Thank you, Madam President, and thank you to the briefers. I especially want to thank Mr. Kubis. We thank you for the three years of service leading the UNAMI mission through what has been a very challenging period.
Just three years ago, Iraq was in a very different place. ISIS controlled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and it captured territory stretching to within thirty minutes of Baghdad. ISIS fighters were committing unspeakable atrocities against Iraqis, including selling women into sexual slavery and murdering religious minorities. They were using their safe haven to plan attacks against the West. But that was three years ago.
Today, Iraq is liberated. With the support of the United States and other Coalition allies, Iraqis have taken their country back. Displaced persons are returning to their homes and beginning to rebuild. Most importantly, Iraqis have successfully conducted national parliamentary elections. Iraqi Security Forces went from taking territory back from ISIS to protecting polling places in just a few short months. Government formation talks are already underway. This is a key moment in Iraqi history.
Iraq’s next government is going to make a series of important decisions that will set Iraq’s course for decades to come. It will fall to Iraq’s next government to decide whether to truly value diversity and create opportunities for all of Iraq’s people. This includes some of Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens in towns and villages far from Baghdad. The next government will have to decide whether Iraq is serious about elevating female leaders. And it will be responsible for governing inclusively. That means setting policies that allow Iraq to close the door on the extremism and the sectarian politics that have caused so much suffering before.
Iraq’s next government has its work cut out for it. Bold leadership will be required. Government formation is a challenging process, but once it is complete, the United States will stand ready to support Iraq as it continues moving toward a more peaceful and prosperous future.
As Iraq emerges from the shadow of ISIS’s terror, the government has to focus on getting the basics right. Keeping the lights on and paving roads might seem like small steps, but delivering these services will be essential for the credibility of the new Iraqi government. It will also be vital for the government to respect and promote human rights. Especially after ISIS’s crimes, Iraqis must be confident that their leaders will uphold the rule of law and pursue accountability for atrocities. One important part of this effort will be the work carried out by the UN and Iraq under Security Council Resolution 2379 to collect evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by ISIS. This collaboration could serve as a model on how to achieve justice throughout Iraq.
There is no question that Iraq is in a tough neighborhood. Surrounded by serious threats, Iraq must be a force for stability in the region. The United States looks forward to a partnership with the next Iraqi government that will allow us to address these threats, combat terrorism, and strengthen the independence of Iraq’s institutions.
Just as Iraq is starting a new chapter, the UN and its mission in Iraq must adapt too. Last year, the Security Council requested that the UN carry out an external assessment of the UNAMI mission in Iraq. The review team came back with a long list of recommendations. Many are quite technical. But they add up to an important vision for reform – one that would make UNAMI more efficient and better at coordinating among the many different UN agencies that operate on the ground. Now the responsibility falls to the Secretary-General to fully carry out these recommendations and keep the Council informed on their progress. The United States will be closely following that progress.
This month, we will also be launching the most substantial review by the Security Council of the UNAMI mandate in years. The new mandate will be more focused, responsive to the needs of the Iraqi people, and tailored to address the current challenges in Iraq. The UN must target the areas where Iraq needs the greatest support, such as political reconciliation, delivery of humanitarian aid, and support to government institutions to deliver basic services.
Iraq’s achievements in defeating ISIS and carrying out elections deserve our collective recognition and praise. Iraq has taken major strides toward a more stable, secure, and democratic future. Now Iraq’s leaders have the hard task of assembling their government and showing that they can deliver on the high expectations of their people. The United States will be ready to support Iraq in achieving this goal. Thank you.