Slovakia’s Jan Kubis to Iraq: What role could the UN play?

Slovakia’s former Foreign Minister Jan Kubis was nominated to head UN Mission in Iraq. What kind or role can, should the UN play in the current security and political situation in Iraq, what should be the priorities on the UN in Iraq? Read few comments.

James  Lutz, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne

The United Nations can be a stabilizing force in Iraq. The UN as an organization can draw upon personnel from elsewhere in the world, including other Muslim countries, to provide support for the current government. These personnel would not suffer from the disabilities that face the United States and American personnel. There will always be suspicions about the United States as a superpower having its own agenda whereas the UN would be seen as more neutral. Obviously, dissidents in Iraq fear the United Nations–the attack against the UN headquarters in Baghdad soon after the US invasion was a reflection of the desire to drive out the UN as a stabilizing force. The priorities of the UN should be to focus on economic activities, humanitarian aid, and similar operations, and perhaps occasional efforts to help provide political stability by encouraging political leaders in Iraq to be inclusive. This approach would permit the United States to focus its attention and resources on military and security issues. The role for the United States and some other allies would still be important.

Wayne White, Policy Expert, Washington’s Middle East Policy Council

Perhaps the most important role the UN and its associated agencies can play is monitoring the behavior of the Iraqi Army, various Shi’a militias fighting alongside it, and, farther north, Kurdish Peshmerga.   It is clear that Iraqi soldiers, Shi’a militiamen, and Peshmerga fighters have either committed atrocities against Sunni Arab civilians in areas “liberated” from Islamic State (IS) control or engaged in ethno-sectarian cleansing by expelling Sunni Arabs from their homes.  This is not only a serious violation of international law, but a practice that makes it easier for IS to recruit fighters and much harder for the Iraqi government to persuade Sunni Arabs to turn against the Islamic State to help the government.

Also, there have been sectarian hate crimes within government-held territory like the recent execution-style murder of a prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader in a Baghdad Shi’a neighborhood, probably by Shi’a militia gunmen not affiliated with the Iraqi Army.  This also severely undermines the credibility of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government in the eyes of not only Sunni Arabs in Iraq, but also a large number of nearby Sunni Arab governments from whom Iraq wants (and needs) assistance.

Jeffrey VanDenBergChair, Political Science & Geography Department, Professor of Political Science, Director of Middle East Studies, Drury University

We should be realistic about the deep pathologies in the Iraqi situation today, and the limitations of the UN’s ability to help remedy them. Corruption is a huge obstacle (Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt systems in the world). Corruption, combined with sectarianism (all of it unleashed, of course, by the US war and failed occupation), is the main reason for the deterioration of the Iraqi political system and the ability of ISIS to take large parts of Iraqi territory. The UN can only address these problems at the margins, and only over the long term. The UN does its best work in the social and economic areas—humanitarian assistance, education, health, and economic development. In terms of the immediate security and political crises, Ambassador Kubis faces significant challenges in encouraging reforms aimed at rooting out corruption, and pushing the Iraqi government to follow more inclusive policies. The immediate priority of fighting ISIS, unfortunately, is not conducive to resolving the deep-rooted problems in the Iraqi system. Nonetheless, the UN mission should use whatever diplomatic leverage it has to encourage these reforms as they are the only path for stability and development for Iraq.

Ahmed AliVisiting Senior Fellow, Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC)

The UN has a critical role to play in Iraq. This role will be in the political realm where the UN can act as a mediator and convener. The UN should prioritize national reconciliation and also assistance to refugees and IDPs. The UN mission will be even more critical in a post-ISIS Iraq.

David RomanoAssociate Professor, Missouri State University

Many of the political and security problems in Iraq are not something the UN is well placed to offer solutions for. For instance, Staffan de Mistura, the special UN envoy for Iraq a few years ago, offered good suggestions for resolving the disputed territories issue — but these were ignored and they even sparked angry reactions from various groups in Iraq.

The UN does have a lot of experience with programs to alleviate civilian suffering, however, and can contribute a lot in this regard. The numbers of internally displaced persons in Iraq, and particularly in Kurdistan, is very high. As a proportion of the population, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is probably dealing with more refugees and IDPs than any government on earth. This is happening at a time when they are receiving only a fraction of their promised budget from Baghdad, and the strain is great. UN efforts to help cope with the IDPs and refugees, as well as de-mining and ordinance disposal programs for places liberated from the Islamic State, help a lot. UN efforts should focus on these things.


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