Expected Council Action
In November, Special Representative Ján Kubiš will brief the Council on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and provide an update on the campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 July 2017.
Key Recent Developments
On 15 July, Kubiš briefed the Council on Iraq’s deepening political crisis and challenges to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reform efforts, as well as on projected increased humanitarian needs in the context of counter-ISIL operations.
On 17 October, Iraqi government forces launched the campaign to retake Mosul from ISIL, supported by Kurdish troops and Sunni tribal fighters with the US-led anti-ISIL coalition providing air support. This will be the last major offensive to restore government control over territory that ISIL has held since the fall of Mosul in June 2014. After the campaigns to retake Ramadi and Fallujah earlier this year, ISIL holds only about 10 percent of Iraqi territory.
The Shi’a militia Hashd al-Shaabi, which constitutes the popular mobilisation forces (PMF), nominally under the command and control of the government, have also announced their participation in the Mosul offensive. As during the Fallujah campaign, the PMF is expected to operate mostly on the perimeter of Mosul in deference to the US position that Iraq’s use of Shi’a militias in Sunni areas stokes sectarian tension and deepens the distrust of the Shi’a-led government among Sunni leaders. Nevertheless, some government forces have reportedly flown flags displaying Shi’a symbols, despite Abadi’s promises that the Mosul offensive would be a national effort.
The PMF has announced that it will take Tal Afar, to cut off the escape route of ISIL fighters from Mosul to Syria. However, PMF presence along escape routes can also interfere with civilians trying to flee Mosul, particularly in the context of the PMF’s “security screenings”. The PMF has been accused of abusing Sunnis in the aftermath of past anti-ISIL campaigns. In July, the UN reported that 640 Sunni men and boys had been abducted by the Shi’a militia during security screenings when fleeing Fallujah and another 50 had been summarily executed or tortured to death. On 18 September, a bloc of 70 parliamentarians announced their plans to introduce a draft law that would grant immunity to the PMF.
UN officials anticipate that the humanitarian consequences of a campaign to dislodge 5,000 ISIL fighters from Mosul, which has a current estimated population of between 1.2 and 1.5 million, will be significantly worse than the Fallujah exodus. OCHA has said that ISIL, as in Fallujah, could hold the civilian population as human shields or forcibly expel large numbers of civilians in the face of an attack by Iraqi forces. In a worst-case scenario, almost a million people could be displaced. While OCHA and humanitarian partners are preparing 250,000 shelter units, their response plan for the worst-case scenario remains severely underfunded.
The government’s campaign to retake Mosul comes amid ongoing challenges to Abadi’s leadership and his cabinet. In April, Abadi put forward a cabinet of technocrats to counter corruption and curtail the power of political actors opposed to reform efforts. It continues to be stalled in parliament, while other appointments have been rolled back. The parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is widely believed to be seeking to regain the premiership, has instigated investigations that led to the 25 August dismissal of Sunni Defense Minister Khalid al Obeidi and the 21 September dismissal of Kurdish Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari. In July, Abadi was forced to accept the resignation of Shi’a Interior Minister Mohammed al Ghabban following a string of terrorist attacks in Baghdad. All three posts remain vacant. Foreign Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari was subject to questioning by parliament on 6 October. Meanwhile, on 10 October, the Iraqi Federal Court declared unconstitutional Abadi’s August 2015 decision to eliminate the three vice-presidencies (of which Maliki holds one).
This political discord in Baghdad will make it harder for the government to focus on the re-stabilisation needs of areas liberated from ISIL, in particular to address the disastrous conditions which internally displaced persons face. UN officials have repeatedly flagged their concerns about lagging re-stabilisation efforts. UNAMI has said that for military advances against ISIL to hold, the government, in cooperation with the UN, would have to work quickly to restore the rule of law and basic services. This is particularly important in relation to the Sunni provinces, which have a strained relationship with the Shi’a-led government in Baghdad.
In other developments, there has been heightened rhetoric between Ankara and Baghdad following Turkey’s 1 October decision to renew its presence in northern Iraq for a further year. Turkey maintains that its presence in the Ba’shiqa region near Mosul is to counter the activities of ISIL and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Turkey also wants to play a role in the Mosul offensive, which Baghdad opposes. Media reports indicate that Iraq wants a commitment from Turkey that it will withdraw after Mosul is liberated. On 17 October, Iraq sent a letter to the Security Council objecting to the Turkish incursion into Iraqi territory.
On 12 October, Council members were briefed on northern Iraq as part of a situational awareness briefing presented by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. Council members heard that the presence of the PMF, the PKK and Turkey was a challenge to a cohesive military strategy to liberate Mosul from ISIL. The competing interests of these forces risked prolonged conflict with the potential to trigger a regional war.
On 18 October, the 2242 Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security met on the rapidly unfolding humanitarian crisis in Iraq that has been caused by ISIL and the counter-insurgency operations launched against it. During that meeting Council members heard that ISIL is targeting women from minority communities as well as women who engage in professional work, activists, or any who do not conform to their idea of gender norms. Beyond ISIL, women may also be the subject of retaliation by local militias who suspect them of having collaborated with ISIL, or may be separated from their husbands or male family members as they are “screened” by security forces. Meanwhile, the escalation of the crisis has coincided with the increased political marginalization of women in decision-making, both at the national and the local level, and this will likely not be a consideration in local governance plans for Mosul when it is liberated. There is not a single woman in the various command cells administering the return of population to liberated areas and the lead government entity for women was abolished and has not been replaced.
Finally, as per resolution 1958, the indemnification period for the “oil-for-food” programme ends on 31 December 2016. The UN has yet to conclude an agreement with Iraq to protect the UN from liability resulting from the oil-for-food programme. Without such an agreement, the issue may have to revert to the Security Council.
Developments in the Sanctions Committee
The immediate issue for the Council is how to address the impact of the anti-ISIL military campaign on the human rights, humanitarian and security situations in Iraq.
Another key issue is promoting a genuinely inclusive government accountable to the Iraqi people. A related issue is determining how the Council and UNAMI can support Prime Minister Abadi’s reform process and encourage greater cooperation on financial, security and humanitarian issues between Abadi’s dominant Shi’a Dawa party and Kurdish and Sunni parliamentarians.
Options seem limited since the security response to ISIL is happening outside the Council’s purview. However, the Council could adopt a statement:
- calling on all parties to strictly adhere to international human rights and international humanitarian law and take every step possible to protect civilians;
- calling on the government to screen civilians fleeing conflict areas in strict accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian law, underscoring that such screening should not be conducted by paramilitary groups;
- calling on the government to work towards enhanced security and humanitarian coordination with Kurdish and Sunni leaders and for UNAMI to support the government in that effort; and
- calling on the government to cooperate with UNAMI in areas that may require enhanced mission activities, such as human rights, rule of law, security sector reform, stabilisation activities in areas liberated from ISIL and best practices for child protection and gender policies.
Council members uniformly support the UN’s role in Iraq and UNAMI’s mandate, which they believe is broad enough and flexible enough to allow Kubiš to fulfil the mission’s good offices role.
However, except through the lens of counter-terrorism, Council members have been unwilling to approach the connected crises in Iraq and Syria holistically. Similarly, the Council has not directly grappled with the underlying political divisions among Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish populations except for bland calls for an inclusive government. It has shown little willingness to address Iraq’s relationship with neighbouring Turkey, instead exhibiting preference for the two member states to resolve the issue bilaterally and to keep the disagreement out of the Council.
The US is the penholder on Iraq.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|25 July 2016 S/RES/2299||This was a resolution renewing UNAMI for a year.|
|5 July 2016 S/2016/592||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI.|
|Security Council Letters|
|17 October 2016 S/2016/870||This letter was from Iraq objecting to the Turkish incursion into Iraqi territory.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 July 2016 S/PV.7738||This was a briefing by Special Representative Ján Kubiš.|