Expected Council Action
In November, Special Representative Ján Kubiš will brief on the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) that will include recommendations from the strategic assessment mission conducted by the Secretariat in April. Kubiš will also brief 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 2016.
Key Recent Developments
The takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in June 2014 has left the Iraqi government without control of approximately one-third of its territory and has led to a widespread protection crisis. On 21 October, OCHA reported that 3.2 million people have been internally displaced since January 2014 and 8.6 million people require assistance.
Meanwhile, Russia’s increasing military involvement in Syria has also created a new dynamic around anti-ISIS strikes in Iraq. On 27 September, the creation of a “coordination cell” in Baghdad was announced for intelligence sharing between Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria. The announcement came three days before Russia commenced its own airstrikes in Syria and at a time when Iranian militias, and possibly some Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’a militias, had been deployed in support of the Syrian regime’s offensive in northwest Syria. Some elements of the Iraqi government have called on Russia to strike ISIS in Iraq, but the US has received assurances that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has made no formal request for a Russian intervention. Some analysts believe that the public rhetoric about Russian airstrikes in Iraq is less about inviting a new military power into the mix and more about pressuring the US to ramp up its strikes against ISIS in Iraq. There is ongoing tension between Baghdad and Washington over anti-ISIS strategies. In particular, the US fears that 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.
When Kubiš last briefed the Council on 22 July, he said that for military advances against ISIS to hold, the government would have to restore civilian authority in areas liberated from ISIS—a reference to the Sunni western provinces, which have a strained relationship with the Shi’a-led government in Baghdad. He added that the government’s effort to stabilise and, in cooperation with the UN, restore services in these areas was commendable but that more needed to be done. At that time, the government offensive had liberated Tikrit. In the months since, the suburbs around Ramadi have also been cleared of ISIS elements and there have been gains around Baiji. However in July, the Iraqi government stopped all government wages and pensions in ISIS-controlled territory. The government argues this measure was taken to cut off ISIS funding since the group extorts money from state employees and pensioners. However, this decision has been criticised as causing unnecessary hardship and leaving the civilian population ever more convinced that the government has abandoned them.
Also discussed at the 22 July briefing was Iraqi reconciliation, and the legislation related to de-Baathification and a proposed national guard. In February, the Iraqi parliament approved the draft national guard law—envisioned as a way for the government to arm Sunni fighters against ISIS—but the exclusion of former Baath party members from public service has stalled the legislation. In response to this deadlock, Qatar hosted the “Doha Congress” for Iraqi reconciliation in September. The Doha meeting stirred controversy in Baghdad, with assertions from Shi’a politicians that the conference was a vehicle for the still illegal Baath party to reassert itself in Iraqi politics. Others said it was a platform to seek unity among Iraqi Sunni leaders. Nonetheless, because of the backlash, Kubiš is likely to argue that it is not the time for Iraq to push this legislation forward.
On 11 August, the Iraqi parliament approved another set of reform packages aimed to address corruption and ease sectarian tension, including the gradual devolution of some powers from Baghdad to provincial governments. More controversially, this set of reforms also included the elimination of three vice-presidencies and deputy premierships and is widely understood to be an attempt to abate the influence of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The affected officials are challenging the constitutionality of these reforms and sixty parliamentarians aligned with Maliki threatened to withdraw their support for Abadi’s reform packages.
Kubiš has also emphasised that an effective partnership between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil is critical to Iraq’s stability and to the fight against ISIS. A December 2014 agreement between Baghdad and Erbil on oil exports and revenue sharing was perceived at the time as a major victory by Prime Minister Abadi that would set the stage for Iraqi cohesion in the face of ISIS. However, an impasse was reached in June 2015, with Baghdad claiming that the KRG did not export a sufficient amount of oil through the central government and the KRG claiming that they did not receive their expected share of the federal budget. At press time, the situation remained stalemated and the KRG had resumed the autonomous exportation of oil via Turkey. Complicating the already fragile stability in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region is the political uncertainty after President Massoud Barzani’s presidential term ended on 20 August. He remains in office. Separately, there are reports that civilians have been killed in Turkish airstrikes against PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) bases in northern Iraq. Both Barzani and Abadi have condemned the Turkish strikes.
Iraq has suffered a fiscal setback due to plummeting global oil prices, the impasse over Kurdish oil exports and the cost of fighting ISIS. As a result, Iraq requested that its final reparation payment to Kuwait, due in 2015, be postponed. The UN Compensation Commission had already agreed previously to postpone the payment until 2016. On 27 October, Iraq announced that Kuwait had agreed to a further postponement until 2017.
On 29 October, 23 residents of Camp Hurriyah were reportedly killed in the first rocket attack to hit the camp since 2013. The camp houses members of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e-Khalq. The attack was claimed by an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’a militia, Jaysh al-Mukhtar, whose stated mission is to protect Iraq’s Shi’a population and aid the government in fighting Sunni extremist groups. The US said it would work with the UN to relocate the remaining camp residents outside of Iraq.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 30th session, the Human Rights Council considered the report of the High Commissioner on technical assistance provided in the promotion and protection of human rights in Iraq (A/HRC/30/66). The report documents numerous reports of gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by ISIS and associated armed groups against civilians, which in some instances may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. ISIS continues to target members of different ethnic and religious communities, intentionally subjecting them to a range of abuses and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The ability of women to enjoy the full range of human rights has deteriorated considerably and children suffer from violence and trauma, bearing the brunt of displacement, the report says. The report also covers the need to strengthen the administration of justice, including by improving respect for due process and fair trial standards through comprehensive legal and institutional reforms.
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 greater cooperation on security and humanitarian issues between the dominant Shi’a Dawa party of Abadi and Kurdish and Sunni parliamentarians, and thereby build confidence in the central government and fortify Iraq’s response to ISIS.
Another issue is how to address the mutually destabilising impact of the war in Syria and the Iraq crisis.
Options seem limited since the security response to ISIS is happening outside the Council’s purview. However, an 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).
Such a statement could also call on the government to cooperate with UNAMI in areas that may require enhanced mission activities such as human rights, rule of law, electoral assistance, security sector reform, stabilisation activities in areas liberated from ISIS and best practices for child protection and gender policies.
Council members uniformly support UNAMI. However, when UNAMI was last renewed in July, many Council members—such as France, New Zealand and the UK—thought it was time for the Council to have a more considered response to the situation in Iraq. (Despite ISIS’s control over a third of Iraqi territory, the mandate had not changed since the adoption of resolution 1770 in 2007.) This is why resolution 2233 requested the Secretary-General to submit a set of recommendations emanating from the Secretariat’s strategic assessment mission of UNAMI conducted in April. Many Council members expect these recommendations will reiterate the need for the Secretariat, in consultation with the Iraqi government, to periodically review and determine the mission’s priorities.
However, Council members now seem to feel that the UNAMI mandate is broad enough and flexible enough to allow Kubiš to fulfil the mission’s good offices role and they no longer seem to contemplate the need for any significant changes in the mandate. Nor do they anticipate Kubiš will ask for any mandate changes.
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 largely disengaged from 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.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 July 2015 S/RES/2233||This resolution renewed UNAMI for a year.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|22 July 2015 S/PV.7489||This was the regular quarterly briefing on Iraq.|
|Security Council Letters|
|16 September 2015 S/2015/723||Iraq reported violations of its airspace by Turkey. While not specified in the letter, it was in reference to Turkish airstrikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq.|
|26 October 2015 S/2015/819||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI.|
|9 July 2015 S/2015/518||This was the Secretary-General’s report on Iraq/Kuwait missing persons and property.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|20 October 2015 SC/12090||Included suggestions to member states for the implementation of resolution 2199 regarding the illicit financing of ISIS and Al-Nusra Front.|
|2 October 2015 SC/12067||This was the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee listing of four ISIS-affiliated individuals and one individual affiliated with Al-Nusra Front.|
|25 September 2015 S/2015/739||A summary by the chair of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee of the Monitoring Team’s report on the implementation of resolution 2199 regarding the illicit financing of ISIS and Al-Nusra Front.|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|27 July 2015 A/HRC/30/66||The report of the High Commissioner on technical assistance provided in the promotion and protection of human rights in Iraq|