UN Envoy: Iraq Pushed into Unknown

UN Envoy: Iraq Pushed into Unknown

United Nations (AP) -- The U.N. envoy for Iraq warned Tuesday that the country and its people are being "pushed into the unknown" by political indecisiveness and dissent that is continuing to paralyze government decision-making.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the Security Council she wanted to be hopeful, but unfortunately sees no cause "for immediate optimism."

She spoke two days after Iraq's prime minister-designate announced his withdrawal from the post after failing to get parliamentary support for his Cabinet selection, prolonging the political deadlock in the country.

On Sunday, Iraq also marked five months since a popular uprising against the country's political class erupted in Baghdad and southern provinces to decry rampant government corruption, unemployment and poor services.

Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi blamed political parties he did not name for his departure, saying they "were not serious about implementing reforms that they promised to the people" and accusing them of placing obstacles in the way of a new and independent government. He also accused some parties of negotiating "purely for narrow interests."

Allawi's withdrawal plunged the country into greater uncertainty as it faces ongoing anti-government protests and the constant threat of being ensnared by festering U.S.-Iran tensions, which soared after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani outside Baghdad airport in January.

Hennis-Plasschaert said repeated parliamentary sessions that don't reach a quorum so they can't take any action "is exactly the opposite of what the country needs, especially during a period of acute crisis."

"The road ahead remains fraught with difficulties," she said, citing the pressing need for accountability and justice and for tackling corruption which is "perhaps the greatest source of dysfunction in Iraq."

Corruption is also "a core feature of Iraq's current political economy," which among other things has resulted in a ballooning and inefficient public service "that functions more as an instrument of political favor than as a servant of the people," she said.

Hennis-Plasschaert said political leaders will have to act fast and put the country's interests above all else in order for the country to emerge from the crisis.

"Iraq must move from constant crisis management to sustainable and stable politics, building resilience through deep and broad systemic reform," she said.

Hennis-Plasschaert said reducing bureaucracy, making it easier to do business, strengthening the rule of law and adopting anti-corruption measures "can all incentivize the domestic private sector while attracting foreign investment."

The U.N. envoy also stressed the need for free and fair elections with an independent electoral commission.

Acting U.S. deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet called on Iraq's next leaders to urgently deliver reforms that will combat corruption and promote free elections.

"We also call on them to protect demonstrators and hold their killers to account," she said.

Iraqi-US relations have become more tense since the killing of Iran's top general. Tehran retaliated with a missile barrage on two Iraqi bases hosting American troops, and there have been subsequent attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy and military facilities.

Chalet urged the Iraqi government to protect U.S. diplomatic premises as required under the Vienna Convention.

Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Bahr AlUloom said the voices of Iraqi protesters are being heard, and without naming the United States said the "breach of our sovereignty" in January had its "toll on the stability in the country."

But he predicted that, despite the critical situation, Iraq is "on the cusp of a new era of stability."