Expected Council Action
In February, the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing by the Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on the most recent developments in Iraq and on the two latest Secretary-General’s reports on UNAMI and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives. Both reports are due in February.
UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 May 2021 and the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) expires on 18 September 2021.
Key Recent Developments
A double suicide attack hit central Baghdad on 21 January, killing 32 people and injuring at least 110. The same day, Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the bombings. The attack, the largest of its kind in three years, was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) a day later. On 22 January, Council members adopted a press statement condemning the attack “in the strongest terms”.
Attacks also continue to be directed against the US military and diplomatic presence and the US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh (the Coalition) in Iraq. The latest such attack took place on 20 December 2020 when 21 rockets were fired at the US Embassy in Baghdad. One Iraqi was killed in the attack and buildings were damaged. These attacks are usually not claimed by any group. In a 23 December 2020 statement, a US Central Command spokesperson said that the attack “was almost certainly conducted by an Iranian-backed Rogue Militia Group”. The US in the past has attacked bases of Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq in retaliation.
One of the Iran-backed militias that the US has accused of perpetrating attacks against its personnel in Iraq is Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the US has designated a terrorist organisation. Kata’ib Hezbollah is part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), established in 2014 from different, mostly Iran-backed, Shi’a Muslim fighters to combat ISIL. In July 2019, then-Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi issued an executive order bringing the PMF under the exclusive control of the Iraqi state and ordering it to cut all links with political entities. The current Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is trying to implement a zero-tolerance policy towards armed groups operating outside state control. On 11 October 2020, a spokesperson for Kata’ib Hezbollah, claiming to speak on behalf of groups of “resistance” against the US presence in Iraq, said that the group had temporarily suspended attacks on US forces.
On 3 January 2020, a US strike near the Baghdad airport killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the PMF. On the anniversary of the strike, thousands of Iraqis protested and demanded that US troops leave Iraq.
On 15 January, the US Department of Defense announced that it had completed the planned drawdown of its force in Iraq to a level of 2,500 troops. The new US president, Joe Biden, appears intent on continuing the policy of withdrawing military personnel from Iraq while maintaining a counter-terrorism presence.
A major wave of widespread popular protests demanding basic services and systemic change started in October 2019 and ultimately led to the resignation of the Iraqi government that same year. Protests continue mostly in the city of Nasiriya.
Iraqi President Barham Salih named al-Kadhimi as prime minister-designate on 9 April 2020. He will hold the position until early elections are held. Initially announced for 6 June 2021, the elections are now scheduled for 10 October 2021 as the Iraqi parliament voted to postpone them after Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission had requested more time to prepare. In an 18 November 2020 letter to the Council, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein requested the Council to strengthen UNAMI’s role with regard to the elections.
On 9 December 2020, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that her office would not open an investigation into possible war crimes committed by UK nationals in Iraq. Following the conclusion of her preliminary investigation, Bensouda found that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the British armed forces committed the war crimes of wilful killing, torture, inhuman/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence”. However, her office did not consider the situation admissible. The ICC is a court of last resort and cases are only admissible when “the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution”, according to Article 17(1)(b) of the Rome Statute of the ICC. In the case of the UK, she concluded that these conditions had not been met.
On 16 September 2007, security guards of the private military company Blackwater International shot dead 17 civilians and injured 24 in Nisour Square in Baghdad. Four Blackwater security guards were convicted by a US federal court in 2014 of manslaughter, murder and weapons charges. On 22 December 2020, then-US president Donald Trump pardoned the men. In a 30 December 2020 statement, the independent experts of the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination condemned the pardons as a violation of international law by the US. The Working Group argued that states are obliged to “hold war criminals accountable” under the Geneva Conventions, including when they act as private military contractors.
On 10 December 2020, the Council received a briefing from Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.
On 24 November 2020, Council members adopted a press statement on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 27 November 2020, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) issued its findings on Iraq, calling on it to incorporate the offence of enforced disappearances into domestic criminal legislation, and to ensure no person is held in secret detention. The report found that a pattern of enforced disappearance persists in much of the country. It expressed concern over the lack of reliable data on cases of enforced disappearance and the large quantity of unidentified bodies and mass graves. It recommended that Iraq establish a consolidated nationwide database of all cases of disappearance that have occurred in the country since 1968. The Committee received allegations in relation to 420 possible secret detention sites and urged Iraq to investigate them, close any such facilities or convert them into regular registered and supervised detention centres, as well as to take all necessary measures to ensure that no one is detained secretly in the future.
Key Issues and Options
Council members are closely following the political, security and humanitarian situations in Iraq. After the briefing by Hennis-Plasschaert, Council members could issue a press statement addressing issues of concern to them.
Regarding the request from the Iraqi government for a strengthened role of the UN in the electoral process, Council members could discuss possible options.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI and the positive developments in Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations.
Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq. The government routinely states that Iraq has no intention of taking sides and becoming caught in the middle of Iran-US tensions. Turkey continues to conduct military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, despite Iraq’s objections.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraqi-Kuwaiti issues and UNITAD. Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) is the chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
|Security Council Resolutions|
|18 September 2020S/RES/2544||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 18 September 2021.|
|29 May 2020S/RES/2522||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNAMI until 21 May 2021.|
|Security Council Letters|
|31 December 2020S/2020/1216||This was to the president of the Security Council from Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia), chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee 2020-2021, transmitting the annual report of the committee.|
|21 December 2020S/2020/1193||This contained the briefing provided by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, and the statements by all Council members and Iraq during an open videoconference (VTC) meeting on UNITAD on 10 December 2020.|
|30 November 2020S/2020/1144||This contained the briefing provided by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert during the 24 November 2020 open VTC meeting on UNAMI.|
|24 November 2020S/2020/1130||This contained an 18 November 2020 letter from the Iraqi foreign minister requesting the Council to strengthen UNAMI’s role with regard to the upcoming elections.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|22 January 2021SC/14421||This was on the two suicide attacks in central Baghdad on 21 January, resulting in 32 dead and at least 110 injured.|
|24 November 2020SC/14365||This was on Iraq-Kuwait relations.|