Iraq in 'crucial phase' amid rising sectarian violence, UN envoy tells Security Council
Iraq's transition towards democracy and prosperity is in a crucial phase, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, warning today that with violence spiking, perpetrators are taking advantage of the instability caused by the ongoing political stalemate and the Syrian crisis.
“[Iraq] can continue to make important strides in deepening the roots of democracy, pursuing reforms and embracing diversity as well as improving its stature in the international community or it can go down a dangerous path, foretold with political impasse and sectarian violence at each turn leading to increased instability,” the Special Representative Martin Kobler, said briefing the Council on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report on the situation in the country.
According to the report, there has been an “alarming” scale of renewed violence in Iraq during the latest four months, with nearly 3,000 people killed and over 7,000 more wounded.
Addressing the 15-member council, Mr. Kobler reiterated his calls on the Government to investigate the events in Hawija, north of Baghdad, where Iraqi security forces clashed with protesters killing 45 people and wounded some 110 others. The incident touched off a series of violent sectarian protests and demonstrations.
Meanwhile, successfully Iraqi-organized governorate council elections on 20 April and 20 June are a positive example of Iraqis overcoming diversity, Mr. Kobler said. The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) which Mr. Kobler heads, provided support and technical advice to the polls.
He also noted the positive improvement in relations between Iraq and Kuwait during recent months as a result of increased dialogue and visits.
Speaking to journalists in New York after briefing the Security Council, Mr. Kobler said the situation in Syria also impacts the situation in Iraq, fuelling the insecurity, which increasingly has sectarian overtones. “These countries are interrelated. Iraq is the fault line between the Sunni and Shi'a world.”
He noted that the UN in Iraq and Syria is striving to address the roots of the conflict to bring about a political solution to the conflict.
Listing four final observations, Mr. Kobler, who completes his tenure on 22 July, urged Iraqi leaders to uphold and fully implement the Constitution.
“Iraqis must return to the Constitution as the political framework for resolving all prevailing conflicts,” he stressed noting that the first articles of the Constitution emphasize a need to protect the country's diversity and federalism.
As the third largest exporter of oil in the world and the second largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Iraq needs to more efficiently manage and share its revenues for the good of its economic growth, social development and political stability, Mr. Kobler said.
Noting that the country has “gold literally lying beneath its feet”, he called on the Central and Kurdistan Regional Governments to agree on oil and gas revenue sharing.
The Special Representative also stressed the need to protect the environment, particularly to address the key issue of sandstorms and dust storms. As also noted in the report, Mr. Kobler commended the high-level initiative of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to set up a national commission to combat the storms and to facilitate regional cooperation towards that aim.
Turning to the role of women, who make up more than half of the Iraqi population, the Special Representative called on the Government to scale up to implement a national policy on women.
Similarly, he urged greater resources to be funnelled towards projects and programmes benefiting the country's youth who in addition to insecurity, grapple with a lack of opportunities for education and employment.
“Fear, frustration, helplessness; these feelings plague the youth of Iraq and run contrary to the spirit of hope, optimism, ambition that fuels their deep belief in their country,” Mr. Kobler said.
“Leaders need to act now to keep the promising youth in the country.”
The Special Representative also updated the Security Council on the situation in Camp Hurriya, which located near Baghdad serves as a transit facility for more than 3,000 exiles, most of them members of a group known as the People's Mojahedeen of Iran. Hundreds have been safely relocated to Albania and Germany, Mr. Kobler said, but about 100 refuse to leave and are at risk of being evicted by the Government of Iraq.
He noted, however, that UN monitors in the camp continue to be subjected to harassment and verbal abuse by some residents. Simultaneously, some have been approached by residents raising allegations of restrictive and abusive practices imposed on them by the camp leadership.