Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 3, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President. I want to wish you and your team every success as you assume the monthly rotating Presidency of the Security Council. I also want to thank Belgium for their presidency last month. Special Representative Hennis-Plasschert, thank you very much for being here and for your informative briefing as well as your leadership. We also extend our thanks to the entire UNAMI and UN country team for the indispensable work that they carry out in support of Iraq’s security, stability, and prosperity.

Iraq still stands at a crossroads, as it did when we were briefed last December and in fact, as you said, are still in the headlines. Iraqis are choosing their new political leaders as a result of their legitimate demands regarding economic opportunity, good governance, electoral reforms, and responsiveness to all Iraqis. We call on Iraq’s next leaders to urgently deliver these reforms, which will combat corruption and promote fair and free elections. We also call on them to protect demonstrators and hold their killers to account – transparently and in accordance with the rule of law and Iraq’s constitution. Such reforms should be embraced because they are in Iraq’s national interest. Doing so will limit the influence of destabilizing armed groups outside state control; attract foreign investment; and, ultimately, help convert Iraq’s rich natural resources into a higher quality of life for all Iraqis.

Iraqis continue to demand a sovereign state that affords them dignity and resists Iranian coercion, and in the face of outrageous killings, beatings, kidnappings, and torture, the reformist movement endures. This violent assault on the peaceful freedom of expression and assembly has no place in a democracy. The United States will continue to use all available national tools to promote accountability for corruption and serious human rights abuses. This includes our recent national designation of four Iraqis implicated in serious human rights abuses and corruption.

Mr. President, I should note that we still face threats by Iran-backed militias even following the attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces hosted on Iraqi bases, that killed an American earlier in the year. Iran-backed militias besieged the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for nearly twenty-six hours in recent days and there continues to be rocket attacks even in the last 48 hours. We underscore the Government of Iraq’s special duty, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of diplomatic facilities. Together, Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to jointly pursue ISIS on the battlefield. We should be mindful that ISIS remains a threat, and we call on the international community to assist Iraq in its critical counterterrorism efforts.

Looking ahead, if Iraq’s new leaders do not address the people’s legitimate economic and governance grievances, the country could reverse years of progress toward stability and prosperity for a new generation of Iraqis. It is because of these high stakes that UNAMI and Special Representative Hennis-Plasschert’s work is so crucial. We call on Iraq’s new leaders to fully embrace UNAMI’s mandate in promoting inclusive political dialogue and reconciliation, advancing structural reforms, facilitating regional engagement, and addressing longstanding issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. In a country as full of potential as Iraq, it is hard to isolate a single priority today. But I wish to draw the Council’s attention to the topic of credible early elections, as several Iraqi leaders have called for. As part of its mandate, UNAMI’s technical electoral assistance efforts in coordination with the Government of Iraq and the Independent High Electoral Commission will be critical in the months ahead. We encourage UNAMI, alongside locally-based NGOs, to assist Iraq towards an inclusive electoral process.

I would also like to stress the value of UNAMI’s work, as directed by its mandate, in the monitoring and documenting of human rights abuses and violations. This paper trail is essential to promote accountability for those responsible for violence against peaceful protestors. We are increasingly concerned about the lack of progress in humanitarian access for NGOs. Humanitarian NGOs, including many U.S. partners, have been unable to carry out life-saving activities for all Iraqis of all faiths and ethnicities over the past three months due to a backlog of access requests. We commend UNAMI’s engagement on this issue and call on Iraqi authorities to urgently find a solution.

On the unresolved issue of Kuwaiti and third-country missing persons, property, and archives from the First Gulf War, the United States is strongly committed to efforts by UNAMI, the Tripartite Commission, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to make further progress. The recent discovery of remains, as was mentioned this morning in Samawa, is one step towards healing and reconciliation between Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq’s political landscape may seem challenging in the immediate term. Yet, we remain optimistic that Iraq’s new leaders will put the interests of all Iraqis first. And we believe that they can deliver structural reforms to chart a new, prosperous course for Iraq, with UNAMI and the international community standing by its side.

Thank you very much.