Expected Council Action
In May, Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Ján Kubiš will brief on the latest Secretary-General’s report and provide an update on the government’s efforts to retake Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 July 2017.
Key Recent Developments
More than six months since its launch, the military operation by Iraqi government forces to retake Mosul from ISIL is still ongoing, and the humanitarian situation in the area continues to deteriorate. In January, government forces took control of east Mosul, and they have since made significant advances into the more densely populated western part of the city. According to the latest estimates by OCHA, almost half a million people have been displaced from Mosul since October 2016, and around half a million people remain trapped in areas of west Mosul still under ISIL’s control. While 91,000 displaced people returned to their homes in east Mosul, 285,000 people are being sheltered in refugee camps in the area.
Even though it is gradually losing ground in Mosul, ISIL has continued to use terrorist tactics in other parts of Iraq. Over the course of March and April, ISIL claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks in Baghdad and the northern city of Tikrit that claimed the lives of several dozen people.
On 3 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 12 people, including children, from east Mosul were treated for exposure to a toxic chemical agent. Following the incident, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said that the use of chemical weapons constituted a war crime and a serious violation of international humanitarian law. In light of the worsening humanitarian situation and alleged use of chemical weapons in Mosul, Russia called a meeting on Iraq under “any other business” on 10 March. OCHA head Steven O’Brien and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo briefed Council members on the situation in Mosul. In a statement issued the same day, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN said that there was no evidence that chemical weapons were used in Mosul. On 24 March, Russia initiated another meeting under “any other business” on the situation in Mosul. At the meeting, China and Russia circulated a draft resolution that sought to extend the mandate of the Organisation for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to Iraq. The JIM is currently mandated to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Russia has circulated similar draft resolutions previously but has never pursued negotiations on this issue.
Media reports indicated that a US-led coalition airstrike in Mosul on 17 March might have resulted in the deaths of more than 200 civilians. The US Central Command said on 25 March that it had launched an official investigation into the incident. The US confirmed that, following a request by the Iraqi security forces, the US-led coalition conducted an airstrike targeting ISIL fighters at a location that corresponded to the one where civilian causalities were reported.
On 30 March, Secretary-General António Guterres arrived in Iraq for a two-day “solidarity visit” during which he appealed to the international community to assist in humanitarian efforts in light of the ongoing fight against ISIL. Guterres met with various political leaders in Baghdad and Erbil, including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. At the forefront of the discussions were issues related to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the protection of civilians, political processes, and national reconciliation efforts. During a visit to Hasan Sham refugee camp near Mosul on 31 March, Guterres noted that UN programmes helping those who were displaced remain seriously underfunded. Although the humanitarian situation in Mosul is currently receiving the most attention, around 11 million people across Iraq are in the need of humanitarian assistance, while around three million people remain internally displaced.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, concluded following her visit to Iraq from 27 February to 7 March that ethnic and religious communities are facing an “unprecedented crisis that may threaten their continued existence in Iraq” (A/HRC/34/53/Add.1). The report calls for the “overwhelming evidence” of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide against minority groups—including the Yazidis—to be fully investigated. While noting that the “atrocities” committed by ISIL constitute the “most recent and brutal attack” on these groups, the report maintains that the “challenges facing minorities did not begin with ISIL and will not end with its defeat alone” and that solutions must “confront long-standing issues of discrimination, exclusion and marginalization” in Iraqi society.
In a statement on 28 March, the High Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the massive loss of civilian lives in west Mosul due to actions by ISIL, including the reported use of human shields, and to airstrikes conducted by Iraqi and coalition forces. Between 17 February and 22 March, at least 307 people were killed and another 273 wounded. Criticising ISIL for “ruthlessly exploit[ing] civilians to serve its own ends”, the High Commissioner also called on Iraqi and coalition forces to make efforts to avoid or reduce the loss of civilian life from their operations.
On 26 January, 21 February and 8 March, the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee removed three entities from the sanctions list in a continuing effort to wind down the Committee. At press time, 170 entities and 86 individuals remain on the sanctions list.
The most pressing issue for the Council is the ongoing military operation to retake Mosul and the effects of the campaign on the human rights, humanitarian and security situations in Iraq. In addition, the Council remains concerned about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Mosul
Promoting national reconciliation and a genuinely inclusive government accountable to the Iraqi people remains an ongoing issue.
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.
Even though the security response to ISIL is happening outside the Council’s purview, the Council could adopt a resolution or a presidential 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 ensure that screening of civilians fleeing conflict areas is done in strict accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian law, underscoring that such screening should not be conducted by paramilitary groups;
- asking the OPCW to investigate the reported use of chemical weapons in Mosul;
- 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 and flexible enough to allow Kubiš to fulfil the mission’s good offices role.
Nevertheless, the Council in general remains disengaged from tackling the underlying political divisions among Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish populations, beyond calls for an inclusive government. Correspondingly, the Council has been similarly disengaged from directly addressing the humanitarian crisis although it remains active with its engagement on other humanitarian crises in the region, such as in Syria and Yemen. Since the operation to retake Mosul started in October 2016, Russia has been more active in initiating discussion on the humanitarian situation. Beyond calling for occasional briefings, however, Council members show no inclination to engage more substantively on this issue. The divisions between the permanent members reappeared over the issue of expanding the JIM’s mandate to Iraq as suggested by the draft resolution submitted by China and Russia during the 24 March consultations. It seems unlikely that this initiative will be realised because of the evident opposition of the P3, as well as some elected members. The rift on this issue widened further after the 12 April Russian veto of the draft resolution on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues. Egypt is the Chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee.
|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.|
|27 March 2017 S/2017/258||This was a report on the “oil-for-food” escrow account.|
|26 January 2017 S/2017/75||This was a report on UNAMI.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|2 February 2017 S/PV.7875||This was a meeting on the situation in Iraq.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|26 January 2017 SC/12696||This was a press release on removal of one entity from the sanctions list.|
|21 February 2017 SC/12726||This was a press release on the removal of one entity from the sanctions list.|
|8 March 2017 SC/12742||This was a press release about the removal of one entity from the sanctions list.|