UN envoy says Iraq 'highly volatile', urges leaders to talk
The U.N. special envoy for Iraq has warned that the situation in the country remains "highly volatile" nearly a year after last October's elections failed to form a government, saying all sides have made "strategic mistakes" and it's now time for all Iraqi leaders to hold talks "and pull the country back from the ledge."
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the U.N. Security Council that "with risks of further strife and bloodshed still very tangible, dwelling on who did what when is no longer an option."
She said "public disillusion is running sky-high," and too many Iraqis have lost faith in the country's political class to act in the interests of the country and the people.
Iraq's leaders must take responsibility and quickly engage in dialogue and put the spotlight on the people's needs, Hennis-Plasschaert said, warning that "a continued failure to address this loss of faith will only exacerbate Iraq's problems."
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government. His followers stormed the parliament in late July to prevent their rivals from Iran-backed Shiite groups from forming a government.
With ensuing rallies, clashes with security forces, counter-rallies and a sit-in outside parliament, the government formation process has stalled.
Al-Sadr has been calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections and has been in a power struggle with his Iran-backed rivals since the vote.
Hennis-Plasschaert stressed that there are solutions, but for any of them to be adopted Iraq's leaders must start talking and be willing to compromise.
"Delivering a functioning government is merely the first step to overcoming the current crisis in a sustainable way," she said. "A wide range of critical issues must be addressed. Chief among them is the adoption of federal budget, absent which state spending could come to a halt by the end of the year."
Hennis-Plasschaert said that since 2003, when a U.S.-led invasion toppled Iraq's longtime dictator Saddam Hussein, too many opportunities for meaningful reforms in the country have been wasted, and corruption remains "a core feature of Iraq's current political economy, built into every day transactions."
The country also relies on "patronage and clientelism" which have resulted in a ballooning public sector functioning more as "an instrument of political favor" than improving the lives of the Iraqi people, she said,
"Pervasive corruption is a major root cause of Iraqi dysfunctionality," the Iraqi envoy said. "And frankly, no leader can claim to be shielded from it."
She warned that keeping this system as it is will backfire, "sooner rather than later."
As for calls for early national elections, Hennis-Plasschaert asked: "What are the guarantees that new national elections will not be held in vain once again? How will Iraqi citizens be persuaded that it is worth casting their votes? And what reassurances would the international community need for them to support new elections?"
She said the U.N. has made clear that it would not be able to confirm at this time that the U.N. political mission which she heads would be able to assist in new elections because this would require a request from the government to the Security Council which would then have to be considered.
Hennis-Plasschaert said the U.N. also doesn't have "a magic wand" about parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan region which were initially supposed to be held Oct. 1, but did not because of divisions among political parties.
She warned that the political fallout from not holding timely elections and neglecting basic democratic principles "will bear a high cost."
The U.N. special representative recalled that when she last briefed the Security Council in May she raised an alarm about Turkish and Iranian shelling in the north. With Iran's attacks last week, she reiterated the alarm that this was becoming the `new normal' for Iraq.
Iran's attacks on Iranian-Kurdish bases killed at least nine people and wounded 32 others. The strikes targeted a banned Iranian leftist armed opposition group.
"No neighbor should treat Iraq as its backyard," Hennis-Plasschaert said. "No neighbor should be allowed to routinely, and with impunity, violate Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Yet it is happening. Time and again."