Expected Council Action
In April the Council is expecting a report on the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI). Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, is likely to brief the Council in a public session. The US is also likely to brief the Council on the Multi-National Force in Iraq (MNF-I). A debate will follow these briefings, involving participation by Iraq and most Council members.
Key Recent Developments
On 15 March, UNAMI issued a human rights report covering 1 July to 31 December 2007. It noted a marked decrease in violent attacks in the last three months of 2007 as a result of the MNF-I surge, but recognised that Iraq still faced real challenges with sectarian violence. It welcomed improvements in the handling of detainees by Iraqi and coalition forces but emphasised that more efforts were needed in particular regarding the detention of suspects for an indefinite period without charge.
De Mistura last briefed the Council on 21 January. He said priority areas for UNAMI included assisting the Iraqi government in resolving disputed internal boundaries, providing assistance to refugees willing to return, reconstruction and electoral assistance, supporting the Iraq Compact and advancing regional dialogue. The US also gave a briefing on the activities of the MNF-I.
Despite security gains in late 2007, violent death tolls affecting Iraqi civilians rose again in February. At a US Senate hearing in Washington on 11 March, the top official at the US Government Accountability Office, David Walker, said that although the number of insurgent attacks against the US military had dropped from an average of 180 a day in June 2007 to 60 in September 2007, the number of attacks has since remained unchanged.
The situation deteriorated along the Turkey/Iraq border. Turkey conducted several air raids and ground incursions into Kurdistan to fight insurgents from the Kurdistan Workers Party. On 22 February, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for utmost restraint from both sides in border actions.
On 22 February, Muqtada al-Sadr extended for another six months a ceasefire on his Mahdi Army militia. However, the truce quickly came under strain. At time of writing, heavy fighting was taking place in Basra between the Mahdi army and the Iraqi forces—supported by air strikes by British forces—after the Iraqi authorities in Basra imposed a new curfew to reestablish law and order. British forces had returned control of Basra to the Iraqis in December.
The Iraqi Red Crescent said on 6 January that 46,000 Iraqi refugees returned home from Syria between September and December 2007. However, there are reports that the number of refugees is still in excess of 2 million. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has decided to strengthen its presence in Iraq and offered to help the Iraqi government assess conditions required for return.
On 12 January, the Iraqi parliament approved the Accountability and Justice Law, permitting former Ba’athist officials to hold government jobs again. It was interpreted as a positive development toward reconciliation, but some criticised the law for not being comprehensive and for failing to provide Ba’athists with access to evidence used in barring them from state employment or pension rights.
On 13 February, a package of three pieces of legislation was adopted by the Iraqi parliament:
the 2008 budget ($48 billion);
an amnesty law for some of the 50,000 prisoners detained without trial by Iraqi and coalition forces (although it includes many exceptions); and
a law on the power of Iraq’s governorates—although it remains vague about prerogatives given to the governorates on issues such as taxes and the formation of security agencies.
On 27 February, the Presidential Council sent the governorates law back to parliament for amendment. At issue are two provisions said to be contrary to the constitution: the right of the Iraqi parliament to dismiss a local governor by absolute majority and the timing of provincial elections, set in the legislation for 1 October 2008.
The status of Kirkuk: The referendum on whether the Kirkuk governorate should be incorporated into the Kurdistan region was postponed until June. This issue is crucial because of oil reserves in the area and the diverse ethnic composition (many communities in Kirkuk expelled from the region under Saddam Hussein have returned). Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution calls for the return of refugees, compensation for lost property and the reversal of border alterations. A census and then a referendum on the region’s status were supposed to take place by 31 December 2007. However, many uncertainties about article 140 have not been resolved, including the determination of eligible voters, and options for the referendum. Some Council members may be interested in UNAMI’s strategy to assist in the preparation of this referendum.
Constitutional review process: The Constitutional Review Committee requested a six-month extension of the process beyond the previous deadline of 31 December. Among the contentious issues are the power of the presidency, competencies of governorates and regions versus the centre and the institutional framework for allocation of oil and gas revenues. The role of UNAMI’s Office of Constitutional Support, in particular the development of constitutionally mandated legislation, may be an issue of interest to Council members.
Provincial elections: Whether the governorates law will be amended and approved by the Presidential Council so elections can take place in October is an issue. A related concern is the role of the Independent High Electoral Commission in preparing for those elections—issues of transparency remain—and UNAMI’s assistance. Also, power struggles at the provincial level have prevented the appointment of local election commissions; this will require a significant UN organisation effort within a very tight timetable.
Political reconciliation: This remains a major issue and many Council members will be looking for information in this regard. A related issue is the work of the three committees (on energy, border issues and security) involving Iraq’s neighboring countries. A meeting is scheduled in Kuwait in April and a key issue will be the implementation of a UN proposal to establish a permanent mechanism for expanded neighbours’ cooperation. Again some Council members may be looking for updates in this area.
Humanitarian situation: According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in December there were 4.4 million displaced Iraqis, with 2.5 million inside Iraq and about 1.9 million in neighboring countries.
Human Rights: The recent UNAMI human rights report may also be addressed by some Council members.
Another issue is progress of negotiations between the US and the Iraqi government on a long-term US military presence in Iraq, to be concluded in July. US officials said in February that in case of failure to reach agreement, the Iraqi government would seek another renewal of the MNF-I mandate by the Council in December. (Please see our January 2008 Forecast for further background on this issue.)
In the January debate, many Council members reaffirmed their support for UNAMI’s contacts with political forces in Iraq, and members supported an increased UN role in political reconciliation, subject to security constraints.
Some (Russia and Panama in particular) have expressed concerns about the Awakening Councils (coalitions among Sunni tribal leaders to ensure security, which started in the Anbar province and have now become a wider force in the country). These concerns seem to be about a lack of supervision of non-governmental militias. Indonesia has also raised concern about the necessity to prepare the Iraqi forces to be ready to substitute for the MNF-I if it is withdrawn. Libya is concerned that the underlying problem is essentially due to the presence of foreign forces which it believes encourages violence. It has expressed concern that meaningful political dialogue among Iraqis is not possible at this time.
The ongoing impact on civilians who have lost their lives either as a result of military operations or from the resulting sectarian violence is a major underlying concern for many Council members. Precise numbers are very hard to determine and estimates vary considerably. The website Iraq Body Count estimates that between 80,000 and 90,000 civilians have died since the March 2003 invasion. US researchers from Johns Hopkins University estimate that 600,000 people died between 2003 and 2006 as a direct result of the conflict. The World Health Organisation published a study estimating the number to be around 151,000 between 2003 and 2006.
|Selected Security Council Resolutions|
|Latest UNAMI Report|
|Records of the last Security Council briefing and debate on Iraq|
|Special Representative of the Secretary-General|
|Staffan de Mistura (Sweden)|
|Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs|
|Michael von der Schulenburg (Germany)|
|Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian, Reconstruction and Development Affairs|
|David Shearer (New Zealand)|
|Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the International Compact with Iraq|
|Ibrahim Gambari (Nigeria)|
What is the real death toll in Iraq? Jonathan Steele and Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 19 March 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/19/iraq
Debating Devolution in Iraq,Reidar Visser, Middle East Report Online, 10 March 2008, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero031008.html
The Future of Kirkuk: The Referendum and its Potential Impact on Displacement, Elizabeth Ferris and Kimberly Stoltz, The Brookings Institution – University of Bern, 3 March 2008 http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2008/0303_iraq_ferris.aspx
Iraq: Fix Flaws in Reconciliation Law, Human Rights Watch, 21 February 2008, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/21/iraq18125.htm
The Law on the Powers of Governorates Not Organised in a Region: Washington’s ‘Moderate’ Allies Show Some Not-So-Moderate Tendencies, Reidar Visser, Historiae.org, 11 February 2008, www.historiae.org
Iraq’s Civil War, the Sadrists and the Surge, International Crisis Group, Middle East Report N°72, 7 February 2008, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5286