February 2018 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

Expected Council Action  

In February, the Special Representative 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 mandate of UNAMI expires on 31 July 2018.

Key recent Developments  

On 9 December 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a victory over the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after government forces gained control of the remaining territory held by ISIL on the border with Syria. At the peak of its power in 2015, ISIL controlled around one-third of the country, including the major population centres Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi. Iraqi government forces, together with Kurdish troops, Sunni tribal fighters, and the air support of the US-led coalition, engaged in a campaign against ISIL for more than three years. Although deprived of territory, ISIL has continued terrorist attacks against civilians and security forces, particularly in Baghdad.

Two people were killed and dozens injured in a 13 January attack in northern Baghdad. Two days later, ISIL claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack since the declaration of the group’s defeat. In a double suicide bombing in Tayaran Square in Baghdad, close to 40 people were killed and another hundred wounded.

The tensions between Baghdad and Erbil continue after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum on independence in September 2017. The central government has since retaliated by taking control of Kirkuk and the surrounding areas in the disputed territories, while imposing a ban on international flights from two major airports in Kurdistan. During a 20 January meeting with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, al-Abadi reiterated the central government’s conditions for scaling back restrictions on the KRG. Al-Abadi said that the KRG must surrender control of its airports and border crossings to the central government and stop independent oil exports.

In its decision issued on 31 October 2017, the Council of Ministers set 15 May 2018 as the date for the parliamentary elections. However, in December the Council of Ministers moved the election date to 12 May after the Independent High Electoral Commission requested the change in order to prevent an overlap with the beginning of Ramadan. The Federal Supreme Court of Iraq ruled on 21 January that parliamentary elections must be held within the timeframe set by the constitution and without delay. The next day, the Iraqi parliament approved a decision to hold the elections on 12 May. Since the initial elections date was first announced in October, Sunni lawmakers have called for their postponement amid concerns that some 3 million Iraqis, displaced as a result of the fight against ISIL, will not be able to return to their homes in time. Both al-Abadi and his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, have announced that they will run in the elections.

From 21 to 23 January, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav JenĨa visited Iraq and held meetings with al-Abadi and other high-ranking government officials. Among the issues discussed during the visit was how the UN can assist Iraq in the upcoming elections, and improving relations between the central government and the KRG. He also visited Mosul and areas recently liberated from ISIL and said that the UN will continue to assist in the rebuilding and stabilisation of Iraq. 

In September 2017, the Council adopted a resolution that requested the Secretary-General establish an investigative team to support Iraq’s domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable by collecting, preserving and storing evidence of war crimes. The Secretariat is still working on terms of reference for the team that will be acceptable to the government of Iraq. The initial deadline for their submission was 21 November 2017. However, the Secretary-General has requested an extension of the deadline on several occasions. He has informed the Council that the main unresolved issue remains “sharing of evidence by the team in respect of any criminal proceedings in which capital punishment could be imposed or carried out”. The next deadline for submission is 9 February.

On 15 November 2017, the Secretary-General submitted to the Council the executive summary, recommendations and observations from a report conducted by an independent external assessment team focusing on a review of the structure and staffing of UNAMI and related resources. In its general recommendations, the assessment team noted the need for the mission to have clearly defined objectives, a strategy to achieve them, and a performance measurement framework. The report also recommended increasing the capacity to deliver mandate-related results by adding political, human rights and analytical capabilities, especially outside Baghdad. The assessment team’s recommendations are likely to be considered in the discussions on the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate in July.   

Human Rights-Related Developments

The special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, visited Iraq from 14 to 23 November 2017. She met with victims of ISIL’s violence, visited camps housing people forced to flee their homes, and talked to expert teams working to identify the thousands of Iraqis buried in mass graves. In a statement at the end of her visit, she noted that “the Iraqi people have been subjected to inconceivable suffering at the hands of ISIL. Justice for victims demands that the possible crimes against humanity be investigated…But hasty judgment and execution of ISIL members for acts of ‘terrorism’ is a disservice to the country”. The special rapporteur will submit a report to the Human Rights Council at its 38th session in June.

In a 15 December 2017 press briefing, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, expressed concern over the mass execution of 38 men at a prison in southern Iraq on 14 December 2017. The spokesperson added that it appears “extremely doubtful that strict due process and fair trial guarantees were followed. This raises the prospect of irreversible miscarriages of justice and violations to the right of life”. In the same briefing, the spokesperson also raised concerns about the situation in Tuz Khurmatu, in Salah al-Din Governorate (part of the disputed areas), where residential areas were reportedly shelled on 9 and 12 December, with casualties among civilians. According to the spokesperson, UN human rights officers visited the area on 7 and 14 December 2017 to investigate reports that homes had been burned and businesses looted.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 24 November 2017, the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee removed one entity from the sanctions list in an ongoing effort to wind down the committee. On 22 December, the committee published its annual report, which provided an overview of the committee’s activities. Four entities were removed from the sanctions list during 2017. At press time there were still 169 entities and 86 individuals on the list.  

On 8 December 2017, the Council adopted a resolution that ended the oil-for-food programme and indicated that the sanctions measures imposed under Chapter VII of the Charter in this regard have been fully implemented. Iraq still remains under sanctions imposed by resolution 1518, which include an arms embargo and asset freeze on individuals and entities associated with the Saddam Hussein regime.    

Issues and Options  

With ISIL defeated militarily, the Council’s attention is likely to shift towards other troubling issues, mainly the human rights and humanitarian situation and the continuing terrorist threats.

In addressing these issues, the Council could consider requesting more briefings by the representatives of the UN agencies with a field presence regarding the humanitarian and human rights situations, in view of reports of violations committed by pro-government forces. The Council could also adopt a resolution that would call for accountability for crimes committed by all armed groups.   

The Council continues to follow closely developments related to the parliamentary elections planned for 12 May, especially because UNAMI will play a role in this process by providing electoral assistance to the government of Iraq. To this end, the Council could consider inviting Kubiš to brief on the preparation process and the readiness of the Iraqi government to hold the elections. 

The Council continues to monitor the situation in Kurdistan after the conflict between the Iraqi government and the KRG escalated in October 2017. With the exception of one meeting under “any other business” in October, the Council has not held any further discussions on this specific issue. Given that the situation in Kurdistan remains tense, the Council could consider holding an informal interactive dialogue with the participation of both Iraqi government and KRG representatives to get their perspectives on this issue. 

Another increasingly difficult issue is the elaboration of the terms of reference for the investigative team on accountability for crimes committed in Iraq by ISIL. The numerous executions of captured ISIL fighters carried out by the government since the declared defeat of the terrorist group only exacerbate concerns raised by the Secretariat in the process of drafting the terms of reference. Once the draft is submitted to the Council, 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 that may arise.

Council 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 the mission’s 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, 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. Poland is the Chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ  

Security Council Resolutions
8 December 2017 S/RES/2390 The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2390, which indicated that measures imposed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter regarding the oil-for-food programme had been fully implemented.
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.
Security Council Press Statements
18 October 2017 SC/13036 This was a press statement on the 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
19 January 2018 S/2018/63 This was a letter in which the Secretary-General requested the extension of the deadline for the submission of the terms of reference for the investigative team to hold ISIL accountable until 9 February 2018.
21 December 2017 S/2017/1122 This was a letter in which the Secretary-General requested the extension of the deadline for the submission of terms of reference for the investigative team to hold ISIL accountable until 19 January 2018.
20 November 2017 S/2017/989 This was a letter in which the Secretary-General requested the extension of the deadline for the submission of terms of reference for the investigative team to hold ISIL accountable until 20 December 2017.
15 November 2017 S/2017/966 This was a letter containing the executive summary, observations and full set of recommendations of an independent external assessment of the structure and staffing of UNAMI submitted by the team of experts.
Sanctions Committee Document
22 December 2017 S/2017/1078 This was the annual report of the 1518 Sanctions Committee.