Expected Council Action
In mid-November, Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov will brief the Council on the prospects for the effort by Iraqi forces and a US-led coalition to successfully neutralize the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Deliberations will also focus on the newly formed Shi’a-led government and Baghdad’s strained relationship with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish population.
The alarming human rights situation in Iraq will also likely receive attention, with a briefing by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
The Secretary-General’s reports on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and on Iraq’s compliance with resolution 1284 regarding the repatriation or return of Kuwaiti missing persons or property will also be presented.
UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 July 2015.
Key Recent Developments
The crisis in Iraq has sparked a humanitarian and protection crisis. As a result of armed conflict or terrorist acts, 7,700 civilians have been killed and 12,300 injured in 2014. Since January, 1.8 million Iraqis have been displaced, and humanitarian access to 650,000 displaced persons has been restricted in areas controlled by ISIS and associated armed groups.
An already-dire security situation in Iraq reached crisis levels with ISIS’s surprise takeover of Mosul on 10 June. Since then, Iraq has focused on securing Baghdad and the southern provinces. ISIS has controlled Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Anbar province since December 2013, and at press time other areas of the province have also been subject to persistent ISIS attacks. If ISIS consolidates its power in Anbar, it will control borders with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria; transportation routes to Baghdad; and critical infrastructure, such as airbases and dams.
There is also emerging evidence that ISIS is in control of advanced weapons systems. In early October, ISIS used shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down an Iraqi military helicopter. On 24 October, Iraqi officials accused ISIS of using chlorine gas in an attack against security forces and Shi’a militias. The US said it was investigating the incident.
When the Council was last briefed on Iraq, on 23 July, ISIS had just seized north-western Iraq, and Mladenov highlighted that minorities were under attack as a result. Council members issued three press statements between 21 July and 7 August, expressing deep concern over reports of threats against religious and ethnic minorities in ISIS-controlled parts of Iraq.
Mladenov also reported that ISIS had taken control of oil fields and pipelines, increasing its access to financial resources, and on 28 July, the Council adopted a presidential statement prohibiting illicit oil trade as a source of revenue for terrorists. In a further attempt to cut off funding to ISIS, the Council adopted resolution 2170 on 15 August, listing six individuals under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions regime and expressing the Council’s readiness to list individuals involved in financing or facilitating the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. On 24 September, the Council further strengthened its framework for countering foreign terrorist fighters when it adopted resolution 2178, obligating member states to prevent the entry or transit through their territories of any individual when there was credible information that the person was seeking to participate in terrorist acts. (For more information, please see the Counter-terrorism brief in this Monthly Forecast.)
US airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq began on 8 August. Iraq had requested the international community to support the effort to eradicate ISIS on 25 June, and since then some 60 countries have agreed to back the US-led action against ISIS in military, humanitarian and support capacities. On 19 September, the Council adopted a presidential statement urging the international community to strengthen and expand support for Iraq as it fights ISIS.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose leadership was characterised by power consolidation and stoking of sectarian tension, resigned on 14 August after losing support from his Shi’a base and international backers, the US and Iran. Haider al-Abadi succeeded him with a mandate to form an inclusive government to unify Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish citizens. However, there are several indications that a new government may not be sufficient to rein in the sectarian violence. Government bombardment of Sunni civilian areas continues, as does unchecked activity by Shi’a militias.
Abadi’s cabinet was formed on 8 September but with two crucial security posts, the defence and interior ministries, unfilled, largely due to the opposition of parliamentarians aligned with Shi’a militias—in particular the Badr Organisation. The Badr Organisation, which is backed by Tehran, has played a key role in helping to secure Baghdad from ISIS. However, its militia is suspected of having run death squads against Sunni opponents since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraqi parliamentarians were only able to agree on defence and interior ministry candidates on 18 October. Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni leader from Mosul, was approved as minister of defence. Mohammed Ghabban, from the Badr Organisation, was confirmed for the interior ministry, though media reports indicate that Hadi al-Amiri, the head of Badr’s militia, will likely wield the real power. Sunnis opposed putting the Badr bloc in charge of internal Iraqi security. The appointment undermines Abadi’s mandate to form an inclusive government in order to boost Sunnis’ confidence in the central government.
Six Kurdish ministers were also confirmed on 18 October, three more than were initially offered when Abadi’s cabinet was formed in early September. Ministerial appointees from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not participate in the cabinet until the KRG received a larger share of the ministries and the reinstatement of the KRG’s share of financial resources from the Iraqi budget, which Maliki had cut off when the KRG began unilaterally selling its own oil, bypassing the central government.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council held a special session on 1 September at the request of Iraq and adopted a resolution condemning ISIS and associated groups that had violated human rights and international humanitarian law. Since some of their actions may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the resolution requested an investigative mission be urgently dispatched.
On 2 October UNAMI and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a joint report documenting serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross abuses of human rights perpetrated by ISIS and associated armed groups, including attacks directly targeting civilians, executions, abductions, sexual violence, sexual slavery and other forms of violence perpetrated against women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance and denial of fundamental freedoms. A 10 October joint report also expressed alarm at the rise in Iraq’s use of the death penalty since it was restored in 2005, with judges systematically issuing death sentences based solely on disputed evidence (i.e. confessions resulting from torture) and testimony of secret informants.
On 16 October, the High Commissioner referred to ISIS as a potentially genocidal movement and the antithesis of human rights. He added no religious or ethnic group is safe and warned of ISIS’s use of social media to recruit people from across the globe.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović concluded a week-long mission to Iraq on 19 October. He voiced extreme concern at the widespread and systematic human rights violations by ISIS and associated armed groups and said that those committed against the Yezidi community may amount to attempted genocide. He also urged the Iraqi government to accede to the ICC statute and to immediately accept its ad-hoc jurisdiction for crimes committed during the ongoing conflict.
The key issue for the Council is averting the territorial and political disintegration of Iraq, which would have major negative implications for regional and international security.
Another immediate issue is how to address the mutually destabilizing impact of the Syrian civil war and the Iraq crisis—beyond the US-led anti-ISIS operations in both countries.
A possibly more manageable issue is determining how the Council and UNAMI can encourage the factions in the newly formed government—in particular the dominant Shi’a Dawa party of Abadi and Maliki along with Kurdish and Sunni parliamentarians—to cooperate on security and humanitarian issues to build Sunni confidence in the central government and fortify Iraq’s response to ISIS.
Aside from following the situation in Iraq through briefings, Council options seem limited since the security response to ISIS is happening outside the Council’s purview.
However, one option is to adopt a presidential statement calling for the new government to work towards enhanced security and humanitarian coordination with the KRG and Sunni leaders and for UNAMI to support the government in that effort.
In such a statement, the Council could also condemn human rights violations by ISIS and associated armed groups (an indirect reference to former Baathists and Sunni tribal leaders) as well as by Iraqi security forces and associated armed groups (an indirect reference to Shi’a militias).
Another, though less likely option, is for the Council to support OHCHR’s call for the Iraqi government to accede to the ICC and to immediately accept its ad-hoc jurisdiction for crimes committed during the ongoing conflict.
Council members uniformly support UNAMI’s mandate, which they believe is broad enough and flexible enough to allow Mladenov to fulfil the mission’s good-offices role.
There has been a flurry of activity in response to the spread of ISIS since Mladenov last briefed. Nevertheless, Council members have quickly reverted to a “wait-and-see” mode and, except through the lens of counter-terrorism, have largely been unable to approach the connected crises in Iraq and Syria holistically. It is likely that Council members will continue to treat the two situations as discrete issues since condemning the Tehran-backed regime in Damascus cannot be reconciled with supporting the Tehran- and US-backed government in Baghdad.
The Council’s revived engagement on Iraq has been almost exclusively ISIS-related, in that the Council has reinforced its counter-terrorism framework and issued press statements condemning various ISIS attacks and highlighting the group’s threat to ethnic and religious minorities.
However, the Council has been less directly engaged in grappling with the underlying political divisions among Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish populations. For example, it has been difficult for Council members to formulate a response to the government-formation process beyond the routine and general call for an inclusive government.
Some Council members are concerned that a display of support now might be misinterpreted as endorsement of the Badr Organisation. Yet tempering any support with an expression of concern about the activities of the Badr militia or violations by Iraqi security forces could prove difficult given the degree to which the US seeks Iraq’s agreement prior to Council outcomes on Iraq.
Council members Australia, France, Jordan, the UK and the US are part of the anti-ISIS coalition.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|24 September 2014 S/RES/2178||This resolution expanded the counter-terrorism framework by imposing obligations on member states to respond to the threat of foreign terrorist fighters.|
|15 August 2014 S/RES/2170||Condemned the recruitment by ISIS and al-Nusra of foreign fighters and listed six individuals affiliated with those groups under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions regime.|
|30 July 2014 S/RES/2169||This resolution renewed UNAMI for a year and increased the reporting period to every three months versus every four months.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|19 September 2014 S/PRST/2014/20||Welcomed the new Iraqi government and urged international support for Iraq’s fight against ISIS.|
|28 July 2014 S/PRST/2014/14||This presidential statement prohibited illicit oil trade as a source of revenue for terrorists in Iraq and Syria.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|17 October 2014 SC/11605||Condemned ISIS attacks in Baghdad.|
|13 August 2014 SC/11519||This press statement welcomed the nomination of Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi and urged the swift formation of the Iraqi government.|
|7 August 2014 SC/11515||This press statement reiterated messages from the 5 August press statement and condemned the attacks in Iraq’s Ninewa Province by ISIS.|
|5 August 2014 SC/11509||This press statement deplored ISIS attacks, condemned the persecution of minorities and called for accountability and an inclusive political process.|
|21 July 2014 SC/11484||This press statement expressed deep concern over reports of threats against religious and ethnic minorities in Mosul and other parts of Iraq controlled ISIS.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 September 2014 S/PV.7271||Was a ministerial-level debate on Iraq, particularly the ISIS threat.|
|23 July 2014 S/PV.7224||This was a briefing by Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov presenting the Secretary-General’s reports on UNAMI (S/2014/485) and on Iraq/Kuwait missing persons and property (S/2014/480).|
|Security Council Letters|
|25 June 2014 S/2014/440||Iraq requested support to eradicate ISIS.|
|11 July 2014 S/2014/485||This was the Secretary-General’s reports on UNAMI.|
|8 July 2014 S/2014/480||This was the Secretary-General’s reports on Iraq/Kuwait missing persons and property.|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|1 September 2014 A/HRC/RES/S-22/1||Requested a mission be urgently dispatched to investigate ISIS violations.|