Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Iraq
On Saturday (29 June), Security Council members flew from Kuwait City to Baghdad for a series of meetings, concluding their visiting mission to Kuwait and Iraq. The Council met with the following: Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi, at the Government Palace; President Barham Salih, at the Presidential Palace; representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG); Foreign Minister Mohamad Al-Hakim; the leadership of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI); the UN Country Team in Iraq; the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD); the Iraqi parliament (representatives of political parties as well as minority groups); and members of civil society. The day concluded with a press conference at the UNAMI compound.
Issues related to Da’esh
Special Representative and head of UNAMI Jeannine Hennis-Plasschaert opened her remarks to Council members by stating that the Council’s visit marked five years to the day in 2014 that Da’esh had proclaimed its caliphate. Interlocutors with whom Council members engaged seemed to have referenced the consequences that Iraq continues to suffer from Da’esh’s former territorial control, stressing that Da’esh is not yet defeated. In this regard, the president of the KRG, Nechirvan Barzani, made clear that defeat is not only about territory and noted that the Kurdish military forces, the Peshmerga, had suffered 12,000 casualties (including 2,000 deaths) in the war with Da’esh.
Hennis-Plasschaert called the return of Iraqi Da’esh fighters a “source of great concern” for the security situation of the country, and said that communities in Iraq were not willing to receive them back. Iraqi Foreign Minister Al-Hakim emphasised that many countries refuse to take their own foreign terrorist fighters back, but Iraq does not. Another concern raised in the meeting were the 45,000 children “born out of Da’esh”, an issue that other countries are also facing.
The Deputy Special Representative to Iraq, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator Marta Ruedas, speaking on the issue of the 1.7 million internally displaced persons, emphasised that families that lived under Da’esh control are especially vulnerable because of this “affiliation”, resulting in their being refused fundamental paperwork. She furthermore described the contamination of Iraq with mines following Da’esh’s rule as “unprecedented.”
Support for UNITAD appears to have been expressed throughout the meetings. KRG President Barzani commended Special Adviser Karim Asad Ahmad Khan on his work leading UNITAD, including his travels to Sinjar. Barzani added that bringing Da’esh to justice would send a powerful message to Yazidis and Christians who had suffered greatly under Da’esh control. The Prime Minister seems to have pointed out that some of the countries arguing against the death penalty in the context of UNITAD refuse to take their own nationals back into their countries.
Outstanding issues between Iraq and Kuwait as a consequence of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990-1991 featured again on the agenda of Saturday’s meetings, including during the Council’s first two meetings of the day, with Prime Minister Abd Al-Mahdi and President Salih. It seems that Abd Al-Mahdi reconfirmed Iraq’s commitment to the missing persons file, but stressed that Iraq itself is dealing with the issue of its own missing nationals. Building on Friday’s conversations around the February 2018 Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, Council members seem to have expressed the need for a follow-up mechanism in their meeting with Prime Minister Abd Al-Mahdi.
Iran-US and regional tensions
It was made clear by Iraqi stakeholders during the meetings that Iraq has no intention of becoming a theatre for regional and Iran-US tensions. Foreign Minister Al-Hakim called the tensions between Iran and the US “very concerning”, elaborating that, despite their differences, Iraq and Iran are partners on many levels and continue to work on the relationship. He warned that any miscalculation would be “disastrous” and of global consequence. Prime Minister Abd Al-Mahdi seems to have remarked that Iraq does not need another war, arguing that the country is still at war with Da’esh, and that the country will not take sides in US-Iran tensions. Foreign Minister Al-Hakim further requested that Turkey should remove its troops from Iraqi soil, saying that their presence is not legal.
Relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan under the current constitution
KRG President Barzani stated that the relationship between the KRG and Baghdad had improved. He said that the KRG needed support in implementing the Iraqi constitution, especially with regard to disputed areas (where UNAMI is mandated to assist in developing processes to solve internal boundary disputes) and oil revenue-sharing arrangements. Barzani noted that Iraq is a federal system, and that one should move away from considering Baghdad the center and other parts, including Kurdistan, the periphery. Before the constitution was adopted in 2003, Kurdistan was basically “independent”, he said. Hennis-Plasschaert later stressed that the fact that the KRG President travelled to Baghdad should not be underestimated. She concluded that the relationship between the KRG and Baghdad had improved but still had a long way to go.
The position of women in Iraqi society
Hennis-Plasschaert pointed out the recent government’s filling of all but one cabinet position, but underscored that there was “not a woman in sight.” It seems that Council members raised this issue in their meeting with Prime Minister Abd Al-Mahdi as well.
On sexual violence in conflict (SVC), Foreign Minister Al-Hakim asked the Council for help, saying that Iraq needed its communities back and that SVC and related issues make it much harder to rebuild and reconcile. During the meeting of the Council with KRG president Barzani, the female speaker of the Kurdistan parliament, Vala Farid, was also present. Barzani admitted that there was still a long way to go, but added that 30 percent of the Kurdish parliament were women. Some laws, including on so-called honour killings and on women’s inheritance rights, had recently been amended. However, not only laws, but society itself, needed to change, he concluded.