Iraq (MNF Renewal)
Expected Council Action
The mandate of the Multinational Force (MNF) in Iraq expires on 31 December. However, the Council is likely to bring forward the renewal of the MNF mandate and act on this in November. At the time of writing it is unclear when the Iraqi government request for the renewal of the MNF mandate will be received.
Key Recent Developments
On 19 October, the US briefed the Council on MNF activities in Iraq, and the Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe presented the latest report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to the Council. He emphasised that UNAMI had to be afforded the necessary political and humanitarian space to implement its new mandate, and issued a strong appeal for member states to support the UN’s efforts. While welcoming UNAMI’s new role, many Council members expressed concern at the worsening humanitarian situation and at increasing violence during the debate which followed Pascoe’s briefing. France mentioned that it supported a strengthening of the UN’s role in Iraq in the context of a withdrawal horizon for foreign forces. South Africa called for tighter regulations governing the actions of private security companies.
On 8 October, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the UK would start cutting its 5,000-strong military presence in Iraq before the end of the year, reducing to 2,500 in early 2008. On 2 September, British forces completed withdrawal from their last base in Basra, handing over control of the province to Iraqi security forces.
On 29 September, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that the next one-year extension of the UN mandate for the MNF would be the last. It would then be replaced by a long-term bilateral security agreement with the US, similar to the ones the US already has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt. He also said that the Iraqi government would ask the Council to note Iraq’s intention to enter into negotiations with the US to reach such security agreements.
On 11 September, General David Petraeus, the US commander of the MNF, told the US Congress that he believed the situation in Iraq remained too fragile to undertake rapid troop reductions, but recommended a withdrawal of the surge combat forces (approximately 28,500 troops) by mid-2008.
The Iraqi parliament failed to agree on oil investment and revenue-sharing laws, and laws on reintegration of former Baathist members into government, which had been requested by the US Congress as evidence of progress. Parliament reconvened on 4 September but so far has been unable to pass any major pieces of legislation.
On 5 June, the parliament approved a law that the Iraqi cabinet should consult parliament before any extension of the MNF mandate. The draft law was submitted by the Shi’a Sadrist block and supported by Sunni Arabs, but opposed by the Kurds and by the Shi’a supporters of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. It seems that this was in response to the cabinet’s failure last year to respect a verbal agreement with the parliament that it would include some conditions for the MNF renewal in its letter to the Council. However, there seem to be different interpretations about whether or not this law is binding, and whether this law was ratified-the government has not rejected it, but the law has not been published in the official journal either. This remained unclear at the time of writing.
The government coalition seems to have become more fragile in recent months. In June, July and August, several ministers withdrew from the cabinet, including those from the most important Sunni group, the Accordance Front. Eight of the 29 ministers currently serving now boycott cabinet meetings.
All these developments have contributed to strained relations between the Iraqi government and the US. The Iraqi government’s position in response to the Blackwater security firm’s killing of a number of Iraqi civilians is also likely to add to the tensions.
requesting a review process of the MNF by June 2008;
introducing language recognising that once Iraqi security forces are ready to undertake security responsibilities over the whole territory, the MNF mandate in Iraq would end (similar to language in resolution 1723, which was adopted last year);
indicating, if the Iraqi government requests this in its letter, that this is the last time the Council is giving the MNF a mandate to operate in Iraq;
reminding the MNF of its responsibility to respect international humanitarian and human rights law; and
addressing the humanitarian risks arising from the presence of private security companies in an active combat zone.
A major issue may arise from the division between the Iraqi cabinet and parliament. Prime Minister al-Maliki faces increasing domestic criticism, especially from parliament, about the MNF presence in Iraq. Whether he will agree to consult parliament in accordance with the June 2007 legislation and put to the Council parliament’s conditions for the MNF renewal remains to be seen. This issue is also relevant in the context of national reconciliation, not just between factions but between institutions as well.
Immunity from prosecution (in particular by private security companies) could also become an issue during discussions within the Council.
The US and the UK have the lead and will present a draft resolution to the rest of the Council after receiving the Iraqi letter. They will be opposed to any firm timetable. The terms of the formal Iraqi request for MNF renewal are unlikely to take them by surprise. However, it remains to be seen whether they will have to compromise with Iraq on conditions for the MNF renewal.
Opposition to the MNF renewal by other Council members is very unlikely. However, some may propose amendments. Last year, France proposed language on the completion of the MNF mandate in Iraq when Iraqi forces are ready to assume full responsibility for the maintenance of security and stability in the country. France also requested a six-month review process. Other countries such as Indonesia and Russia may also be interested in a more nuanced approach to approving the presence in Iraq than in previous years.
Iraq’s prime minister supports the US and the UK in opposing any timetable for MNF troop withdrawal. Both the US and the UK seem comfortable with his approach that this would be the last MNF mandate renewal to be authorised by the UN. It remains to be seen, however, how comfortable Council members as a whole are with that approach. It also remains to be seen whether the 5 June legislation will come up. The US and the UK are likely to argue that this is an Iraqi internal matter and that the Council should be guided by the letter from the Iraqi government.
|Selected Security Council Resolutions|
|Latest UNAMI Report|
|MNF Senior Leaders|
|MNF Coalition Partners Participating in Ground Operations as of October 2007 (ranging from more than 5,000 to 100 or fewer soldiers)|
|US (around 168,000 troops), UK, Georgia, Australia, South Korea, Poland, Romania, El Salvador, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Albania, Armenia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova|
Useful Additional Sources
The Iraq Commission Report, UK Iraq Commission