Guterres stresses UN commitment to Iraq during first visit in 6 years
“I am here in a visit of solidarity to underscore the commitment of the United Nations to support Iraq in the consolidation of its democratic institutions and advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights for all Iraqis,” Mr. Guterres told journalists in Baghdad, after touching down late on Tuesday.
After “decades of oppression, war, terrorism, sectarianism and foreign interference” in Iraq’s affairs – just days ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 2003 invasion – Mr. Guterres acknowledged that the challenges the country faces could not be brushed aside.
And amid reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani continues to face potential political obstacles in reviving national fortunes, the UN chief, in a joint press encounter with Mr. Al-Sudani, expressed his hope that Iraq “can break cycles of instability and fragility”.
He added: “I applaud the Prime Minister for his commitment to address the most pressing challenges facing the country head on – including combatting corruption, improving public services, and diversifying the economy to reduce unemployment and create opportunities, especially for young people.
“Such structural change requires systemic reform, stronger institutions, greater accountability and better governance at all levels – and the United Nations stands ready to support these important efforts.”
Referencing reported divisions over the sharing of Iraqi oil revenues between central government in the capital and provincial government in the north, Mr. Guterres encouraged all parties to build on “recent positive steps” between Baghdad and Erbil. “Sustainable agreements” and dialogue should be the long-term objective the UN Secretary-General said.
Dignity of Iraq’s displaced
In earlier comments just after touching down, Mr. Guterres also spoke of his “enormous admiration” for the Iraqi people, highlighting how he had witnessed the courage of those displaced inside the country several times, on previous visits.
The UN Secretary-General also highlighted how Iraqi refugees in Jordan and in Syria had shown that they were able “to live in solidarity with each other, to help each other in the spirit that, in my opinion, is the best hope for the future of the country”.
Iraq’s efforts to repatriate its citizens from northeast Syria – including from the infamous Al Hol camp – had been “exemplary”, Mr. Guterres said, before noting Prime Minister Al-Sudani’s commitment to allowing the safe and dignified return of ethnic Yazidis to their homes in northern Iraq, after suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh in 2014.
Addressing another key challenge for Iraq, namely water scarcity, Mr. Guterres noted that the issue required international attention, before flagging the UN 2023 Water Conference from 22-24 March in New York.
The mighty Tigris and the Euphrates rivers were now running dry and the impact on agriculture has been dramatic, the UN chief said, adding that “it breaks my heart” to see farmers who have been forced to abandon lands where crops have been grown for thousands of years.
Iraq is one of the countries worst hit by climate change, which has driven displacement, threatened food security, destroyed livelihoods, fuelled conflict and undermined human rights, Mr. Guterres maintained.
When coupled with a volatile security situation and governance challenges, “it can put stability at risk… so now is the time for the international community to support Iraq in tackling its environmental challenges, diversifying its economy, and harnessing its potential for sustainable growth,” the Secretary-General insisted.