On March 2-3, 2023, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Iraq, six years after his previous visit to the country. During his visit Guterres met with Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia' Al-Sudani and attended a dinner with Iraqi political figures. Among the dinner guests were the heads of two Iran-backed militias in Iraq: Qais Al-Khaz'ali, head of the 'Asaeb Ahl Al-Haqq militia, and Rayan Al-Kildani, head of the Christian Babylon movement and of its military wing, the Babylon Battalions. After the dinner Guterres posed for a photo with Al-Khaz'ali and Al-Kildani. Both these figures are sanctioned by the U.S. for human rights violations,  and Khaz'ali is on the U.S. Treasury list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Both also openly call for targeting the U.S. forces in Iraq.
Antonio Guterres with Qais Al-Khaz'ali on his left and Rayan Al-Kildani on his right
The photo attracted attention and drew criticism in Iraq and beyond. This report reviews the criticism sparked by Guterres' meeting with the two figures and the responses of UN spokespersons to the affair.
Following Dinner With Iraqi Political Figures Guterres Poses For Picture With Heads Of Iran-Backed Militias
While Qais Al-Khaz'ali did not post any photos with Guterres on his social media accounts, Al-Kildani did so on March 2. He tweeted a photo of Guterres and himself, and another of Guterres with the other dinner guests, including himself and Al-Khaz'ali, and commented: "After six years UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come here and has declared his support for Iraq's democratic institutions. Welcome. We see your arrival as a hopeful sign. Iraq is the cradle of civilization and humanity cannot survive without Iraq."
Opponents Of The Militias: This Is A Violation Of The UN Charter And International Law
The photos sparked intense criticism from the opponents of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq and elsewhere. The Iraqi National Charter, a union of several Iraqi bodies opposed to the militias, issued a statement condemning Guterres' meeting with "the heads of militias who have perpetrated crimes against the Iraqis," and calling this a flagrant violation of the UN Charter and of international law. Guterres, the statement added, was expected to discuss "important issues" related to political and humanitarian rights and to laws currently being passed in Iraq. The statement was accompanied by the photo of Guterres flanked by the two militia heads, with Al-Khaz'ali's face blotted out.
A member of the Iraqi National Charter's supreme council, Maki Al-Nazzal, stated that "instead of the UN calling to disband the militias, its Secretary-General poses for friendly pictures with militia heads, as though they are his pals…"
Iraqi news anchor Muhammad Al-Kubaisi tweeted: "Guterres' visit to Iraq turned into a bad farce when he posed with faction [heads] who are on the terror list. More than that, he granted them international legitimacy, without thinking of the victims who did not receive any protection from the UN…"
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'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Twaijri, the former head of the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), tweeted the photo of Guterres with the two militia heads and commented: "[Here is] the UN Secretary-General [standing] between Qias Al-Khaz'ali and Rayan Al-Kildani. The first is the Shi'ite leader of Al-Hashd [Al-Sha'bi] and the other is the commander of the Babylon Movement, one of the groups that comprise the Hashd, and both are on the terror list. How odd."
Twitter user Bilal Al-Jaber, who opposes the Iran-backed militias, tweeted: "This photo may cause Guterres to lose his position. The UN has become an Iranian militia… How can the head of an international organization charged with protecting international security and peace meet with terrorists who have killed thousands?"
UN Spokespersons: Guterres Did Not Choose Who To Be Photographed With
UN spokespersons resonding to the criticism put the blame on the Iraqi government. Guterres' spokesman Farhan Haq said that Guterres did not choose who to meet and who to pose with; it was the Iraqi government who invited the dinner participants. The spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said that the photo "was taken on [Guterres'] way out, after a dinner with government of Iraq coalition representatives, upon the invitation of the Prime Minister of Iraq."
It should be noted that other UN officials have met with Qais Al-Khaz'ali. The head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Plasschaert, met with him several times in his office, most recently on February 22, 2023. A statement about this meeting posted on the Telegram channel of Al-Khaz'ali's media office said that the two discussed the political developments in Iraq and the region and the UN's support for Iraq. Another meeting took place on July 26, 2022, amid the efforts to establish the new Iraqi government.
 Home.treasury.gov, December 6, 2019; Home.treasury.gov, July 18, 2019.
 State.gov, January 3, 2020.
 See MEMRI clip and JTTM reports: Iraqi Shi'ite Militia Leader Qais Khazali: The Resistance Will Teach The U.S. A Lesson And Force It Out Of Iraq; It Will Leave Humiliated And Despised, Like In 2012, January 1, 2023;
Iran-Backed Shi'ite Militias In Iraq: We Will Declare War Against U.S. Forces If They Don't Leave By End Of 2021, December 30, 2021; Leaders of Pro-Iranian Shi'ite Militias In Iraq: Strategic Dialogue With U.S. Is Pointless; We Will Continue Attacks On U.S. Forces, April 4, 2021.
 Twitter.com/ChaldeanRyan, March 2, 2023.
 Iraqcharter.org, March 2, 2023.
 Alrafidain.tv, March 3, 2023.
 Twitter.com/mallobaysi, March 3, 2023.
 Twitter.com/AOAltwairijri, March 3, 2023.
 Twitter.com/Bilal_aljaber18, March 2, 2023.
 Alrafidain.tv, March 3, 2023.
 Thenationalnews.com, March 3, 2023.
 Telegram.me/ khazalimedia, February 22, 2023.
 Telegram.me/ khazalimedia, July 26, 2022.