UN warns Iraq to form government before 'streets boil over'

Dutch diplomat Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said crisis could spark civil unrest

UN special representative to Iraq, the Dutch diplomat Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, has urged the formation of a new Iraqi government to avoid unrest. AP
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The UN envoy to Iraq on Tuesday chastised the country's political elite over the failure to form a new government in more than seven months since national elections were held.

Dutch diplomat Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert also warned that the continuing political impasse could spark civil unrest in the country that is still suffering from consequences of decades of war, rampant corruption, fragile security and environmental challenges.

"The streets are about to boil over in Iraq," she told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council, adding that Iraq and the region cannot afford to go back to October 2019, when deadly street protests rocked the country.

The formation of a new government in Iraq is a protracted process. The various political factions are usually mired in negotiations and horse-trading for months.

The "notorious aspects of Iraqi political life are repeating themselves in a seemingly incessant loop of zero-sum politics," Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said in her briefing.

Iraq's political elite have yet to solve a long list of domestic challenges, ranging from post-war reconstruction, climate change and security, to disagreements over how to manage the country's natural resources.

With the country's politicians "content with stale power battles," Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said Iraqis "are waiting for a political class that will roll up its sleeves to make headway on Iraq’s long list of outstanding domestic priorities".

But more than seven months after the country held early elections, "multiple deadlines for the formation of a government have been missed", she said. Ms Hennis-Plasschaert added that political leaders agree to hold negotiations and dialogues, "but the necessary willingness to compromise? It is painfully absent".

"Visit any market and Iraqis will tell you: the national interest is, yet again, taking a back seat to short-sighted considerations of control over resources and power play," she said.

Iraqis, she said, also want “an end to pervasive corruption; factionalism and the pillaging of state institutions; a diversification of the economy; an end to impunity; the reining in of armed groups; and “predictable governance instead of constant crisis management".

Enmity between Shiite populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose Sadrist Bloc emerged as the clear winner with 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament, and some of his Iran-backed Shiite rivals is the main obstacle to forming the new government.

Influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr is trying to form a majority government. Reuters

Mr Al Sadr wants to form a majority government only with the winners among Sunni and Kurdish political parties. This has irritated his rivals from the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework, who have been delayed forming the government to force Mr Al Sadr to give them a voice.

Ms Hennis-Plasschaert was also sharply critical of the missile and rocket attacks by Turkey and Iran, describing them as “disturbing, disruptive and dangerous”.

She also drew attention to armed groups operating beyond the control of the government, who have been recklessly firing rockets, including at an oil refinery in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, two weeks ago.

"Significant domestic vulnerabilities are being compounded by the ongoing effects of the pandemic and global geopolitical tensions," she said.

"A sincere, collective and urgent will to resolve political differences must now prevail for the country to move forward and to meet the needs of its citizens."

More than seven months after legislative elections, Iraqi institutions are at a standstill over lawmakers' inability to elect a president. It is the president's job to select the largest block in parliament to form a government.

In the interim, the outgoing president, Barham Salih, who had run for re-election, and Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi have been taking care of the day-to-running of the country.

Updated: May 18, 2022, 12:19 PM