UN Iraq Special Representative says that finding common ground is essential

She added that non-state armed groups trying to exploit security vacuums in Iraq "cannot be tolerated and Iraq will need to exercise its sovereignty."
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN's Special Representative and head of the United Nations's Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) during Tuesday's interview with Kurdistan 24 (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN's Special Representative and head of the United Nations's Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) during Tuesday's interview with Kurdistan 24 (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN's Special Representative and head of the United Nations's Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), told Kurdistan 24 in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that Kurdish parties should work together to best serve the people of Kurdistan.


"In any society, it is very risky to take rights, freedoms and in this case autonomy for granted. What I'm saying is you have to take care of it," she said.

"You have to find common ground, to unify, and to work together in the interest of the Kurdistani citizens."

"I'm not saying that it's not okay to have an internal debate. It's very healthy to have internal debate," she added. "What is not healthy is constant party rivalry, intra-party rivalry, and partisanship."

"Again, the interests of the Kurdistani citizens are best served if the Kurdistan Region parties work together and find common ground in the interest of the Kurdistani citizens."

She also underlined that the UN is working on the assumption that the Iraqi elections will take place on October 10, and that "it's important for Iraq to move beyond elections to get things done."

During a conference in Erbil in May, Hennis-Plasschaert said that today's autonomy should not be taken for granted and that, in order to sustain it, unity will prove essential.

Erbil-Baghdad Dialogue

The UN envoy stressed that a strong relationship between Erbil and Baghdad is in the interest of all Kurdistani and Iraqi citizens.

Baghdad has been chronically late or delinquent in its budget payments to the KRG for years, causing those who depend on government salaries – a large percentage of the public – to face significant and often unexpected missed monthly income.

Last month after receiving a long-overdue disbursement of 200 billion Iraqi dinars (137.2 million USD) from Baghdad as part of its regular financial allotment of the national budget, the KRG removed the salary deduction that has been in place since early 2020.

Hennis-Plasschaert emphasized that constant crisis management and ad hoc compromises between Baghdad and Erbil will not help and that a regular, structured and institutionalized dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil, to discuss all outstanding issues, is required.

"I do know that Prime Minister Masrour Barzani is in favor of it. The Federal Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, also confirms his commitment to such institutionalized dialogue, and I very much hope that very soon we will have that first kickoff session."

Sinjar Agreement

On the situation in Shingal (Sinjar), the UN official said that the Sinjar Agreement must be implemented since civilians in the area are paying the price for inaction

On Monday, Turkey bombed Sinjar targeting a PKK-affiliated (Kurdistan Workers' Party) armed group, killing at least 3, and injuring two more. A day later, Turkish forces again struck the area causing several casualties.

"I think the Sinjar Agreement is pretty straightforward and to the point, but at the end of the day, it is not about the agreements as such but about implementing the agreements," she said.

She added that implementation needs the buy-in from Erbil, Baghdad and the participation and commitment of the parties on the ground.

"I know the environment is extremely complex, but it takes two to tango: so Baghdad and Erbil will have to step up to the plate, and be ready to compromise. But I also call on certain parties in Sinjar to commit and to make this agreement work because, at the end of the day, Sinjaris are paying a very high price, and we need to wake up because if this continues, the price will be even higher."

In October 2020, Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced they had reached an agreement, with support from the UN, to restore and normalize the situation in Sinjar, where competing armed groups are active, including groups linked to PKK and pro-Iranian militias within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF.)

Notably, the agreement includes a framework to withdraw all armed groups from the area, restore the local administration, and appoint a new mayor. So far, however, limited progress has been made

Iraqi Authority

One of the solutions the UN Iraq envoy suggested for the challenges posed by non-state actors is for the Iraqi state to "assert its authority."

"Whatever armed groups operating outside state control, internal or external, [they] cannot and should not be allowed to operate on Iraqi soil, undermining the Iraqi state and even further weakening the Iraqi state," she said.

She also said that non-state armed groups, including the PKK, are trying to exploit security vacuums in Iraq. "Obviously, this cannot be tolerated and Iraq will need to exercise its sovereignty."

However, she added, that everyone will understand that dialogue and not a military response "is the only way forward to sustainable solutions." This includes "a dialogue with Turkey, Baghdad, Erbil, and other relevant stakeholders."

Iraqi Activists

UNAMI documented 48 incidents of attempted assassinations of Iraqi protesters between October 1, 2019, and May 15, 2021. Assassinations increased after protesters took the streets in October 2019 over the state's structural corruption. Most have blamed armed groups operating outside state control.

"Obviously, the assassinations, abductions, aggression, and intimidation, must stop. Accountability is key to restore public trust and we have reported, and we will continue to report, on any event, and to call on Iraqi authorities to assert their authority, the Iraqi people have a right to know," she said.

She explained that the UN does not have executive powers. "We cannot act on behalf of the authorities, we can only monitor and report, and thus to emphasize the importance of accountability."


Finally, Hennis-Plasschaert said that the images coming out of Afghanistan are "heartbreaking."

"I am truly concerned about the future of Afghanistan and the Afghan citizens, the women and children in particular."