posted on Sat 29 Jun 2019 7:46 PM
Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Visiting Mission to Kuwait and Iraq

On Thursday (27 June), Security Council members left New York for a visiting mission to Kuwait and Iraq. Co-led by Kuwait, which holds the Council presidency in June, and the US, as penholder on Iraq, this is the Council’s first visit to Iraq. It seems that Kuwait wanted to take advantage of its term on the Council to realise such a trip and include as a theme the state of Kuwait-Iraq relations.

Terms of Reference for the Visiting Mission

The terms of reference for the visiting mission list five objectives: to show support for the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Iraq and for its post-conflict recovery and reconstruction; to observe and support the efforts of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to implement its mandate, including on Iraq-Kuwait issues; to observe and support the efforts of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) to implement its mandate; to address the humanitarian situation as well as promote the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of internally displaced persons affected by conflict; and to recognise the need for economic reform in Iraq and attract investment in the country, in the context of Iraq’s transition into a post-conflict environment and the concerns of the Iraqi people in stabilising and rebuilding the country.

The terms of reference further state that the mission seeks to implement lessons learned from other Council trips.

On Friday (28 June) and Saturday (29 June), Council members held several meetings in both Kuwait and Iraq in an effort to achieve the objectives of the visit.

Kuwait City: Iraq-Kuwait issues and the post-conflict recovery of Iraq

Council members arrived in Kuwait City on Friday. Members first met with Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance of UNAMI, Alice Walpole, and Omar Odeh, the Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Delegation for the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. Both UNAMI and the ICRC play an important role with respect to the issue of missing persons resulting from the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990-1991. According to resolution 2107 (2013), the post currently held by Walpole was designated to oversee the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, following the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. The ICRC chairs a mechanism called the Tripartite Commission (the other members are France, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US) that supports finding persons gone missing in the context of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. UNAMI is an observer of the mechanism.

Walpole explained the continued relevance of the issue of missing persons to Kuwaiti families still waiting to hear about missing relatives. In this regard, she noted that earlier this month, in southern Iraq, there had been the first discovery of a mass grave of suspected Kuwaiti citizens in Iraq since 2005. Walpole expressed hope that DNA analysis would soon provide answers to some Kuwaiti families on the fate of their relatives. In that context, she emphasised the “tremendous goodwill” of the Kuwaitis in hosting the February 2018 Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, and underscored how relations between the two countries had become generally good. In this respect, she observed, the new Iraqi president, Barham Salih, had conducted his first foreign visit to Kuwait. Council members were interested in hearing more about the difficulties of finding and returning Kuwaiti archives from Iraq. Walpole explained that the Iraqi government was very cooperative, but that years of conflict in Iraq had made it challenging for them.

Odeh explained that the issue of missing persons was not always given priority in the humanitarian community, as searching for missing persons and identifying remains is complicated and requires consistent and long-term efforts. He therefore commended Kuwait on the passage of resolution 2474 on missing persons in armed conflict—which was adopted on 11 June at Kuwait’s initiative—hoping that it would reinvigorate work on this issue in the Iraq-Kuwait context and noting that the search for missing persons would become ever harder with the passage of time.

Following their meeting with Walpole and Odeh, Council members met with the World Bank Resident Representative in Kuwait, Ghassan Khoja, and the UN Resident Coordinator in Kuwait, Tarek El-Sheikh. Both emphasised Kuwait’s crucial role in supporting Iraq’s recovery. Khoja stated that Iraq would require $88 billion in the next five years for its post-conflict reconstruction. He also pointed out that the 2018 conference had had a positive impact on the World Bank’s investment outlook for Iraq, but that the security situation in Iraq needs to improve before investments will increase significantly. It was further noted that a follow-up mechanism to collect the pledges made at the conference, worth $30 billion, still does not exist but is urgently needed, otherwise the money would not reach Iraq. One Council member pointed out that corruption in Iraq constitutes a fundamental impediment to its development, despite its oil wealth.

In the evening, Council members met with Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah at the Foreign Ministry. Al-Sabah emphasised the good relationship between Iraq and Kuwait and Kuwait’s efforts to support Iraq. He further stressed the need for a mechanism to implement the recovery pledges made during the 2018 conference. A focus of the exchange was the tensions in the Gulf region, including the ongoing severance of diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE that started two years ago. Members expressed their support for Kuwait’s mediation efforts in the crisis and inquired about possible solutions. Members also commended Al-Sabah on the improved relationship between Iraq and Kuwait.

Today, the Council traveled to Baghdad, where they met with high-level Iraqi partners, UNAMI, the UN Country Team in Iraq, and the Iraqi parliament (representatives of political parties as well as minority groups). Meetings were also expected with representatives of the Kurdish Regional Government, and members of civil society.

Details of the Iraq leg of the visiting mission will be posted to What’s in Blue tomorrow.