Expected Council Action
In July, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Ján Kubiš will brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI and the most recent developments. UNAMI’s mandate, which expires on 31 July, is likely to be renewed for another year.
Key Recent Developments
The ongoing fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the situation in Mosul featured prominently in Kubiš’s last briefing to the Council on 22 May. Given the expected defeat of ISIL in Mosul, Kubiš stressed that the safe return of displaced persons and the protection of the rights of minorities remain core priorities. While most Council members welcomed government advances against ISIL in Mosul, they also voiced their concern about the worsening humanitarian situation. Furthermore, some members emphasised the need to establish an investigative body that would provide an accountability mechanism for crimes committed by ISIL and other terrorist groups.
Also on 22 May, at the request of the US, Council members discussed the humanitarian situation in Iraq, specifically in Mosul, in a meeting under “any other business”. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and head of OCHA Stephen O’Brien updated members on the humanitarian situation in western Mosul and the current challenges regarding the growing number of internally displaced persons and civilian casualties.
Iraqi government forces, supported by Kurdish troops and Sunni tribal fighters with the US-led coalition providing air support, have continued their military operation to retake Mosul from ISIL. Over the past seven months, Iraqi forces regained control of eastern Mosul and have made significant advances into western Mosul. At press time, ISIL fighters controlled only about two square kilometres of territory in the Old City district of western Mosul. On 21 June, ISIL destroyed the eight and a half centuries-old Al-Nuri mosque in the Old City. Two years ago at the same mosque, ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the creation of the “caliphate”. Over the past several years ISIL has destroyed numerous cultural heritage sites in Iraq.
Heavy fighting between the Iraqi security forces and ISIL fighters for control of the Old City continues to take a toll on the civilian population. According to the latest data from the UN humanitarian agencies, over 800,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since October 2016, when the Iraqi government offensive began. Since February, more than 600,000 were displaced from western Mosul alone. The UN Refugee Agency has estimated that over 100,000 people remain trapped in parts of western Mosul still under ISIL’s control. The rate of displacement continues to rise dramatically as government forces close in on western Mosul.
On 25 May, the US Department of Defense released the summary of its investigation confirming that the US carried out an airstrike on a house in western Mosul on 17 March which resulted in the deaths of over 100 civilians. However, the investigation found that ISIL fighters intentionally placed explosives inside the house, causing a secondary blast once the bomb hit the house. The investigation concluded that at least 105 civilians died as a result of the incident, while 36 people remain unaccounted for.
On 7 June, President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani announced that a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan has been scheduled for 25 September. The central government in Baghdad has denounced unilateral actions by KRG authorities to hold the referendum. Following the announcement, the Iraqi government spokesman said that the fate of Iraq cannot be decided without the involvement of all concerned parties. The US State Department voiced its concern about the referendum and its potential impact on the ongoing fight against ISIL. Turkish Foreign Minister Binali Yildirim has said that a referendum would be irresponsible and could create additional problems in the region.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a news release on 8 June, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that reports indicate that more than 231 civilians have been killed trying to flee western Mosul since 26 May alone, showing a significant escalation in ISIL’s use of civilians as human shields and its slaughter of civilians fleeing violence.
The key issue for the Council is promoting a genuinely inclusive government accountable to the Iraqi people. A related issue is determining how the Council and UNAMI can support Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reform process and encourage greater cooperation on financial, security and humanitarian issues between Al-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 ISIL.
Another issue is how to address the impact of the anti-ISIL military campaigns on the human rights, humanitarian, and security situations in Iraq.
One option for the Council is to renew the existing mandate of UNAMI without any significant adjustment. The core elements of the UNAMI mandate have remained largely unchanged since the adoption of resolution 1770 in 2007.
Another option would be for the resolution renewing UNAMI:
- to call for 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;
- to condemn human rights violations by ISIL and by Iraqi security forces, including the Popular Mobilization Forces; and
- to urge the government to enhance its cooperation with UNAMI with regard to human rights, humanitarian response, rule of law, security sector reform, stabilisation activities in areas liberated from ISIL, and best practices for child protection and gender policies.
The Council could consider the UK’s initiative for the Council to set up a mechanism for establishing accountability for the crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq, while requesting the government of Iraq to give its consent for such investigations.
Council members support UNAMI and some subscribe to the view held by the US and Iraq, as well as by Kubiš, that the mission’s mandate is sufficiently broad and flexible to support its good offices role. Other Council members believe that UNAMI would benefit from a resolution that updates and prioritises its tasks, given that the mandate has not changed since resolution 1770 was adopted almost ten years ago. Some members have previously expressed interest in incorporating stronger language in the mandate renewal resolution on issues such as the promotion of national reconciliation, accountability, security sector reform, deeper political and economic reforms, issues related to women, peace and security and to children and armed conflict, and the right of internally displaced persons to return to their homes. It seems that the US, the penholder, and Iraq, as the host country, are reluctant to make any substantial changes to UNAMI’s mandate. In addition, they also seem to be concerned that opening up the mandate will allow crossover issues with Syria to enter the mandate, which could bring further political divisions. Except through the lens of counter-terrorism, Council members have not approached the connected crises in Iraq and Syria holistically and have exhibited a strong preference to treat the two situations as discrete issues.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues.
|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.|
|28 April 2017 S/2017/371||This was the Secretary-General’s report on Iraq.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|22 May 2017 S/PV.7945||This was a briefing by the Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Ján Kubiš.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|14 June 2017 SC/12870||This was a statement on Iraq-Kuwait issues.|