq — with limited ground operations — had increased in recent months.

In that vein, he said negotiations to promote the normalization of relations between the federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil had been largely suspended during the campaign and election season.  Several measures imposed in Kurdistan following its unilateral referendum had been lifted.  Airports had been reopened and parties to the negotiations had committed to seek strong, coordinated Kurdish representation in the next Council of Representatives.  The Prime Minister of the Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, had called for elections to be held there on 30 September 2018, he said, urging the region’s Parliament to take immediate action to pass the required electoral legislation.

Outlining efforts by the national Government — supported by UNAMI — towards Iraq’s reconstruction, he said a new United Nations Development Assistance Framework (2020‑2024) sought to align the Organization’s interventions with the new Government priorities.  There was a focus on implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as on developing civilian infrastructure and facilitating the return of displaced Iraqis.  Noting that the country’s humanitarian crisis continued — with more than 2 million people still displaced and in need of aid — he expressed concerns that only 18 per cent of Iraq’s $569 million humanitarian response plan was currently funded.

He went on to express concern about alleged cases of the politicization of humanitarian assistance and protection challenges faced by women and children with perceived ties to Da’esh in displaced persons camps.  There were allegations of rape, sexual exploitation and restrictions on the freedom of movement.  All cases of alleged misconduct had been reported to the preventing sexual exploitation and abuse network and referred to the Iraqi authorities, he said, adding that UNAMI remained engaged in the urgent investigations of such reported situations.

Turning finally to human rights issues on which the Mission was focusing, he said that in April the Iraqi Ministry of Justice had announced that 13 executions had taken place so far in 2018, including for 11 terrorism‑related crimes.  The Council of Representatives had formed an investigative committee to examine potential human rights violations committed last October in Tuz Khurmatu.  On 6 April, in Mosul, two mass graves containing 73 bodies were discovered.  At least 122 mass graves had been discovered since 2014, mainly containing bodies suspected to be victims of Da’esh.  The systematic investigation of those cites and efforts to identify the victims remained critical.

VLADIMIR VORONKOV, Under‑Secretary‑General of the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism, called on Member States to redouble their efforts to strengthen cooperation to comprehensively address terrorism and bring perpetrators to justice.  His visit to Iraq with Assistant Secretary‑General Michèle Coninsx in March had been organized within the framework of common efforts between the Office of Counter‑Terrorism and the Counter‑Terrorism Executive Directorate to facilitate delivery of technical assistance to Member States, in accordance with resolution 2395 (2017).  Pointing to the military setback of ISIL/Da’esh as evidence of the resolve of Iraqi authorities, he said the Government’s vigilance in consolidating that victory through a comprehensive approach focused on prevention and resilience was of utmost importance.

During the joint mission, the team had visited Fallujah to discuss how the United Nations could support the local population, he said.  It was the conclusion of the Iraqi interlocutors that national reconciliation and reconstruction — owned and driven by the Iraqi people — were essential to prevent the resurgence of violent extremism and terrorism.  The team had also had met the mayor of Fallujah and witnessed the large‑scale devastation caused by ISIL/Da’esh.

Noting that the joint delegation had reiterated the United Nations strong support to Iraq, he said the Counter‑Terrorism Office had proposed five areas in which it could provide technical assistance:  advice in the development of a national counter‑terrorism strategy; training on countering terrorism financing; youth skills development and vocational training to prevent violent extremism; strategic communications also for that purpose; and capacity‑building to prevent and respond to weapons of mass destruction‑related terrorism.

The team also had dispatched a joint scoping mission to Iraq at the beginning of May, he said, to identify elements of programmatic support under those areas.  Having held meetings with a range of ministries and national agencies, the diplomatic community, the United Nations country team and the World Bank, the Counter‑Terrorism Office, based on the findings of the scoping mission, was developing concept notes for projects that would have a measurable impact on the ground yet avoided duplication with existing initiatives.  It was also planning to deploy a consultant to support Iraq in finalizing its national counter‑terrorism strategy.  The implementation of those projects, in consultation with the Government, would start next month.

MICHÈLE CONINSX, Assistant Secretary‑General and Executive Director of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, noted that the Directorate conducted an assessment visit to Iraq in September 2015.  At that time, Iraq’s response to the terrorist threat was primarily military in nature.  To help the country combat terrorism through non‑military means, the Directorate identified 33 key recommendations on ways to strengthen its overall response.  The Counter‑Terrorism Committee noted that Iraq would benefit from technical assistance in 16 priority areas, including legal and judicial matters, countering financing of terrorism, law enforcement and border control and countering radicalization and incitement to commit terrorist acts.

Efforts had been undertaken to make the findings of the follow‑up visit accessible to as many donors and implementing partners as possible, she said.  In that connection, the Committee held two informal meetings on Iraq for donors and partners — in March 2016 and May 2017, respectively.  Those meetings enabled the Committee to follow up on progress achieved since 2015 and to take stock of recent developments and continued challenges.  Since those meetings, the Directorate had returned to Iraq on several occasions to ensure that the discussions held at Headquarters continued to reflect the situation on the ground.  “The focus of our efforts has been to facilitate the integration of the Committee’s recommendations into the existing or planned programmes of our implementing partners,” she said.

Throughout its engagement with Iraq, the country had retained full ownership of the assistance facilitation and delivery process and had continued to endorse the 16 identified priority areas, she underscored.  Implementing partners and organizations had also continued to share and update information concerning their current and planned efforts.  All that information was entered into a matrix designed to ensure full transparency, which was a process that not only helped avoid duplication, but also aided in developing new partnerships.  She stressed the need for Iraq to actively adopt counter‑terrorism legislation in accordance with relevant international standards to ensure that the perpetrators of terrorist acts were brought to justice in line with human rights and the rule of law.

Statements

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) cited recent parliamentary elections and success by Iraq’s security forces in taking back territory from ISIL to protect polling stations as “a key moment in Iraqi history”.  The next Government must decide whether it would value diversity and create opportunities for all Iraqis, including the most vulnerable.  It must decide whether it was serious about elevating female leaders and closing the door on extremism.  Bold leadership would be required.  Noting that the United States would support Iraq as it moved towards a peaceful future, she said the new Government must focus on “keeping the lights on and paving roads”, which would be essential for its credibility.  It must respect and promote human rights, uphold the rule of law, pursue accountability for atrocities and collect evidence of ISIL’s mass atrocity crimes.  Indeed, Iraq must be a force for stability in the region and the United States looked forward to a partnership with the new Government which sought to fight terrorism and strengthen national institutions.  The United Nations must adapt too.  Improving UNAMI’s ability to coordinate the many United Nations agencies on the ground was essential and the Secretary‑General must carry out the related recommendations made.  The Council would soon launch its most comprehensive review of the UNAMI mandate in years.  The new mandate would be more responsive to Iraqi needs and tailored to respond to the current challenges of political reconciliation, aid delivery and support for Government institutions to deliver services.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) congratulated Iraq on the holding of parliamentary elections, which had taken place in a transparent environment, reflecting solidarity with the Constitution and the highest international standards.  He expressed hope that a consensus‑based Government would soon be formed to meet its people’s aspirations.  This year was an historic one for the rule of law and reconstruction in Iraq, and the new phase would require international support so the Government could confront political, security and humanitarian challenges.  Kuwait had organized the conference for Iraqi reconstruction in mid‑February, which had attracted international donors.  Iraq’s stability was integral to that of the region.  On issues relating to missing Kuwaitis and third‑party nationals and properties, including national records, he expressed disappointment over the lack of progress on those matters, despite efforts made in terms of excavations and further information on possible burial sites.  There had been a lack of information on Kuwait’s national records, a highly sensitive issue related to his Government’s cooperation with Iraq.  He advocated a new approach that involved the technical subcommittee headed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as current efforts had been insufficient to end the 27‑year‑old suffering of families.  He looked forward to further cooperation with Iraq as the countries sought to settle problems and build relationships based on good neighbourliness and non‑interference in State affairs.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said the 12 May parliamentary elections had taken place in violence‑free conditions, calling for dialogue and negotiation to establish a stable Government and develop sound institutions.  The sovereign administration of resources, such as the State‑owned oil company, could be useful for rebuilding Iraq and restoring public services.  He welcomed the permanent dialogue between the federal Government and Regional Kurdistan Government, whereby the opening of airports of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah to international traffic and the allocation of funds for payment of civil servants in Kurdistan had been agreed.  Calling for continued efforts to resolve issues of common interest, he said improvised explosive devices used during asymmetric attacks had resulted in a significant number of deaths.  Thus, removing war remnants was essential and he called for international support for United Nations Mine Action Service efforts to implement resolution 2365 (2017).  He also welcomed the tripartite meeting that had sought to help Iraq identify common graves where Kuwaitis might be buried.  Stressing that Da’esh elements remained in the country, he said the situation of 1,500 Yazidi women and children still under Da’esh control was a major concern which should be urgently addressed.  He pointed to regime‑change and interventionist policies as among the root causes of the conflict.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), congratulating the Government and people of Iraq for the successful holding of their recent elections, nevertheless said the special commission set up to investigate allegations of voting irregularities should quickly work to address complaints.  The new Government must provide a unified and robust front to tackle such lingering issues as corruption, he said, also voicing concern over pockets of the country where Da’esh retained influence as well as about attacks carried out by that group.  Welcoming the decision of the Iraqi Government to share its assessment of technical requirements with partners — especially with regard to the fight against terrorism — he said the internarial community should provide support in that arena; focus on and support Iraq’s physical, social and economic reconstruction; and continue to prioritize the needs of the nearly 9 million Iraqis requiring humanitarian assistance, including 2 million displaced people.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) congratulated Iraq for the holding of parliamentary elections on 12 May, calling on Iraqi political actors and their supporters to maintain peace as the results were processed, to resolve any electoral disputes through established legal channels and to form an inclusive Government as soon as possible.  The effectiveness of counter‑terrorism mechanisms in Iraq must be enhanced, as must border security, following ISIL’s expulsion from the country.  Calling on Iraq to join the Code of Conduct for achieving a world without terrorism initiative, and on the international community to help consolidate stability, he stressed the importance of preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity.  Extrajudicial acts of retaliation against ISIL supporters, their families and those with any connection to the group must not be permitted and he urged the Government to bring perpetrators to justice.  Kazakhstan also supported measures to achieve Iraq’s most critical goals of preserving unity, re‑establishing stability and fostering peaceful coexistence.

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) said that Iraqis marching to the voting polls on 12 May to elect members to its House of Representatives was of major significance as it represented the beginning of a new chapter, following Iraq’s victory over ISIL/Da’esh.  A large and unprecedented number of women participated as voters and candidates, and young people came out in droves to choose the candidates that best represented them.  The Government succeeded in providing a secure electoral environment for its citizens, he said, adding that the Independent High Electoral Commission had opened the door to hear complaints and appeals from political entities or parties.  After studying and auditing those appeals, and taking the appropriate action, the Commission would submit the names of the winners to the Federal Court for formal approval and adoption.

He noted various steps the Government was taking to revitalize Iraq’s economic and social sectors, emphasizing that Iraq remained committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Iraq’s own national strategy focused on alleviating poverty and creating more jobs and opportunities for young people.  The Government, with help from the United Nations, aimed to prepare a generation that was productive, well educated, in good health, engaged in communities and immune to radical terrorism.

ISIL/Da’esh had shown extraordinary cruelty to Iraqi men, women and children, he continued, adding that the Council’s adoption of resolution 2379 (2017) represented a victory for justice and fairness.  An independent investigative mechanism was collecting evidence of crimes against women and children, including sexual and gender‑based violence.  Iraq was keen to redress and compensate all victims of the horrendous crimes of sexual violence and to involve women in peacebuilding, reconciliation and reconstruction initiatives.

He affirmed Iraq’s continued commitment to address the suffering of the victims of sexual violence, underscoring the important role played by the 2016 joint communique between the United Nations and Iraq, and the need to engage with civil society, tribal leaders and media.  Iraq was also focused on improving its vocational and technical training institutes in Baghdad and Fallujah and supporting the development of a comprehensive national strategy to combat terrorism.

Iraq had established balanced relations with its neighbours with a focus on building a new foreign policy based on “positive neutrality”, he said, adding:  “It is in Iraq’s interest to the be outside the circle of conflicts in the region.”  Iraq would focus more on cooperation, partnership, the exchange of ideas, stability and development.  “There are great opportunities to invest in all the Iraqi provinces,” he added.  Iraq would continue to fulfil its obligations related to its outstanding matters with Kuwait.  In regards to Kuwaiti missing persons, Iraqi authorities were still carrying out their research and investigations.  The Iraqi Government was in the process of handing over the first batch of Kuwaiti property and archives.  He also underscored Iraq’s willingness to extend the mandate of UNAMI, which had a major role in rebuilding basic service infrastructure destroyed and damaged by the war and in restoring stability in reclaimed areas.

For information media. Not an official record.