Iraq's future in balance because of 'proxy conflicts', says UN envoy

Danger of instability rising after militias targeted by air strikes blamed on Israel

FILE - In this May 31, 2019, file photo, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march as they hold Popular Mobilization flags in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's government is moving to limit the influence of powerfully Iran-backed militias in the country, placing them under the full command of the Iraqi armed forces. In a decree issued Monday night, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi says militias says militia offices who continue to operate independently will be closed and any armed faction working "openly or secretly" against these guidelines will be considered illegitimate. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)
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Iraq's post-ISIS future is at risk because of it recently being targeted as part of the region's proxy wars, the UN's special envoy to the country warned on Wednesday.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert's comments came after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and other Iraqi officials responded to a recent spate of air strikes against Iranian-backed militias by saying the government in Baghdad could not accept such attacks and would respond “by all means” if they came under fire again.

Sarhad Sardar Abdulrahman Fatah, Iraq's deputy permanent representative to the UN, said of the air strikes: "Iraq's chances are real, but in jeopardy. Iraq cannot be asked to tolerate these risks."

Appearing to allude to the air strikes, Ms Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN secretary general's special representative for Iraq, told the Security Council that regional politics had created “a perilous context” for ensuring a peaceful future.

“With great dedication, Iraqi leaders are tirelessly engaging regional and international actors to ensure that their country is a meeting ground for stability and not a venue for proxy conflicts,” she said via video link from The Hague.

“With this in mind we should be lucid and recognise that current tensions could well deal a huge blow to all national and international endeavours to rebuild a stable and prosperous Iraq.”

The latest attack in Iraq came on Sunday, when at least two fighters belonging to the country's paramilitary groups were killed in strikes near the border with Syria.

Ms Hennis-Plasschaert welcomed the Iraqi government's recent decision in July to bring militias and all armed groups under state control but said the moves were “in the early days of implementation and the next phase would prove crucial”.

Those militias include the so-called Popular Mobilisation Forces, many of whom are supported by Iran, who were involved in Iraq's yearslong effort to rid the country of ISIS fighters but have often operated with impunity and beyond the laws of the state.

The air strikes come as Iraq attempts to deal with about 1.6 million people who were displaced from their homes during ISIS's reign over large parts of the country . Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said UN programmes for stabilisation efforts and a separate humanitarian response plan were $300 million (Dh1.1 billion) and $500 million (Dh1.8bn) short, respectively.

“Due to the continued underfunding, Iraq's post-conflict humanitarian programming is being hindered,” she said. “And yes, 4.3 million people have returned home, but the pace has slowed, and outstanding needs are most acute in the health, electricity and water sectors.”

She praised the Iraqi government's decision on Wednesday to sign a cost-sharing agreement with the UN to begin making its own contributions to the stabilisation fund, though stressed that no “overnight miracles in dealing with the legacy of the past and challenges of the present” could be expected.

“The harsh reality is that the government needs time to fight the many narrow partisan interests that are out there,” Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said. “It needs time to deliver.”