Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 11, 2021
Thank you, very much. And let me start by thanking the Special Representative for her very informative briefing, and I look forward to hearing from the representative from Iraq. We deeply appreciate the diligent and ongoing efforts of you and your staff, Madam Special Representative, even as COVID-19 and uncertain security complicates your mission. And I would like to start by sharing my heartfelt condolences to the people of Iraq for the devastating Ibn al-Khatib Hospital fire. As we announced last week in Baghdad, USAID is issuing a $238,000 grant to completely refurbish and re-equip the hospital following this terrible tragedy.
Today I’d like to discuss progress on two issues vital to Iraq’s future: first, its election, and secondly, its economy. Both of which, fundamentally, come down to trust. First, let me thank the Government of Iraq for requesting additional UN support for their forthcoming elections. Elections are the cornerstone of democracy, and they must be free and fair to build trust. So, we take your request for UN support seriously. And we appreciate how, under Prime Minister Kadhimi’s leadership, the Iraqi government is working diligently to fulfill its promise of credible early elections, and to maximize turnout at a critical moment in Iraq’s history. This is a top priority for us – both the United States and the United Nations – and we all want to ensure the maximum possible support for Iraqi elections.
To that end, we aim to dramatically bolster provisions in UNAMI’s mandate to elevate the UN’s role in the Iraqi elections. We aim to authorize a UN operation capable of delivering the impact Iraq requested – a UN team sizable enough to deter fraud, increase turnout, and rebuild trust in Iraq’s democracy. That includes calling for a robust and visible UN team to monitor Iraq’s Election Day, and report to the Secretary-General on the election process. UNAMI’s increased technical electoral assistance team will be larger, more advanced, and better equipped than prior election teams – and it will be the largest UN technical electoral assistance mission in the world. Combined, this enhanced electoral support will eclipse the UN’s 2018 efforts.
The reason for this more robust team is clear: violence by armed actors against citizens, security forces, and journalists threaten to undermine the election. We’re very concerned by reports of militia harassment against activists, protesters, and people who openly express criticism of armed groups operating outside of state control. For one, we absolutely condemn the May 9 assassination of protest leader Ehad al-Wazni in Karbala. This assassination is part of a disturbing and unacceptable trend of violence attempting to silence independent voices in Iraq.
Some of these perpetrators are Iran-aligned militias. They attack Iraqi bases hosting Defeat ISIS Coalition forces and supply convoys – there at Iraq’s invitation – killing and injuring Iraqi citizens. Other violent groups also include ISIS remnants still terrorizing citizens and killing Iraqi security forces in the liberated areas – including in the Kurdistan Region. The United States will continue to stand with those seeking a peaceful and prosperous future for Iraq. Iraqis must be able to peacefully assemble and express their concerns.
For exactly the same reasons, Iraq deserves a thriving free press. World Press Freedom Day was last week. That day, I was reminded of the murder of Iraqi journalist Ahmed Abdulsamadt, who was gunned down in Basra last year. His brutal killing didn’t* take a life. It attacked a fundamental freedom all Iraqis deserve, to have a free media that informs the public. Ahmed deserves accountability. He deserves justice. And so many others do, as well.
Given this violence, and the violations they cause, Iraqis have the right to demand accountability from their government. They deserve – and can demand – full government support for upholding their rights. And every Iraqi should be free to express themselves or assemble peacefully – and that includes journalists. Fighting for those and other rights and freedoms, including fair trials, is necessary for building the trust voters want and need.
Second, the United States remains committed to Iraq’s economic development. We commend the passage of the 2021 Federal Budget Law, and especially the spirit of compromise between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government contained within it. Fully and promptly implementing the provisions of the budget agreement will build economic reforms that will benefit all Iraqis. Similarly, we support the Iraqi government’s effort to implement the white paper for economic reforms. These mechanisms need to be implemented as soon as possible.
Ultimately, real economic recovery – like real elections – is about trust. The corruption endemic to so much of Iraq undermines economic progress at every turn. Robust reforms to end corruption are the key to restoring trust in Iraq’s political bodies. So, we commend the government for its efforts to build a foundation of trust – both for elections and for the economy – and we encourage continued, committed actions.
Thank you, Mr. President.