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With Middle East at a ‘critical juncture’, UN Iraq envoy appeals for restraint

In the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, 15-year-old Noor (left) and her cousin Rahaf walk together to school.
© UNICEF/Diego Ibarra Sánchez
In the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, 15-year-old Noor (left) and her cousin Rahaf walk together to school.

With Middle East at a ‘critical juncture’, UN Iraq envoy appeals for restraint

Peace and Security

Attacks originating both within and outside Iraq have the potential to unravel hard-won stability and other achievements if they continue, the head of the UN Mission in the country, UNAMI, warned the Security Council on Tuesday. 

“With the conflict raging in Gaza, as well as armed action elsewhere, the Middle East is at a critical juncture, and the same is true for Iraq,” said UN Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, calling for restraint.

“With Iraq cloaked in an already complex tapestry of challenges; it is of greatest importance that all attacks cease.”

‘Enabling environment’ crucial 

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert told ambassadors that “an enabling environment” will be essential for Iraq to continue on the path of stability, which requires restraint from all sides.

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“Yes, indeed, from Iraq’s armed actors, and, as might be expected, restraint from Iraq’s neighbours and other countries is just as crucial,” she said. 

The envoy recalled that she has repeatedly said that “messaging by strikes only serves to recklessly heighten tensions, to kill or injure people and to destroy property.”

Prioritize safeguarding Iraq 

As an example, she pointed to the 28 January attack that killed three US service members, and injured several others, alongside the resulting retaliatory strikes.

“Rather than shows of force, all efforts should centre on safeguarding Iraq from being drawn in any way into a wider conflict,” she said, noting that Iran also carried out a deadly missile attack on Erbil a few weeks back while Turkish military operations continue in the north.

Regarding “the incendiary potential of retaliatory strikes”, she welcomed the recent launch of talks between US and Iraqi military officials, noting that “the setting of joint objectives could only be a positive development amid rising tensions.”

Successes and challenges 

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert also reported on positive developments in Iraq. Last December, local elections were held for the first time in a decade, which also marked the first vote in the Kirkuk governorate since 2005.

“This electoral process took place in a broadly peaceful and technically sound manner. It marked another milestone in the Government’s efforts to break from past cycles of dysfunction. And we truly hope that the re-establishment of local representative bodies, which have been inactive since 2019, will signify another major step forward,” she said. 

However, challenges for future elections persist, namely securing higher voter turnout and encouraging those eligible to register, requiring greater work towards building public trust.

Banking and buildings 

The Council also heard of other positive developments, such as the Iraqi Government’s efforts to strengthen the finance and banking sectors. “Ambitious construction projects” also continue, such as major housing complexes, along with a commitment to build a thousand new schools by the end of the year.

Yet, Iraq faces obstacles, including “existing feelings of exclusion and marginalization” which often lead to recurring cycles of conflict.

Furthermore, parliamentary elections in the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north have also been postponed several times since October 2022, with a new date to be set.  “And wrangling between Baghdad and Erbil on financial and budgetary issues goes on,” she added. 

Closing all camps 

Regarding other matters, she reported that Iraq’s Council of Ministers has set 30 July as the date for the closure of all displacement camps throughout the country, including in the Kurdistan region, some of which are hosting people with alleged ties to ISIL.

While welcoming the decision, the UN has underscored that it should be complemented with solutions for displaced people outside the camps, while all returns should be safe, voluntary, dignified and inclusive. 

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert concluded her briefing by noting that it could be the last time she addressed the Council as she is expected to leave office in May after serving for five years.

She expressed hope that one day, people from around the world will get to know the real Iraq - “a country of rich diversity and culture, where there are many opportunities to grasp.”