UN Iraq Representative urges renewed push for reform, calls for demonstrations to remain peaceful

With public demonstrations across many parts of Iraq in their fourth month, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is urging a renewed push for reform and expressing concern about ongoing human rights violations.

She emphasizes the importance of pressing ahead to meet the needs of the Iraqi people: building resilience at the state and societal level is challenging but essential work.

“In recent months, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from all walks of life have taken to the streets to voice their hopes for better times, free from corruption, partisan interests and foreign interference. The killing and injury of peaceful protesters, combined with long years of undelivered promises, have resulted in a major crisis of confidence.”

Two months after the Prime Minister announced his resignation, political leaders remain unable to agree on the way forward. While there was public acknowledgement by all actors that urgent reform is needed, it is now high time to put these words into action and to avoid further derailing of these protests by those pursuing their own objectives, not wishing well for this country and its people.

“Any steps taken so far to address the people’s concerns will remain hollow, if they are not completed. Domestic unity, cohesion and determination are urgently necessary to build resilience against narrow partisan interests, foreign interference and/or criminal elements which actively seek to hinder Iraq’s stability.”

The recent escalation in regional tensions has understandably taken much attention away from urgent unfinished domestic business. However, geopolitical developments must not eclipse the rightful demands of the Iraqi people. This will only further fuel public anger and distrust.

The Special Representative urges the Iraqi authorities to do everything to protect peaceful demonstrators. “Violent suppression of peaceful protesters is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs. Nothing is more damaging than a climate of fear. Accountability and justice for victims is critical to building trust, legitimacy and resilience.

She calls on protesters to remain peaceful, avoiding counterproductive violence and destruction of property.

(Source: UN)

By Shelly Kittleson for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Blood is still on the streets near the Ahrar Bridge in Baghdad. A Red Crescent worker explained that just two days before, Iraqi security forces shot a teen, just 16 or 17 years old, who was participating in the protests.

Further down the street, a group of men said that the teen’s death had been the first in several weeks since the protests began.

Protesters on social media aimed to get 1 million Iraqis to take to the streets Jan. 10, in a bid to prevent their demands from being forgotten.

Slogans such as “the parliament does not represent us” and “take your wars out of Iraq” have largely supplanted earlier ones against corruption.

Click here to read the full story.

(Picture credit: Christian Lindgren)

By John Lee.

Court filings in the United States have reportedly shed new light on corruption in Iraq.

Louis Auge, of EU Reporter, writes that two members of Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) recieved houses in London in return for their role in the expropriation of over $800 million from French telecom firm Orange and Kuwaiti logistics company Agility.

The companies had initially invested the money in Kurdistan-based mobile phone operator Korek, via a joint venture.

More here.

(Source: EU Reporter)

Kirkuk: Youth come together to discuss issues of reconciliation and stability

Twenty-four young women and men, representing the youth of Kirkuk Governorate, recently met in Kirkuk city to discuss what the youth see as key issues in the context of their Governorate.

In the presence of the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Kirkuk Office, Ms. Laura Romanazzi, the Acting Governor of Kirkuk, Mr. Rakan Al-Jubouri, several local officials, politicians and UNAMI representatives from the Office of Political Affairs, the energetic and inspiring youth delegates discussed issues pertaining to unemployment, youth participation in decision making and supporting youth projects, the current security situation in the country, provision of basic services including the right to education, combatting corruption and the role of oversight institutions.

In her address to the workshop, Ms. Laura Romanazzi said that Kirkuk was “a Governorate which showcases all of the complexity, diversity, potential, conflict and promise of Iraq”. Therefore, “inclusive and honest discussions must take place between communities to address past legacies”. This, she added, “cannot be done without the political, social and economic participation of young people – and your involvement in reconciliation efforts to bridge differences and address grievances”.

The youth workshop held from 13-15 December 2019 was organised by UNAMI, in cooperation with the Coexistence and Social Peace Committee under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Iraqi Al-Amal Association. The activity is in line with UNAMI’s mandate to support youth and their valuable contributions to the country.

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

Iraq has reportedly announced the reopening of the Mandali border crossing in Diyala governorate, which connects Iraq with Iran.

According to Kurdistan24, the crossing had been closed for nearly five months, following allegations of corruption.

It says that Adel Abdul Mahdi, who remains Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, decided to re-open the crossing on Tuesday, 24th December.

(Source: Kurdistan24)

Daring to kill and an absent justice: Report documents Iraqi security violations against protesters

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor urged the Iraqi authorities to open a comprehensive investigation into all the killings, kidnappings and torture Iraq has witnessed since the protests broke out last October 1 and to ensure it is independent, and to release all detained protesters charged with participating in protests unless they are charged or convicted in line with Iraqi law.

The Geneva-based group said in a report issued on December 19, 2019 that the protests in Iraq were peaceful and seemed at their outbreak to be spontaneous without any interference or invitation from any political or religious party, and the slogans and chants of protesters in the streets continued to express their demands at popular gatherings, despite the excessive force and resorting to repressive security measures by the armed militias of the Iraqi government.

The report, titled “The Iraqi movement: Daring to Kill and An Absent Justice,” highlighted the most important violations that Iraqi protesters are still subjected to, according to testimonies collected and documented by victims of these attacks, in addition to the reasons that led Iraqis to take to the streets to protest against the tragic conditions experienced by the country like the widespread corruption, the lack of services, and the widespread poverty.

Tariq Iliwa, a researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: “Although the Iraqi government does not recognize the legality of the popular movement in Baghdad and the rest of the provinces, from a legal point of view, the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 emphasized the importance of respecting the right to peaceful protest and freedom of opinion and expression, as International law also affirmed these rights in many international covenants and treaties.”

Iliwa added that government forces and armed militias have carried out forcible kidnappings and disappearances to intimidate protesters, with the aim of reducing the intensity of the protests until they stop.

According to the 15-page report, Iraqi government forces and armed militias have adopted, since the outbreak of the protests, a number of repressive and brutal methods against protesters, killing hundreds, assassinating dozens of activists, arresting and kidnapping thousands of protesters, and closing a number of institutions and press offices.

The report documented testimonies of detainees, some of whom were released, while others died as a result of torture by security forces or armed militias, including activist Hassan al-Husayni al-Husayni, who was kidnapped on November 25 by security forces wearing civilian clothes while he was at one of the protests. He was found alive in Ibrahimiya area eight hours after his abduction, with signs of torture on his body.

According to testimonies collected by Euro-Med Monitor, hundreds of detainees were tortured in various ways, such as beatings, use of electric sticks, hanging and other cruel and degrading means.

The report provided statistics on the protests that took place in Iraqi cities, according to the documentation of Euro-Med Monitor’s team and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq from October 1 to December 15.

Euro-Med Monitor called on the Iraqi authorities, in line with their international commitments, to respect human rights by taking all executive, legislative and judicial procedures to make sure Iraqis can enjoy their right to peaceful protest and freedom of opinion and expression.

Euro-Med Monitor stressed that security forces should commit to the basic principles of the United Nations on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Euro-Med Monitor recommended that it is necessary to work to prosecute all leaders and those responsible for violations committed against protesters, calling on authorities to respect the right of protesters to peaceful assembly as long since it is a constitutional right affirmed by the Iraqi Constitution, and to refrain from using force against them. Those who are involved in such violations often prompt criminal sanctions against them internally or internationally.

Euro-Med Monitor called on Iraqi authorities to respond to the demands of the protesters by adopting a set of legal, economic and social reforms. The group concluded by urging the legislative authority to enact a law regulating the right to protest and peaceful assembly in a manner that guarantees lifting all restrictions on rights guaranteed by International Humanitarian Law.

Click here to read the full report.

By Yassir Khudayri, for Open Society Foundations (OSF).

In early October 2019, in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in many of Iraq’s other major cities, young Iraqis took the streets, chanting slogans such as “with life and blood we defend you, Iraq.” To those unfamiliar with the specifics of political and social life in the Middle East, where sectarian divisions often trump national identities, this may not have seemed like a big deal.

It may have seemed, in fact, like just one more of the countless mass protests that have engulfed the region over the past decade.

In both respects, however, these observers would be wrong. The chants were a big deal. And the protests, while not entirely unprecedented, were nevertheless a sharp break from the norm. Because, for the first time in recent memory, Iraqis weren’t demanding their rights under the banner of any specific religious or ethnic group, but their rights as Iraqi citizens.

And they weren’t demanding privileges—they were demanding the fall of a system that has worked to keep them apart, and that has been feeding into the pockets of corrupt elites to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

To understand why this embrace of nationality is so important, however, a look into the recent past is necessary. Under Iraq’s current model of ethno-sectarian balancing [paywall], established after the United States-led invasion of 2003, coalition governments hand out ministerial positions and budgets according to the proportion of the country’s sectarian populations—Shiite or Sunni Muslim Arabs, and Kurds.

This has led to staggering corruption in which the elite’s control over government ministries, major enterprises, and media has actively worked to maintain the status quo. Spawned in the aftermath foreign occupation, this form of governance has benefitted few and served as little more than a failed attempt for perpetual ceasefire, rather than a sustainable system of government meeting the needs of the Iraqi people.

Corruption and sectarian favoritism in the public sector have played a major role in entrenching sectarian division among Iraqis and have led to rampant unemployment and lack of access to basic services. Transparency International ranks Iraq as the 18th most corrupt country in the world; according to official figures cited in a report from the Telegraph, since 2004, a remarkable $450 billion in public funds have been unaccounted for. Meanwhile, about a quarter of the country’s young population is unemployed, while access to clean water and electricity is unreliable at best.

This wave of protests—which encompasses multiple sectors of the population—illustrates the rise of a pan-Iraqi movement. Just as importantly, this remains an essentially grassroots-run and leaderless movement. In the same streets that recently staged over a decade of inter-sectarian fighting, Iraqis are now refusing to be torn apart, demanding a universal government for all its citizens, and are willing to face the rain of bullets and tear gas to see it happen. This is unique and its importance should not be understated. It is a rare moment that could build a new bedrock for a country that has been through so much, by the hands of its people.

The international community must acknowledge the magnitude of this movement and rise to its responsibility in ensuring protesters’ rights to call for a better life, and support them in their legitimate demands—but it must tread carefully. States and international groups should learn from past mistakes and refrain from throwing money at the problem or call for new elections in hopes that the country will miraculously jump to its feet and prosper. This has proven to be counterproductive or even disastrous in the past, especially in the Middle East.

What can the international community do, then? As a start, it should use its leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure an immediate halt to the slaughter of peaceful protesters. Since the movement began in October, about 400 protesters have been killed and thousands injured by government forces, and all efforts should prioritize an immediate halt to the onslaught. Further, it should pressure the government to address protesters demands and provide any support in doing so in a way that is consistent with their human rights.

This applies regardless of the resignation of Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, since this systemic problem transcends who heads the government. The UN Secretary General has uttered harsh words at the Iraqi government’s brutality against its people, while the Arab League’s chief called for “restraint.”

Any systemic change should not be held hostage to constitutional rupture or the loss of any more lives. Change must start now in support of a transition to a new form of governance, which can then build on its own progress. The demands of protesters should be met now, and the international community has a duty to acknowledge them and support the sitting Iraqi government in adopting structural changes for a new system, regardless of who sits in in Baghdad now or in the future.

What is outlined above is necessary, but it will not sufficiently address the matter. There are too many dimensions to resolving this issue than I could possibly explain or understand. But one thing is for certain: The rage that initially drew people to Tahrir Square rapidly turned into a passionate display of popular unity that was once thought impossible, and it does not appear to be slowing down. A generation born into war and ripped apart by tragedy is now rising—and demanding recognition of their common identity.

(Source: The Intercept, under a Creative Commons licence)

By Yassir Khudayri, for Open Society Foundations (OSF).

In early October 2019, in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in many of Iraq’s other major cities, young Iraqis took the streets, chanting slogans such as “with life and blood we defend you, Iraq.” To those unfamiliar with the specifics of political and social life in the Middle East, where sectarian divisions often trump national identities, this may not have seemed like a big deal.

It may have seemed, in fact, like just one more of the countless mass protests that have engulfed the region over the past decade.

In both respects, however, these observers would be wrong. The chants were a big deal. And the protests, while not entirely unprecedented, were nevertheless a sharp break from the norm. Because, for the first time in recent memory, Iraqis weren’t demanding their rights under the banner of any specific religious or ethnic group, but their rights as Iraqi citizens.

And they weren’t demanding privileges—they were demanding the fall of a system that has worked to keep them apart, and that has been feeding into the pockets of corrupt elites to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

To understand why this embrace of nationality is so important, however, a look into the recent past is necessary. Under Iraq’s current model of ethno-sectarian balancing [paywall], established after the United States-led invasion of 2003, coalition governments hand out ministerial positions and budgets according to the proportion of the country’s sectarian populations—Shiite or Sunni Muslim Arabs, and Kurds.

This has led to staggering corruption in which the elite’s control over government ministries, major enterprises, and media has actively worked to maintain the status quo. Spawned in the aftermath foreign occupation, this form of governance has benefitted few and served as little more than a failed attempt for perpetual ceasefire, rather than a sustainable system of government meeting the needs of the Iraqi people.

Corruption and sectarian favoritism in the public sector have played a major role in entrenching sectarian division among Iraqis and have led to rampant unemployment and lack of access to basic services. Transparency International ranks Iraq as the 18th most corrupt country in the world; according to official figures cited in a report from the Telegraph, since 2004, a remarkable $450 billion in public funds have been unaccounted for. Meanwhile, about a quarter of the country’s young population is unemployed, while access to clean water and electricity is unreliable at best.

This wave of protests—which encompasses multiple sectors of the population—illustrates the rise of a pan-Iraqi movement. Just as importantly, this remains an essentially grassroots-run and leaderless movement. In the same streets that recently staged over a decade of inter-sectarian fighting, Iraqis are now refusing to be torn apart, demanding a universal government for all its citizens, and are willing to face the rain of bullets and tear gas to see it happen. This is unique and its importance should not be understated. It is a rare moment that could build a new bedrock for a country that has been through so much, by the hands of its people.

The international community must acknowledge the magnitude of this movement and rise to its responsibility in ensuring protesters’ rights to call for a better life, and support them in their legitimate demands—but it must tread carefully. States and international groups should learn from past mistakes and refrain from throwing money at the problem or call for new elections in hopes that the country will miraculously jump to its feet and prosper. This has proven to be counterproductive or even disastrous in the past, especially in the Middle East.

What can the international community do, then? As a start, it should use its leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure an immediate halt to the slaughter of peaceful protesters. Since the movement began in October, about 400 protesters have been killed and thousands injured by government forces, and all efforts should prioritize an immediate halt to the onslaught. Further, it should pressure the government to address protesters demands and provide any support in doing so in a way that is consistent with their human rights.

This applies regardless of the resignation of Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, since this systemic problem transcends who heads the government. The UN Secretary General has uttered harsh words at the Iraqi government’s brutality against its people, while the Arab League’s chief called for “restraint.”

Any systemic change should not be held hostage to constitutional rupture or the loss of any more lives. Change must start now in support of a transition to a new form of governance, which can then build on its own progress. The demands of protesters should be met now, and the international community has a duty to acknowledge them and support the sitting Iraqi government in adopting structural changes for a new system, regardless of who sits in in Baghdad now or in the future.

What is outlined above is necessary, but it will not sufficiently address the matter. There are too many dimensions to resolving this issue than I could possibly explain or understand. But one thing is for certain: The rage that initially drew people to Tahrir Square rapidly turned into a passionate display of popular unity that was once thought impossible, and it does not appear to be slowing down. A generation born into war and ripped apart by tragedy is now rising—and demanding recognition of their common identity.

(Source: The Intercept, under a Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Commission of Integrity has revealed that it has concluded cases resulting in fines of more than 245 billion dinars ($206 million) on private banks, due to violations relating to customs licences and foreign currency auction instructions for 2012.

The CoI mentioned that one of these corruption cases related to a private bank smuggling foreign currency abroad by process of purchasing foreign currency to companies’ interests under the pretext of importing goods. The Office noted that upon investigation, it was found that the companies did not import goods to Iraq since 2004.

The Office clarified that the issues included some governmental and private banks when they committed fraud and entered the auction of selling currency in the names of companies and private account holders without their knowledge, and submitted invoices and forged import manifests. They also violated the instructions of the Central Bank when entering the auction pursuant to provisions of article (3) of money laundering law no. (93/2004).

(Source: Commission of Integrity)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Commission of Integrity has revealed that it has concluded cases resulting in fines of more than 245 billion dinars ($206 million) on private banks, due to violations relating to customs licences and foreign currency auction instructions for 2012.

The CoI mentioned that one of these corruption cases related to a private bank smuggling foreign currency abroad by process of purchasing foreign currency to companies’ interests under the pretext of importing goods. The Office noted that upon investigation, it was found that the companies did not import goods to Iraq since 2004.

The Office clarified that the issues included some governmental and private banks when they committed fraud and entered the auction of selling currency in the names of companies and private account holders without their knowledge, and submitted invoices and forged import manifests. They also violated the instructions of the Central Bank when entering the auction pursuant to provisions of article (3) of money laundering law no. (93/2004).

(Source: Commission of Integrity)