Expected Council Action
In November, the 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. The Council also expects to receive from the Secretary-General for its approval the terms of reference for an investigative team on accountability for crimes committed in Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) mandated by resolution 2379.
The mandate of UNAMI expires on 31 July 2018.
Key Recent Developments
Over the course of the year, Iraqi government forces, with the help of Kurdish troops, Sunni tribal fighters and the air support of the US-led coalition, have made significant progress in the fight against ISIL. During the peak of its power in mid-2014, ISIL controlled around one-third of Iraqi territory, including such significant population centres as Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul. In 2016, government forces retook both Fallujah and Ramadi. After a nine-month battle, government forces took control of Mosul in July. More recently, government forces re-captured Tal Afar in August as well as Hawija and neighbouring areas in October. At press time, ISIL controls only a small portion of Iraqi territory in the western part of the country along the border with Syria.
While the threat posed by ISIL has been considerably reduced, renewed tensions in Iraq pose another threat to stability and national reconciliation efforts. In June, the President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, announced that a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan would be held on 25 September. The referendum, in which an overwhelming majority voted in favour of independence, was held in the Kurdish region and the disputed territories under control of Kurdish forces, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denounced the referendum, calling it unconstitutional. Similarly strong reactions came from regional powers with significant Kurdish populations, mainly Iran and Turkey. The US voiced its concern regarding the referendum and its potential impact on the ongoing fight against ISIL and instability in the region. In a press statement issued ahead of the referendum, Council members also expressed its concern regarding the vote’s destabilising impact.
After the referendum, the Iraqi central government imposed a ban on all international flights to and from the Kurdistan region. Iran and Turkey, both of which share a border with that region, threatened to impose countermeasures, including economic blockades and closure of their respective borders with the region.
Following the recapture of Hawija from ISIL on 5 October, government forces and Shi’a militias started massing near Kirkuk. The Iraqi government demanded that KRG authorities revoke the referendum or face military action. On 16 October, al-Abadi ordered government troops to re-establish control of Kirkuk and surrounding areas in the disputed territories. Facing only sporadic resistance from Kurdish fighters, the military operation was completed in two days as government forces took control of Kirkuk, the main oil fields in the area and the airport. Kirkuk had been under the control of Kurdish forces since 2014, when Iraqi government forces retreated in the face of an ISIL offensive. Oil fields in Kirkuk have provided a major revenue stream for the KRG authorities. At press time, government forces continued to make gains, advancing in Kurdish areas.
The Council voiced its concern over reports of violence near Kirkuk in a press statement on 18 October. A day later, UNAMI issued a press release expressing the UN’s concern about reports of destruction of property and “forced displacement of civilians, predominantly Kurds, from disputed areas.” On 26 October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that some 165,780 people had been displaced from the disputed areas since 16 October.
On 25 October, the KRG announced that it was willing to freeze the referendum’s outcome and commit to an immediate ceasefire. The Iraqi central government turned down the offer the following day, with al-Abadi declaring that the government wouldn’t “accept anything but [the referendum’s] cancellation,” i.e. not just a freezing of the results.
Kubiš briefed Council members under “any other business” via video-teleconference from Iraq on 26 October. The briefing, requested by France and Sweden, focused on the tensions between the federal government and the KRG and the fighting between their respective forces. Following the meeting, Ambassador François Delattre of France, Council president in October, issued press elements on behalf of Council members. In the press elements, members expressed concern about the tensions and reports of fighting between federal forces and Peshmerga (i.e. Kurdish forces), while calling on all sides to refrain from the threat and use of force and to engage in constructive dialogue.
A review of the structure and staffing of UNAMI and related resources is currently underway, as mandated by resolution 2367, which also renewed UNAMI’s mandate. The Secretary-General was asked to report back to the Council on the findings of the review by 15 October. However, this deadline has been extended by one month through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Council because the review team required additional time for the task.
On 21 September, the Council adopted resolution 2379, which requested the Secretary-General to establish an investigative team to support Iraq’s domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable by collecting, preserving and storing evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by ISIL in Iraq. It also asked the Secretary-General to submit to the Council within 60 days “Terms of Reference acceptable to the Government of Iraq in order to ensure the Team can fulfil its mandate”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In his opening statement at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 11 September, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein welcomed the Iraqi prime minister’s announcement of investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations committed by pro-government forces and said he hoped the findings would be made public and swiftly followed by impartial prosecutions.
In a 27 September press statement, the High Commissioner said he was appalled at the execution of 42 prisoners on 24 September and expressed “massive concerns” over the country’s use of the death penalty.
Key Issues and Options
There are several interrelated issues that the Council faces with regard to Iraq. There is a need to promote national reconciliation and a genuinely inclusive government accountable to the Iraqi people. At the moment, a particularly pressing issue is how to defuse tensions and prevent an escalation of fighting between the Iraqi central government and the KRG following the referendum in the Kurdistan region. A further important matter for the Council and UNAMI is how to 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 parties and thereby build confidence in the central government.
To address the current conflict in Kurdistan, Council members could hold an informal interactive dialogue with representatives of the Iraqi government and the KRG to get their perspectives on the current crisis. If the parties are unable to resolve the crisis in the near future, the Council could dispatch a visiting mission to the region, in an effort to mediate between the two parties.
With the anti-ISIL campaign entering its final stages, an issue is how to address its impact on the human rights, humanitarian and security situations in Iraq. As a first step, the Council could consider additional briefings from UN entities on the ground regarding the humanitarian and human rights situations in light of reports of violations committed by pro-government forces. It could also adopt a resolution reminding those fighting of their responsibilities under international law and urging member states to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.
Another important issue is how the Council approaches the terms of reference for an investigative team on accountability for crimes committed in Iraq by ISIL. Before approving the terms of reference, one option is to hold a discussion in consultations with relevant Secretariat officials to review the substance of the document and allow these officials to answer any questions or respond to any concerns members may have.
Council and Wider Dynamics
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 more than ten years ago. Some members have previously expressed interest in incorporating stronger language in the mandate renewal resolution on such issues as the promotion of national reconciliation; accountability; security sector reform; deeper political and economic reforms; women, and peace and security; 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, the host country, are reluctant to make any substantial changes to UNAMI’s mandate.
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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 September 2017 S/RES/2379||This resolution established an investigative team tasked with collecting, storing and preserving evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq.|
|14 July 2017 S/RES/2367||This was a resolution extending the mandate of UNAMI for another year.|
|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.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|18 October 2017 SC/13036||This was a letter on violence in Kirkuk.|
|21 September 2017 SC/13002||This was a statement expressing concern over the destabilising effects of the referendum on independence organised by the Kurdistan Regional Government.|
|Security Council Letters|
|6 October 2017 S/2017/851||This was from the President of the Council, agreeing on the Secretary-General’s recommendation in the letter S/2017/850.|
|3 October 2017 S/2017/850||This was from the Secretary-General, recommending a one-month extension of the deadline for the external review assessment of UNAMI.|
|14 August 2017 S/2017/710||This was from Iraq to the president of the Security Council, asking the international community to provide assistance in the effort to prosecute ISIL.|