As the process of forming a new government continues to drag on, the 40 million people who live in Iraq are running out of patience with their leaders, the UN heard on Thursday.
The very least they expect is a greater sense of urgency from elected representatives in efforts to overcome internal divisions, and the resultant political impasse, and focus on the aspirations of the people for safety, security, economic stability and the protection of their human rights, said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s envoy to Iraq.
She was updating the Security Council on the latest developments in the efforts to form a government, which have been ongoing since the country’s parliamentary elections in October last year. The movement led by Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr won 73 of the seats in the 329-member parliament, the highest number for any single bloc.
The election results were ratified by Iraq’s Supreme Court in December but progress in the next step, electing a president, stalled amid a deep divide between Al-Sadr and pro-Iranian Shiite parties.
Al-Sadr is seeking a majority coalition government that includes the Taqaddum party, led by the Sunni Speaker of the Parliament Mohammed Al-Halbousi, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who won 37 and 31 seats respectively.
The Shiite parties favor a consensus government and have filed a host of lawsuits contesting the election results amid public allegations of electoral fraud.
“Many Iraqis increasingly wonder whether the national interest is actually front and center in the ongoing negotiations, rather than access to resources and power, or how the pie of political appointments and ministries will be carved this time around,” said Hennis-Plasschaert.
“So what I am saying is, the elections are over four months behind us and it is high time to return the spotlight where it deserves to be: On the people of Iraq.”
In the meantime, she said, Iraqis are still waiting for more employment opportunities, improved safety and security, adequate public services, the protection of their rights and freedoms, justice and accountability, and the meaningful participation of Iraqi women and youth.
Patience with a protracted government formation phase might have been expected had the negotiations been animated by “vibrant exchanges on policy orientations, on development pathways and economic reform plans.” she added.
“However, so far we are observing quite the opposite, hampering the change and reforms the country so desperately needs.”
The envoy once again cautioned that “a weak home front” in terms of security and the political vacuum exposes the country to external interference and makes it vulnerable to terrorism, with Daesh ready to take advantage.
“In the case of Iraq (this is) not a hypothetical point,” she said.
According to a UN report published this month, Daesh has carried out more than 120 attacks on Iraqi security forces in the past three months alone, and continues to target community leaders, security personnel and civilians accused by the terror group of collaborating with Iraqi authorities.
Hennis-Plasschaert also raised the issue of repatriation of Iraqi nationals from camps in northeastern Syria in which foreign terrorist fighters and their wives and children are detained. UN officials have condemned the dire and dangerous living conditions in these camps as a ticking time bomb that is fueling resentment and inspiring terrorist recruitment.
The UN has said that Iraqi authorities have repatriated 450 families, about 1800 people in total, since May 2021 and commended Baghdad for “demonstrating courage” in doing so.
Hennis-Plasschaert also commended the Iraqi government, not only for accepting the return of Iraqi families but also repatriating Daesh combatants.
“Over the past three years you’ve heard me repeat that the legacy of yesterday’s fight against Daesh could very easily turn into tomorrow’s war (and) that we should not wait for young children to come of age in a camp like Al-Hol,” she added.