US pushes for world’s biggest UN election mission in Iraq

After targeted killings linked to Iran-backed militias, Washington seeks the largest UN assistance mission in Iraq

Elections in Iraq are scheduled to take place on October 10. Reuters
Elections in Iraq are scheduled to take place on October 10. Reuters

The US on Tuesday announced plans for the largest UN mission to monitor the elections in Iraq, where a wave of political assassinations is stoking fears about security on polling day on October 10.

US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield offered the “maximum possible support” to the UN team in Iraq, known as Unami, in a vote called to answer a 2019 wave of protests against corruption, cronyism and foreign meddling.

“We aim to dramatically bolster provisions in Unami's mandate to elevate the UN's role in the Iraqi elections,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

“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.”

The 15-nation council met against a backdrop of protests in Iraq after the assassination on Sunday of activist and journalist Ihab Al Wazni in the central city of Karbala – the latest in a wave of targeted killings in the country.

The deaths spotlight the dangerous web of local and regional rivalries playing out during a volatile election year in Iraq, where Iran-backed militias jostle for influence against their western and Gulf adversaries.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield condemned the killing of Al Wazni, who was repeatedly shot by an assailant as he arrived home at night. Images of his shooting were captured on a surveillance camera.

“This assassination is part of a disturbing and unacceptable trend of violence attempting to silence independent voices in Iraq,” she said.

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.”

The series of assassinations and regional tension heaped pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who is struggling to curb militia power and is calling for a peaceful, free general election in October.

Early elections were a key demand of Al Wazni and many other anti-government demonstrators who staged mass protests beginning in October 2019, rallying against corruption, foreign interference and poor job prospects.

Iraq officials asked the council to strengthen Unami’s role in the vote. The US, Britain and France support boosting the mandate when it is renewed later this month, against some resistance from Russia and China.

The UN supported past votes in Iraq as well as elections in Afghanistan, Sudan, Cambodia and many other countries. Assistance can involve logistical and technical assistance, observing polling centres and certifying results.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN’s envoy to Iraq, said voting should be free and fair and criticised calls from anti-government groups to shun the ballot, saying boycotts were a “risky business” that carry “high costs”.

“The world is watching,” Ms Hennis-Plasschaert told the council.

“Political pressure and interference, intimidation and illicit financial flows are all most harmful to the credibility of elections and hence to turnout.”

Updated: May 12, 2021 02:58 PM


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