U.N. refugee chief calls for political solution in Iraq


Iraqis who fled violence in the northern city of Tal Afar try to establish themselves at the Bahrka camp for displaced people, six miles west of Irbil in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region. (Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

— The head of the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday that he was increasingly frustrated with Iraq’s skyrocketing number of displaced people — and with governments worldwide that expect humanitarian aid organizations to “come clean up the mess.”

“There will not be a humanitarian solution for the Iraqi crisis. There is no humanitarian solution for the Syrian crisis,” António Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a closed briefing with reporters here in the Iraqi capital.

“It is absolutely crucial that the Iraqi political system find a way to overcome its political divisions and contradictions,” he said.

Iraq’s political factions are negotiating the key positions in a new government that they hope will guide this fractured nation out of its worst crisis since U.S. troops pulled out in late 2011.

In recent weeks, Iraq has come dangerously close to breaking apart as Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State have seized control of a vast swath of territory stretching from Syria to central Iraq.

Iraqi forces withdrew from the rebel held city of Tikrit, after their latest effort to recapture the city was met with heavy resistance by Sunni militants. (Reuters)

The Shiite-led government has fought back with the help of militias, raising the specter of sectarian war as violence — including airstrikes, bombings, and executions of Shiites by Sunnis and vice versa — racks many parts of the country.

Iraqi Kurds, meanwhile, are pressing for a referendum on independence in their largely autonomous — and relatively stable — region in the north.

On Wednesday, Guterres urged Iraq’s neighbors and Western countries to work together to find a political solution as quickly as possible.

He said about 1.1 million Iraqis have been displaced since the start of the year, when serious violence first broke out between government forces and Sunni insurgents in the western province of Anbar.

At least half a million have fled their homes in the past five weeks alone, Guterres added.

During his weekly televised address Wednesday, embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki congratulated the Iraqi parliament on electing a new speaker. The vote Tuesday was a crucial step toward forming the desperately needed new government.

“I hope that they will work in harmony and to agree on running the parliament . . . away from all differences and calculations,” Maliki said, according to the Associated Press.

But the parliament still needs to vote on a president and a prime minister. Maliki is facing growing pressure to step down, and his reluctance to do so has been the main cause of Iraq’s political deadlock.

In his address Wednesday, however, he did not comment on whether he would seek a third term.

Abigail Hauslohner covers D.C. politics -- and the people affected by D.C. politics. She came to the local beat in 2015 after seven years covering war, politics, and corruption across the Middle East and North Africa. Most recently, she served as the Post’s Cairo Bureau Chief.

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