March 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2014
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Expected Council Action

In March, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Nickolay Mladenov will brief the Council on the report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Council members are also due to receive a report from UNAMI on Iraq’s compliance with resolution 1284 regarding the repatriation or return of Kuwaiti nationals or their remains and the return of Kuwaiti property.

The UNAMI mandate expires on 31 July 2014.

Key Recent Developments

During the reporting period, an already dire security situation in Iraq was exacerbated by a surge in fighting between pro- and anti-government forces that erupted late in December 2013 when security forces dismantled a Sunni protest camp near Ramadi in the western province of Anbar, which borders Syria. Following the incident, Al-Qaida-affiliated armed groups, which have proliferated throughout the area and in neighbouring Syria, seized parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah. The government has since launched military operations in the region and co-opted local Sunni tribal leaders, providing them with weapons and funding, to assist forces in expelling the militants. The humanitarian consequences of the fighting have been grave, with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees estimating that 300,000 Iraqis have been displaced so far by fighting in Anbar.

In response, the Council on 10 January adopted a presidential statement, drafted by the US in consultation with Iraq, which deplored in the strongest terms recent events in Ramadi and Fallujah and condemned the attacks by Al-Qaida affiliate the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) which have attempted to destabilise the country and the region (S/PRST/2014/1). The Council also urged the people of Iraq to continue to expand their cooperation against violence and terror.

Elsewhere in Iraq, near-daily fatal attacks, many of them coordinated and sectarian in nature, against civilians, law enforcement and government officials continue. On 2 February, UNAMI issued casualty figures for January, according to which a total of 733 people, including 618 civilians, were killed in acts of terrorism and violence. These numbers did not include victims of the ongoing conflict in Anbar.

Preparations for the 30 April parliamentary elections are largely on track. On 26 August 2013, the courts struck down a law limiting the prime minister to two terms in office, allowing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to run for a third consecutive term. The Speaker of Parliament, Usama al-Nujaifi warned during a 22 January visit to Washington, D.C. that elections may be used to further marginalise Sunnis and that attempts to discourage voting or cause provocation in Sunni areas would weaken their representation in parliament.  Many fear that the elections may further inflame sectarian tensions.

Influential Shi’a cleric Moktada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics on 15 February. In a speech delivered later that week, al-Sadr urged his followers in parliament to continue to serve and encouraged all Iraqis to participate in elections so that they would be represented fairly. He criticised the government, saying it was behaving like a dictatorship and was using the army against the people.

Reports surfaced on 24 February that Iraq had signed a deal to acquire $195 million worth of arms from Iran. The deal, which would be in contravention of a UN embargo on weapons sales by Tehran, was reportedly signed in late November—just weeks after Maliki returned from lobbying Washington for extra weapons to strengthen the efficacy of the security apparatus in its fight against Al-Qaida-linked extremists. The Iraqi government made contradictory statements concerning the deal. The defense ministry—facing pressure from the US—denied that a contract had been signed, however, a senior government lawmaker said Baghdad had bought “some light weapons and ammunition” from Tehran. On 27 January the Pentagon had notified US Congress that it intends to sell 24 Apache helicopters and 500 Hellfire missiles to Iraq in a deal worth upwards of $6 billion. Several Iraqi lawmakers had reportedly claimed that Maliki made the deal with Tehran out of frustration with delays in US arms deliveries.

With both the US and Iran encouraging a reconciliation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government ahead of the April elections, the two sides held a round of negotiations on oil exports and revenue sharing on 16 February. The talks have delayed the adoption of the 2014 budget. Kurdistan has threatened to sell oil and natural gas to Turkey without the approval of the central government, raising fears that attaining economic independence would lead to a broader declaration of independence.

With regard to the Iraq-Kuwait file, the Geneva-based UN Compensation Commission, which settles the damage claims of those who suffered losses due to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, paid $1.03 billion to Kuwait on 23 January, bringing the total amount disbursed to $44.5 billion.

On 26 December 2013, three residents of Camp Hurriyah were killed and 70 were wounded in the fourth rocket attack to hit the camp in 2013. The camp houses members of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). The group has accused the government of being behind the attack. However, the attack was claimed by the militant group Jaysh al-Mukhtar, whose stated mission is to protect Iraq’s Shi’a population and aid the government in fighting Sunni extremist groups. Its leader, Wathiq al-Battat, was arrested at a Baghdad checkpoint on 2 January.

On 5 January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Jane Holl Lute as his Special Advisor for Relocation of Camp Hurriyah Residents Outside of Iraq.

Human Rights-Related Developments

Iraq has continued wide use of the death penalty, reportedly hanging 26 people accused of terrorism on 22 January. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has deplored what she called the “conveyor belt of executions by the government of Iraq”. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its 2013 annual report that Iraq hanged at least 151 people last year. HRW also published a report on 6 February that claimed that Iraq is illegally detaining thousands of women—the vast majority of whom are Sunnis—and subjecting many to torture and ill treatment, including sexual abuse.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on 9 December 2013 called on Iraq to clarify the whereabouts of seven residents of Camp Ashraf (which previously held the MEK dissidents) who were allegedly kidnapped after an attack on the camp on 1 September 2013 that left 52 dead.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is how UNAMI can continue to contribute to the stability of Iraq and play a role in facilitating an end to the political stalemate, the humanitarian crisis and sectarian tension.

A related issue is how the Council can support an inclusive political process through the holding of free and fair elections in April.

A further issue will be whether and how to address the destabilising impact of the Syrian conflict on Iraq—in particular the proliferation of extremist armed groups operating in both countries.

The issue of Camp Hurriyah and the future disposition of the Iranian exiles housed there is also of ongoing concern to Council members.


One option is for the Council is to receive the briefing and take no action. However, given the situation on the ground, it is possible that the Council will issue a statement addressing the security and humanitarian concerns.

As the March briefing will be the last regular briefing before the April elections, another option is for the Council to issue a statement urging all stakeholders to work to ensure that elections are conducted peacefully and in a free and fair manner.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members have in the past found that publicly addressing the growing violence in Iraq has been difficult, primarily because of US sensitivities related to its 2003 invasion. As such, beyond the routine annual renewals of UNAMI, the Council had remained largely silent on Iraq. However, in recent months the Council has responded to the situation by adopting both a presidential and press statement. This could signal that, given the political, humanitarian and regional implications of the proliferation of extremist groups and increased violence, Council members may be looking to increase engagement on Iraq.

The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues.

UN Documents on Iraq

Security Council Resolution
24 July 2013 S/RES/2110 This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMI until 31 July 2014.
Security Council Presidential Statement
10 January 2014 S/PRST/2014/1 This was a presidential statement supporting government efforts to address the security situation and condemning attacks perpetrated by Al-Qaida affiliate ISIL.
Secretary-General’s Reports
13 November 2013 S/2013/661 This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI.
11 November 2013 S/2013/654 This was the Secretary-General’s report on the Iraq/Kuwait missing persons and property issue.
Security Council Press Statement
25 November 2013 SC/11186 This was a press statement condemning the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Iraq and expressing support to the government in addressing the country’s security needs.