UN envoy calls for end to political infighting in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The new U.N. envoy for Iraq called Wednesday for an end to political infighting so the formation of a government can be completed, warning that further delay could lead to “significant repercussions” on the country’s stability.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the U.N. Security Council that the Iraqi people “are bearing the brunt of the political stalemate” at a time when it is critical to meet their demands for better services, with water and electricity at the top of the list.

Four ministerial posts are still vacant and there are “fierce disagreements” about three of them — defense, interior and justice, she said, urging the political actors to compromise.

“It is high time for Iraqi leaders to shift focus from factional politics, and to invest efforts in addressing the immediate needs of the Iraqi citizens as further delays could give space to significant repercussions on the stability of the country,” she said.

Hennis-Plasschaert reminded Iraqi political leaders that there are well-qualified women whose participation in senior decision-making positions “remains very limited.” She said she launched a Women’s Advisory Group on Reconciliation and Politics on Jan. 24, which will provide independent expert advice to the U.N.'s political mission in Iraq as well as others.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Bahr Aluloom said that the country’s “parties and blocs are working to overcome every obstacle so they can reach agreement and a government,” adding that its establishment will “contribute to the stability of the whole region.”

The Security Council said in a press statement that it looks forward to Iraq completing the formation of its government “with the aim of further strengthening and reaffirming Iraq’s sovereignty, national unity, independence, and regional integration ... and of answering the needs of all Iraqis, including maintaining security and combatting terrorism.”

Iraq is still recovering from its bloody fight against the Islamic State extremist group, and riots have repeatedly broken out in the south over authorities’ failure to provide basic services.

The council called on Iraqi parties and groups to keep prioritizing political, economic and social reforms, to fight corruption, and to “promote reconstruction, economic development, accountability, stability and prosperity.”

Hennis-Plasschaert told the council that “corruption is vast and pervasive at all levels in Iraq.” During a meeting last week, she said, Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, “underlined the urgent need to show progress in fighting corruption.”

The envoy welcomed the government’s steps to combat corruption, saying that “it is a much-needed fight in order to revive public trust and to facilitate the provision of basic services.”

As for security, she said that although terrorist attacks have decreased, the Islamic State group “continues to pose a security threat to Iraq and the region.”

Bahr Aluloom, the Iraqi ambassador, said that following the liberation of all Iraqi cities from IS fighters, the country is now turning to rooting out “residual terrorism,” eradicating “the breeding grounds for terrorism,” and tackling “extremist thinking.”

He reiterated Iraq’s condemnation of Turkish attacks on the Iraqi side of the border in the north as “a blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.” Turkey says its airstrikes have targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a far-left group considered a terror organization by Turkey and its NATO allies.