In this interview, Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and the Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said that decades of UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Iraq created a negative impression of the institution among Iraqis, but that is changing. He said the deaths of 24 UN staff members, including the then-SRSG, in Baghdad in 2003 was a turning point. “I think this paved the way to an image of a new UN,” he said.
One problem for the UN in Iraq is making itself known. “Whenever I am at checkpoints, and we are asked where we are from, we say, ‘We are from the UN,’ and then people at the checkpoints tend to answer, ‘Oh yes, from the US.’”
Mr. Kobler discussed what UNAMI is doing in Iraq to assist the Iraqi government and help the Iraqi people, particularly in the areas of youth and environment.
“Fifty percent of the country is below the age of 18,” he said. However, most Iraqi youth are seeking to go abroad, causing “brain drain.”
Part of why they choose to leave is because they fear the existing terrorist threats. “Every day, 10 to 15 people still die on the streets of Baghdad,” he said.
Another reason is a lack of job opportunities. “There is not a good investment climate in the country. There is no private enterprise there which could bring the country ahead,” he said. A bad education system, with universities teaching curricula that date back to the 1980s, and rampant corruption in the public sector’s job market also discourage youth, he added.
“My appeal is to the government: give private companies more space, reduce red tape, reduce bureaucracy, have a one-stop shop for investors… These are framework conditions the government has to create in order to stop the brain drain,” he explained.
Mr. Kobler, who had just come from a sand-storm conference arranged by UNEP and the Kuwaiti Ministry of Environment, also hoped to bring environmental issues onto UNAMI’s political agenda.
In Iraq, the number of sand and dust storms has doubled in the past five years, partly due to climate change, and party due to environmental degradation.
“The practical idea is, together with UNEP in Nairobi, to create, with real money, huge green belts from Anbar province at the border of Jordan, down to Karbala, and down to the Kuwaiti border,” he said.
“I think it’s very important for the future generation, and one has to tackle it now,” he added.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Warren Hoge: Our guest today in the Global Observatory is Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI. He has been in this job since August of last year.