February 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

Expected Council Action

In February, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ján Kubiš will brief the Council on the latest Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). His briefing is likely to focus on the security and humanitarian impact of the government’s military campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 July 2017.

Key Recent Developments

On 17 October 2016, Iraqi government forces, supported by Kurdish troops and Sunni tribal fighters with the US-led coalition providing air support, launched the military operation to retake Mosul from ISIL. After the government forces liberated Ramadi and Fallujah in 2016, Mosul remains the last major stronghold of ISIL in Iraq. On 9 November 2016, Kubiš briefed the Council on the humanitarian consequences arising from the Mosul offensive. At that time, some 42,000 people had been displaced from Mosul, while the vast majority of its inhabitants, projected at over one million, faced dire humanitarian conditions.    

In the initial phase of the Mosul offensive, Iraqi forces liberated one quarter of the city’s territory, but the operation stalled due to ISIL’s use of suicide bombings, sniper attacks and other guerrilla tactics. On 27 December 2016, a US-led anti-ISIL coalition airstrike destroyed the last remaining bridge over Tigris River that connected the east and the west sides of Mosul. In addition to limiting the movement of ISIL fighters between the two sides of the city, the destruction of the bridge also impaired movement of civilians. On 29 December 2016, the second phase of the offensive began to retake the eastern side of Mosul. On 23 January, the Iraqi government announced that its forces were in full control of the eastern side of the city.

Meanwhile, while losing ground in Mosul, ISIL has increased terrorist attacks in other parts of Iraq. It claimed responsibility for a 31 December 2016 double bomb attack and a 2 January car bomb attack in predominantly Shi’a neighbourhoods of Baghdad.  

According to OCHA, more than 160,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since 17 October 2016. Given the ongoing offensive and anticipated push by the Iraqi forces into the western side of Mosul, OCHA predicts a risk of further displacement, potentially an additional half million people. Close to 90 percent of internally displaced persons are sheltered in the emergency camps run by the Iraqi government and UN agencies. Council members have been updated on the humanitarian aspect of the Mosul offensive on two occasions. On 2 November 2016, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour and the head of OCHA, Stephen O’Brien, briefed Council members in consultations under “any other business” on the human rights and humanitarian implications of the offensive to liberate Mosul. This meeting was initiated by Egypt and the US following a request by Iraq. In the second meeting held on 4 January, at the request of Russia, O’Brien briefed Council members again on the humanitarian situation in and around Mosul. 

On 26 November 2016, the Iraqi parliament approved a law that integrated Shi’a-led militias, or the popular mobilisation forces (PMF), into the Iraqi armed forces. The law placed the PMF on payroll of the government and under the nominal command of the prime minister. Some Sunni politicians raised objections to the law on the grounds that it would contribute to deepening sectarianism in the country and fragment the national military forces. The PMF forces, estimated at around 100,000, are involved in military operations in predominantly Sunni areas, including the Mosul offensive.

In December 2016, Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Iraqi National Alliance, the largest Shi’a block in the parliament, met with the members of the major Sunni bloc, the National Forces Alliance. Al-Hakim presented his national reconciliation plan which sought to ease the protracted sectarian and political divisions in the country. At press time, the details of the plan were not public and the leaders of both blocs seemed to be working on a compromise document. UNAMI has stressed that while this is solely an Iraqi initiative, UNAMI will assist the government in all national reconciliation efforts.

On 7 January, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad. Following the meeting, Abadi said a deal had been reached regarding the Turkish presence in Ba’shiqa region of Iraq, This, however, was not confirmed by Yildirim. The relationship between Ankara and Baghdad has been strained because of the continued presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq. Despite Baghdad’s objections, Turkey maintains troops in the Bashiqa region near Mosul to counter the activities of ISIL and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey also wishes to participate in the Mosul military offensive, which Baghdad opposes.

The indemnification period for the “oil-for-food” programme ended on 31 December as mandated by resolution 1958. On 30 December, prior to the expiry of this provision, the Council adopted resolution 2335 authorising the Secretary-General to continue to maintain the escrow account until 30 June 2017. The UN has yet to conclude an agreement with Iraq to protect the UN from liability resulting from the oil-for-food programme.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In an informal briefing to the Human Rights Council on 30 November, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, condemned reported grave violations of human rights by ISIL in and around Mosul, including the use of human shields, abductions and the killing of suspected informants. Gilmore noted that progress by the Iraqi government towards ensuring justice for victims and survivors, respecting human rights and international law and supporting the restoration and reconstruction of communities was encouraging, but considerable challenges remained.

In a press statement issued on 21 January, UNAMI called on the Iraqi government to investigate reports of torture and murder of captured terrorist suspects in Mosul. The call for investigation came after video had been circulated on social media sites allegedly showing “the brutal mistreatment and murder of at least three captured ISIL members in a retaken area between Intisar and Karma neighbourhoods of east Mosul at the hands of what appears to be Iraqi Security Forces Personnel”. At a press briefing on 24 January, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the announcement by the Iraqi government that it has ordered an investigation into the incident.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 16 and 28 December, the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee removed nine entities from the sanctions list as part of an initial push to wind down the Committee (SC/12635 and SC/12659). On 20 December 2016, the annual report of the 1518 Sanctions Committee noted that by the end of 2016, 173 entities and 86 individuals remained on the sanctions list. Over the course of 2016, 35 entities were removed from the list.      

Key Issues

In light of the ongoing military operation to retake Mosul, the most urgent issue for the Council is to address the effects of the campaign on the human rights, humanitarian and security situations in Iraq.

An ongoing issue is promoting national reconciliation and a genuinely inclusive government accountable to the Iraqi people.

A related issue is determining how the Council and UNAMI can encourage greater cooperation on financial, security and humanitarian issues between Abadi’s dominant Shi’a Dawa party and Kurdish and Sunni parliamentarians, and thereby build confidence in the central government and fortify Iraq’s response to ISIS.

Options

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 humanitarian law and take every step possible to protect civilians;
  • calling on the government to ensure that screening of civilians fleeing conflict areas be done 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 Dynamics

Council members uniformly support UNAMI and believe that the mission’s mandate is sufficiently broad and flexible to allow Kubiš to fulfil the mission’s good offices role. However, the Council has been largely disengaged from grappling with the underlying political divisions among Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish populations, beyond calls for an inclusive government. The Council has been similarly disengaged from directly addressing the humanitarian crisis, in contrast to its engagement with the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen. In November, Egypt and the US initiated the meeting on the humanitarian situation in Iraq, while Russia requested the latest meeting on this issue in January. Despite this, there are no indications that Council members are willing to engage more substantively on this issue beyond requesting briefings. 

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

UN DOCUMENTS 
Security Council Resolutions
30 December 2016 S/RES/2335 The Council authorised the Secretary-General to continue to maintain the escrow account authorised by resolution 1958 (2010), and to retain the funds contained in there until 30 June 2017.
25 July 2016 S/RES/2299 This was a resolution renewing UNAMI for a year.
Secretary-General’s Report
26 January 2017 S/2017/75 This was report on UNAMI.
Security Council Letter
17 October 2016 S/2016/870 This letter was from Iraq objecting to the Turkish incursion into Iraqi territory.
Sanctions Committee Document
30 December 2016 S/2016/1087 This was annual report of the Sanctions Committee.
Security Council Meeting Record
9 November 2016 S/PV.7804 This was a briefing on Iraq.