“I am here on a solidarity visit to underline the United Nations’ commitment to supporting Iraq in the war consolidation of its democratic institutions and progresses peace, sustainable development and human rights for all IraqisGuterres told reporters in Baghdad after landing late on Tuesday.
After “decades oppression, war, terrorism, sectarianism and foreign interferencein the affairs of Iraq – just days before the 20e anniversary of the 2003 invasion – Mr Guterres acknowledged that the challenges facing the country cannot be brushed aside.
And amid reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani continues to face potential political obstacles in reviving the national fortune, at a joint press meeting with Mr Al-Sudani, the UN chief expressed his hope that Iraq” can break cycles of instability and vulnerability”.
He added: “I commend the Prime Minister for his commitment to addressing the most pressing challenges head-on into the country – inclusive fighting corruption, improving public services and diversifying the economy to reduce unemployment and create opportunities, especially for young people.
“Such a structural change is required systemic reform, stronger institutions, greater accountability and better governance at all levels – and the United Nations stands ready to support these important efforts.”
Referring to reported divisions over the sharing of Iraqi oil revenues between the central government in the capital and the provincial government in the north, Mr Guterres encouraged all sides to build on “recent positive steps” between Baghdad and Erbil. “Sustainable agreements” and dialogue should be the long-term goal, the UN secretary-general said.
Dignity of the displaced people of Iraq
In previous comments just after landing, Mr Guterres also spoke of his “huge admirationto the Iraqi people, highlighting how he had witnessed the courage of the displaced in the country several times during previous visits.
The UN Secretary-General also highlighted how Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria had shown their ability “to live in solidarity with each other, to help each other in the spirit that I believe is the best hope for the future of the country”.
Iraq’s attempts to repatriate its citizens from northeastern Syria – including from the infamous Al Hol camp – were “exemplary”, said Mr Guterres, before taking note of Prime Minister Al-Sudani’s commitment to the safe and dignified return of ethnic Yazidis to their homes in northern Iraq, after genocide by Daesh in 2014.
Addressing another major challenge for Iraq, namely water scarcity, Mr Guterres noted that the issue required international attention before marking the 2023 UN water conference to be held in New York from March 22-24.
The mighty Tigris and Euphrates are now running dry and the impact on agriculture is dramatic, the UN chief said, adding that “it breaks my heart” to see farmers who are forced to leave country where crops have been grown for thousands of years.
Iraq is one of the countries hardest hit by climate changewhich has led to displacement, threatened food security, destroyed livelihoods, fueled conflict and undermined human rights, Mr Guterres claimed.
Coupled with an unstable security environment and governance challenges, “it could jeopardize stability… so now is the time for the international community to support Iraq in addressing its environmental challenges, diversifying its economy and exploiting its potential for sustainable growth,” stressed the Secretary-General.