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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Confusion over the Iraq speech at the UN that never was

Iraq's prime minister Haider Al-Abadi pulled out of trip to New York amid political crisis at home

Iraq's prime minister Haider Al Abadi says he is prepared to intervene militarily if the Kurdish region's planned referendum results in violence. Khalid Mohammed / AP Photo
Iraq's prime minister Haider Al Abadi says he is prepared to intervene militarily if the Kurdish region's planned referendum results in violence. Khalid Mohammed / AP Photo

Confusion reigned Thursday afternoon as Iraq’s allotted time to deliver its address to the UN General Assembly came and went – without a word from the Iraqi delegation. According to the UN schedule distributed Thursday morning and live on the UN General Assembly website, after Slovenia’s Prime Minister Miro Cerar delivered his address, it was time for Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to deliver his, to be followed by the German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

The website was updated moments later, pushing Iraq’s slot a little further down. And still no Iraqi address. The same was repeated twice, before Iraq was pulled off the list altogether without any update. It appears that the Iraqi prime minister did not come to New York after all as Iraq faces one of its worst political crises with the continued insistence by the Kurdish Regional president to hold an independence referendum to break away from Iraq. The referendum is due to take place on Monday, despite wide international rejection of it.

The Iraqi Prime Minister was slated to address the General Assembly, taking the place of the Iraqi President Fuad Masum who as late as Saturday was meant to be leading the Iraqi delegation to New York. However, a day before he was due to travel, Mr Masum decided to stay in Iraq as the political crisis deepens. Mr Masum is under increased pressure as he is the head of state of Iraq, meaning he should represent its sovereign will, and yet his political party PUK, has publicly supported the referendum.

Responding to questions from The National, an official from the UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit said "there has been a lack of clarity for some hours.. we still have not been given a response from the Iraqi side". And so, until the time of publishing this article, it was unclear when Iraq would be addressing the international community.

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Read more on Kurdish referendum:

Iraq's Kurdish government defies international calls to postpone referendum

US ‘strongly opposes’ Iraqi Kurd referendum

Erdogan to discuss 'sanctions' against Iraq's Kurdish region

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The confusion reflected a wider reality of confusion over Iraq. Late Wednesday night, the US issued a strongly worded statement announcing it "strongly opposes" the referendum. It went on to say "All of Iraq’s neighbours, and virtually the entire international community, also oppose this referendum. The United States urges Iraqi Kurdish leaders to accept the alternative", which the US State Department said includes a serious and sustained dialogue with Iraq’s central government, facilitated by the United States and United Nations. "The costs of proceeding with the referendum are high for all Iraqis, including Kurds", warned the US in stark remarks from an ordinarily supportive America to Iraq’s Kurds.

Mr Al-Abadi was to address the UN only hours after declaring a renewed military effort against ISIL and was meant to present his country’s plans for a post-ISIL future. Instead, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari has been leading the Iraqi delegation. It is expected Mr Al-Jaafari will eventually deliver Iraq’s address, but the timing remained unclear, as UN protocol mandates that heads of state speak first, then followed by heads of government, and lastly foreign ministers. Iraq had been given a position earlier on in the week when the head of state was due to speak.