May 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 May 2015
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Expected Council Action

In mid-May, newly appointed Special Representative Ján Kubiš will brief the Council on 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. UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 July.

Key Recent Developments

On 17 February, former Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov used his final briefing to the Council as head of UNAMI to deliver several messages to the Iraqi government. He said it was important to reign in fighters acting outside the constitution (a reference to Shi’a militias carrying out revenge attacks on Sunnis), rebuild the security forces on a truly national basis and revise the laws related to de-Baathification. Another priority, he added, was to finalise the national guard legislation to empower provinces to be responsible for their own security and bring arms under the control of the government.

On 3 February, the Iraqi parliament approved the draft law to create a national guard, which is envisioned as a way for the government to arm Sunni fighters to cooperate with the government against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, the exclusion of former Baath party members from public service remains a stumbling block to the finalisation of the law. Meanwhile, on 23 February, the parliament allocated significant funds to support the “popular mobilisation forces”—Shi’a militias that have united under the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to confront ISIS. The formation of a national guard remains prospective while the popular mobilisation forces are already active, including in the Sunni heartlands of Iraq.

Since the surprise takeover of Mosul by ISIS in June 2014, what was already a dire situation has continued to deteriorate into an even more widespread humanitarian and protection crisis, leaving 2.6 million people internally displaced. In mid-April, 90,000 people fled from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, amidst an ISIS encroachment that was being fought off by Iraqi security forces and US-led airstrikes. By late March, ISIS had been pushed out of Tikrit after a month-long campaign by Iraqi forces and Shi’a militias. The US-led anti-ISIS coalition provided air support only at the end of the operation.

Cooperation between Iraq and the US-led coalition has allowed the government to gain ground against ISIS. However, in both Tikrit and Ramadi there were tensions between Baghdad and Washington over the role of the Shi’a popular mobilisation forces. In both cases, the militias had to withdraw before the US-led coalition would provide air support. These militias had portrayed their Tikrit offensive as retribution for the Camp Speicher massacre of Iraqi air force cadets committed by ISIS last June. The militias had also made ominous statements about how they would treat “Sunni collaborators”. The US fears Iraq’s use of Shi’a militias in Sunni areas stokes sectarian tension, deepens the distrust of the Shi’a-led government among Sunni leaders in the western provinces and entrenches support for ISIS. (Sunnis in ISIS-controlled areas are often attacked for cooperating with the government. Meanwhile, they are also targeted by Shi’a militias working in tandem with Iraqi forces.)

Almost immediately after the government took control of Tikrit, reports emerged that Shi’a militias were looting and burning homes and shops. Abadi said several people were arrested for this and were awaiting trial. The Secretary-General, who visited Baghdad on 30 March, expressed concern about allegations of summary killings, abductions and destruction of property committed by militias fighting alongside Iraqi forces. He said such groups must be brought under government control.

Officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have also expressed concern about the government’s use of Shi’a militias. Part of this criticism stems from Kurdish frustrations that, while Baghdad is paying members of the Shi’a popular mobilisation forces, the capital had withheld budget funds due the KRG and the peshmerga, the Kurdish force that is also fighting ISIS. Tensions flared in February when popular mobilisation forces approached the long-disputed, oil-rich and peshmerga-held city of Kirkuk, ostensibly to counter ISIS. KRG officials prohibited the Shi’a militias from entering the city. The ruffled relationship was smoothed out after Abadi’s first visit to the Kurdish provincial capital in early April to announce that Baghdad had transferred to the KRG its share of revenue and to discuss cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to retake Mosul from ISIS.

In his first state visit to Washington in mid-April, Abadi sought US support for the anti-ISIS offensive in Anbar, which is to be followed by another offensive to dislodge the group from Mosul this summer. Part of that discussion included how Baghdad could keep US air support and intelligence efforts separate from activities by Tehran-backed Shi’a militias. The delivery of advanced weapons systems and military training was also agreed. For his part, US President Barack Obama said that Iran had an important relationship with Iraq but that all fighters needed to be under government control.

While Baghdad is reliant upon US airpower, control on the ground has been sustained by Shi’a militias and the Kurdish peshmerga. For example, in the government’s Tikrit offensive, it is estimated two-thirds of the 30,000-strong force were militia members. It has been difficult to secure a competent military and the cooperation of Sunni tribal fighters, which are needed to break the stalemate and tip the balance toward the government. In principle, Baghdad’s promises to support Sunni fighters against ISIS by arming them and absorbing them into a prospective national guard may offer a way forward. However, in practice, delivering on this promise is controversial in Baghdad and remains elusive since it is only envisioned as a possibility after Iraqi forces clear ISIS from the Sunni-dominated western provinces. Similarly, restructuring a notoriously corrupt military into a force trusted by all sects in Iraq and capable of retaking Mosul by the summer of 2015 seems equally challenging.

In other developments, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura visited Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey in March to gain a better understanding of the needs of displaced populations who are affected by sexual violence.

Finally, in a 24 March “oil-for-food” report, the Secretary-General said that Iraq had yet to waive future claims against the UN when the indemnification period ends on 31 December 2016. (Resolution 1958 of 2010 terminated the oil-for-food programme and established an escrow account to provide indemnification to the UN for six years, at which point remaining funds would be transferred to Iraq.) He further reported that he would revert to the Security Council in the absence of a successfully concluded indemnity agreement with Iraq to protect the UN from liability resulting from the oil-for-food programme.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 12 February, the Council adopted resolution 2199, which addressed the funding of ISIS via illegal oil exports, trafficking in cultural heritage, ransom payments and external donations. Jordan and France subsequently arranged an Arria-formula meeting on 27 April where UNESCO and INTERPOL briefed UN member states on how they could implement the cultural heritage provisions of resolution 2199.

A recent report of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee’s Monitoring Team establishes that 25,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries are linked to Al-Qaida and ISIS, with an overwhelming majority of those fighters in Iraq and Syria. The report also raises the spectre that the unintended consequence of defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria could be the global dispersal of these violent fighters as they return home or move on to other networks.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In March, the Human Rights Council considered the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Iraq in the context of abuses committed by ISIS and associated groups from June 2014 to February 2015 (A/HRC/28/18). The report, compiled by an investigative team sent to the region by the High Commissioner late last year, found that widespread abuses committed by ISIS include killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery, forced religious conversions and the conscription of children, amounting to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, with some constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes. The information strongly suggests that ISIS may have perpetrated genocide against the Yezidi population.

The report also found that members of the Iraqi security forces and associated militia groups may have committed war crimes by perpetrating murder, cruel treatment and torture, taking hostages, directing attacks against the civilian population, pillaging, ordering the displacement of the civilian population or destroying or seizing the property of an adversary. There were allegations that militia members and Iraqi security forces executed at least 70 Sunni civilians in different locations in Diyala governorate on 26 January. The government has announced investigations into these incidents, but the findings have yet to be made public. The report concluded more information is needed on the link between the militias and the government, but at the very least the government has failed to protect persons under its jurisdiction. The report called on the Human Rights Council to urge the Security Council to address information that points to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and to consider referring the situation in Iraq to the ICC.

Similar findings were delivered directly to the Security Council by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on 18 November 2014. On 27 March, the Security Council heard again from the High Commissioner on the plight of the Yezidis at a ministerial-level open debate on persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. At that meeting, the High Commissioner conveyed the report’s recommendation that Iraq should be referred to the ICC. (On 8 April, the ICC Prosecutor said her office could only investigate if the Security Council referred the situation since Iraq is not a party to the Rome Statute.)

Also on 27 March, the Human Rights Council adopted, by consensus, an Iraqi-drafted resolution that condemned violations by ISIS (A/HRC/RES/28/32). The resolution does not specifically mention the alleged violations by Iraqi forces and associated militias or the recommendation for the Human Rights Council to urge the Security Council to address information that points to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is supporting a genuinely inclusive government. In this regard, an issue is determining how the Council and UNAMI can encourage the government—in particular the dominant Shi’a Dawa party of Abadi 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.

Another issue is how to address the mutually destabilising impact of the Syrian civil war and the Iraq crisis beyond the US-led anti-ISIS operations in both countries.


Options seem limited since the security response to ISIS is happening outside the Council’s purview. However, in addition to Kubiš, the Council could invite Special Representative Bangura to brief on her recent visit to the region which included Iraq—in particular on how UNAMI could assist the government to enhance its response to survivors of sexual violence.

Another option is to adopt a statement calling for the 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).

Options for the Council to address the pressing issue of accountability would be to refer the situation to the ICC or express support for the High Commissioner’s call for the Iraqi government to accede to the Rome Statute, and, as an immediate step, to accept the exercise of the ICC’s jurisdiction with respect to the current situation.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members uniformly support UNAMI’s mandate, which they believe is broad enough and flexible enough to allow Kubiš to fulfil the mission’s good offices role.

Despite a flurry of activity in the latter half of 2014 in response to the spread of ISIS, Council members have quickly reverted to a “wait-and-see” mode on Iraq. Except through the lens of counter-terrorism, Council members have been unable to approach the connected crises in Iraq and Syria holistically. It is likely that they will continue to treat the two situations as discrete issues. Condemning the Tehran-backed regime in Damascus is difficult to reconcile with supporting the Tehran- and US-backed government in Baghdad.

Similarly, the Council has been less directly engaged in grappling with the underlying political divisions among Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish populations except for bland calls for an inclusive government. For example, Council members have yet to directly condemn violations by Iraqi security forces or militias. This trend will likely continue given the degree to which the US seeks Iraq’s agreement prior to Council outcomes on Iraq. (The recent drafting of the Human Rights Council’s Iraq resolution by Iraq itself suggests that this approach reaches beyond the Security Council.)

Council members France, Jordan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain, the UK and the US are part of the anti-ISIS coalition—though not all directly participate in air strikes.

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

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Security Council Resolutions
12 February 2015 S/RES/2199 Was on ISIS and Al-Nusra’s illicit funding via oil exports, traffic of cultural heritage, ransom payments and external donations.
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 Meeting Records
27 March 2015 S/PV.7419 French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius chaired a ministerial-level open debate on the situation of persecuted ethnic or religious minorities in the Middle East.
17 February 2015 S/PV.7383 This was the regular quarterly briefing on Iraq.
18 November 2014 S/PV.7314 This was the quarterly briefing on Iraq, with briefings by the head of UNAMI, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and OCHA.
Secretary-General’s Reports
24 March 2015 S/2015/208 This was the “oil-for-food” escrow account.
2 February 2015 S/2015/82 This was the report of the Secretary-General on UNAMI.
30 January 2015 S/2015/70 This was the report of the Secretary-General on Iraq/Kuwait missing persons and property.

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