Briefing the UN Security Council this morning, UN envoy for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, delivered an ominous assessment of the on-the-ground situation in Iraq, amid an ongoing offensive perpetrated by ISIL militants and a growing number of internally displaced persons (IPDs) fleeing the brutal violence.
“ISIL’s strategy is obvious – to insert themselves in the ethnic and religious fault lines of Iraq, to undermine legitimate authorities and to spread fear among all communities,” said Nickolay Mladenov in his address to the Council. “Their goals are also clear – to destroy the Iraqi State and replace it with a ‘State of Terror’ built on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Such a “State of Terror” governed by ISIL and spanning the territory of Iraq and neighbouring Syria would then ultimately seek to advance on the rest of the region, warned Mr. Mladenov, destabilize bordering States and “threaten global peace and security.”
The emergence of ISIL as a cogent threat to the democratic and humanitarian stability of Iraq has been steady yet devastating. Adopting a Takfiri belief system used by many extremely radical religious groups, including Nigeria’s Boko Haram, ISIL militants automatically assume the authority to declare anybody to be kafir, or apostate, condemning thousands of ethnic and religious minorities and women and girls to gross human rights violations and, in many cases, death.
In one instance cited by Mr. Mladenov, the “growing brutality” of the group was illustrated by the massacre of 322 members of the Albu Nimr tribe. Other well-documented cases of similar crimes report the summary executions of captured prisoners and members of the Yazidi tribe as well as the enslavement of young women and girls.
In addition, ISIL’s military efficiency has seen it gain large swathes of Iraqi territory, capturing major cities such as Fallujah, and reaching the outskirts of the capital of Baghdad, while posing an increasingly dangerous threat to the integrity of the Iraqi State.
In his address, however, the UN envoy told the Council that the crisis in Iraq was not down to the ISIL threat alone, pointing to a “turbulent” recent history of unresolved political, social and economic problems tied to the country’s “difficult transition to democracy, the lack of agreement on the full implementation of the Constitution, stalled reforms, sectarian differences, and the country’s exposure to the broad regional and global rifts.”
“As the crisis unfolded, Iraq almost collapsed,” Mr. Mladenov explained. “Its western provinces were overrun by ISIL, the Kurdistan Region openly spoke of seceding, the southern Governorates struggle with poverty while producing the country’s riches, Baghdad was threatened by a daily barrage of suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices and Iraq’s minorities have been subjected to unspeakable horrors.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Mladenov applauded the Iraqi Government’s efforts to improve its cooperation with local tribes and regional governments in fighting the ISIL onslaught, noting that recent territorial gains against the militants showed that the strategy was “bearing fruit.” Along with UN support and help from the international community targeting peace and security, development, and humanitarian efforts, he added, Iraq could soon embark on a road towards political stability, and dialogue and cooperation on a range of issues including the enactment of oil and gas revenue sharing laws.
“Faced with a common threat,” he continued, “the political, community and religious leaders across Iraq focused on pulling back from the brink and saving their country.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, meanwhile, painted a dire picture of the situation on the ground in ISIL-controlled territory, suggesting that the world remained “staggered” by the “monstrous” crimes committed by the group. Above all, he said, the crimes committed in Iraq were of “such scale and gravity that in all likelihood they qualify as international crimes, subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court” as reports of genocidal offences and crimes against humanity continue to leak out areas held by the militants.
To that point, Ms. Amos provided a bleak assessment of the numbers, indicating that some 5.2 million people across the country were now in need of assistance, including the 3.6 million Iraqis living in areas under the control of ISIL.
Despite the infusion of $500 million from the Saudi Arabia and resources provided by other donors early on in the crisis, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the 15-member Council that “much more help is urgently required,” particularly as winter fast approaches.
According to the latest estimates, a minimum of 450,000 people, including 225,000 children, need warm winter clothes and shoes and 300,000 need blankets, stoves and other non-food item support.
Ms. Amos said that ongoing insecurity and fighting was preventing UN efforts from reaching all those in need of assistance, especially as the number of 2 million internally displaced persons continues to rise. Moreover, she reminded the Council that the crisis afflicting Iraq belonged to the wider international community and was part of “a regional catastrophe which we have a collective responsibility to address.”
The international community has, in fact, ramped up its efforts to repel ISIL’s advance with international forces deployed to Iraq to assist the Government in its military campaign against the militants.
But, in his briefing, Mr. Zeid cautioned against adopting a full-fledged military approach in quashing the group, adding that “little attention has been paid to the underlying struggle for minds.”
“I therefore query whether it is possible to bomb an ideology like this into submission, or hope it can just vaporize at the end of a judge’s gavel. ISIL may weaken or wither, it is true, but it will likely be replaced by another Takfiri group,” he said.
“Thought must therefore be undermined by thought. And takfirism, must be thwarted by an approach to life couched in those principles and laws binding all of us, a system which will be more successful and enriching because it is open to the multiple realities of all human beings.”