Expected Council Action
The Council is expecting a briefing on Iraq from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura. (The next report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is expected by 18 February.) The UNAMI mandate expires on 7 August.
It is unclear whether the Council will also receive a briefing on the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) and its International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB). Resolution 1859 of 22 December requests reporting on this by 31 March. The Council synchronised the last IAMB briefing with the UNAMI briefing in June. Resolution 1859 also encouraged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to brief the Council in January.
The annual report of the sanctions committee established by resolution 1518 is expected in early 2009. The committee was to identify and freeze assets of senior officials of the former Iraqi regime and their families. The committee has been largely dormant and did not meet in 2008.
A report by the working group on outstanding issues from the oil-for-food programme is anticipated. The Council is yet to take a formal decision on how to resolve related outstanding issues (for more details please see our October 2008 Forecast).
Key Recent Developments
Electoral campaigning for the 31 January elections in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces commenced on 8 December. A total of 14,431 candidates (including 3,912 women) representing 407 political entities will contest 440 seats. In the lead-up, several candidates have died in what appear to be politically motivated killings.
In the three Kurdish provinces, elections are yet to be scheduled by the Kurdish Regional Government. Elections in Tamim/Kirkuk governorate are also delayed until a power-sharing arrangement is in place and a separate election law is drafted (a committee is expected to conclude work on this issue by 31 March). Political tensions were heightened during the pre-election period. Rumours about a possible vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki persist. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani joined the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council in resisting Maliki’s establishment of tribal support councils. These are seen by some as a means to centralise his power.
On 23 December, Sunni politician Mahmoud al-Mashhadani resigned as Parliament speaker after complaints by Kurdish and Shiite blocs regarding his performance. Disagreements over his replacement have led to the fragmentation of the main Sunni coalition, Tawafiq, weakening the bloc before provincial elections. A new speaker is expected to be elected when parliament reconvenes on 3 February.
Despite the electoral tensions, Iraq’s overall security situation continues to improve while remaining fragile. In the fourth quarter of 2008, civilian deaths fell by almost 63 percent compared with the same period in 2007. The lack of essential services has replaced security as the biggest concern for most Iraqis, who still live without clean water, electricity, sewage services and healthcare.
The UN mandate of the multinational force expired on 31 December. On 4 December, after months of uncertainty, Iraq’s presidency council approved security and strategic framework agreements with the US, which govern the presence of US forces after their UN mandate expires and define longer-term cultural, economic and security ties. To secure parliamentary support, the Iraqi government met Sunni demands to hold a referendum on the agreements no later than 30 July. Approval for non-US troops to also remain in Iraq after 31 December was granted on 28 December. Countries covered include the UK, Australia, El Salvador (which announced the end of its mission on 22 January), Estonia, Romania and the NATO training mission. Nineteen coalition force partners concluded their activities in Iraq between September and December.
On 22 December, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1859 extending until 31 December 2009 arrangements to deposit DFI proceeds from export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas into the DFI and the monitoring activities of the IAMB, including DFI-related immunity provisions which prevent creditors from being able to seize Iraqi oil revenue and financial assets. Iraq reportedly earned about $60 billion in crude oil sales in 2008 and relies on oil exports for about 95 percent of its revenue. On 22 December the Paris Club of creditor nations cancelled $7.8 billion of Iraq’s Saddam-era debt owed to members. Creditors agreed in 2004 to waive about $32 billion or 80 percent of Iraq’s total debt over four years.
After resolution 1859 was adopted, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that although remarkable progress had been achieved, Iraq still faced many challenges. These include undertaking constitutional review, finding sustainable solutions to power and resource sharing, adopting hydrocarbons legislation, resolving disputed territories, building government capacity on service provision and facilitating the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Given that the current Iraq government inherited immense debt and international claims from Saddam Hussein’s regime, the administration was requesting an extension of DFI arrangements to allow time to qualify and settle legitimate claims, and to ensure Iraq’s resources and financial assets were available for reconstruction projects.
In late December, Turkey said the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had suffered heavy losses in military airstrikes in northern Iraq since 16 December. Earlier, in November, the US, Iraq and Turkey formed a joint committee to combat the PKK. This committee is expected to meet every two months to exchange intelligence and coordinate security measures. Kurdistan’s authorities have reportedly demanded UNAMI pressure on Iran and Turkey to end their military action in Kurdistan.
Another option, given the now clear commitment to drawdown US forces in Iraq, is for the Council to start thinking about whether the UN could or should play a larger role in Iraq and in particular, assisting Iraq in identifying political solutions to address core grievances. The appointment of a dedicated negotiator to work with Iraq and within the region on a comprehensive strategy is an option.
A third option is to begin consultations with Iraq about the need to continue the sanctions committee.
(For options on the outstanding oil-for-food issues, please see our October 2008 Forecast.)
A key issue in light of the heighted tension is how successful the conduct of the 31 January elections proves. (It will also be interesting to see whether the formula where parties winning three or more seats give every third seat to a female candidate will yield the 25 percent quota as was intended in the electoral law.)
Other key issues include:
- National/political reconciliation: This remains a major underlying issue. Many Council members will be following this closely. It seems that progress in resolving issues fundamental to peace and prosperity is poor.
- Disputed internal boundaries, including Kirkuk: Article 23 of the Governorate Electoral Law created a parliamentary committee to make recommendations by 31 March on power sharing, violations against public and private property and Kirkuk’s demographic changes after which a special law for elections in the ethnically disputed governorate will be drafted. The final UNAMI report on the remaining disputed areas, expected in November 2008, has been delayed to ensure its release does not interfere with elections and the work of this committee.
- Constitutional review process: In July, the Constitutional Review Committee provided the presidency council and prime minister with its final report, including issues where it had been unable to reach a consensus. Outstanding issues include the power of the presidency, competencies of governorates and regions versus the centre and allocation of oil and gas revenues.
- Humanitarian efforts to support the return of refugees and internally displaced persons: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 2.8 million people are still displaced in Iraq with another two million outside Iraq, mainly in Jordan and Syria. UNHCR will expand its operations in Iraq in 2009 and will have a presence in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces.
- Human Rights: The recent UNAMI human rights report for the January- June 2008 period may be addressed by some Council members.
Another issue is the difference between the Council and the IAMB on who within the IAMB should brief the Council. The IAMB previously informed the Council that briefings should be done by the Secretary-General’s designee. (This followed a request made by Russia during a Council meeting in December 2007 for a briefing on DFI activities by the IMF in Washington.) It seems the IAMB position is unchanged following the Council’s decision in resolution 1859 to request a briefing from the IMF and World Bank.
A key question is whether, as the US presence in Iraq declines, it will continue to maintain an ongoing heightened focus in helping Iraq resolve outstanding political issues and whether it will work principally bilaterally as in the past or shift to more multilateral support.
Turkey will be an important new influence on Council dynamics. Turkey has two key interests in Iraq—a strong political interest in Iraq, maintaining its multiethnic structure (particularly in Kirkuk) and terrorism, specifically the PKK elements located in northern Iraq. It is likely, therefore, it will take a particular interest in UNAMI’s activities on disputed internal boundaries and national reconciliation.
Selected Security Council Resolutions
Latest UNAMI Report
Last Security Council Briefing and Debate on Iraq
Special Representative of the Secretary-General
Staffan de Mistura (Sweden)
Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs
Andrew Gilmour (United Kingdom)
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)
Coalition Force Personnel
UNAMI Human Rights Report, 1 January – 30 June 2008 (released in December)