Expected Council Action
In December, the Council is expected to receive a briefing by the Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on the most recent developments in the situation in Iraq and on the two latest Secretary-General’s reports—on UNAMI and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.
Key Recent Developments
Widespread popular protests in different parts of Iraq, including in Baghdad, started in early October and have since continued with varying intensity. Protesters are voicing long-standing demands regarding basic services and infrastructure, lacking as a result of government neglect and failure to reconstruct the country, as well as overall corruption. Protests with similar demands have occurred sporadically over the past years. This time, protesters also seek structural change in the country, including amendments to the constitution and the electoral system. In his latest report on UNAMI, the Secretary-General calls the demonstrations and related violence “stark reminders” that “the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people for a better future remain unfulfilled.”
In relation to the demonstrations, the Secretary-General emphasizes that “the only way forward towards a better future is through peaceful and inclusive dialogue resulting in concrete outcomes that meet the aspirations of all Iraqis”. After consulting with Iraqi authorities and the demonstrators, Hennis-Plasschaert, in a 11 November press release, proposed a “Next Step” plan including different principles and measures to end the violence. Principles include the constitutionally-guaranteed right to demonstration and peaceful assembly as well as the freedom of expression, and no use of live ammunition and no “improper use of non-lethal devices (such as tear gas canisters)”. The plan further details immediate, short-term and medium-term measures. Immediate measures include the release of protesters who had demonstrated peacefully since 1 October, the prosecution of perpetrators of excessive violence and those targeting demonstrators, as well as a public call on international parties and parties from the region to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. Short-term measures include electoral and security sector reform, as well as tackling corruption. The medium-term measures—with a proposed implementation timeframe of one to three months—address issues such as amending the constitution and the submission of corruption cases to the courts.
On 8 November, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concern over reports of deaths and injuries resulting from the use of force by security forces against demonstrators, as well as deliberate killings by armed elements in Iraq. Between 1 October and 7 November, UNAMI’s Human Rights Office documented 269 deaths in the context of demonstrations turned violent across the country with at least 8,000 others reportedly injured, the spokesperson said. The majority of the casualties have resulted from the use of live ammunition by security forces and armed elements, described by many as private militia groups, as well as the unnecessary, disproportionate or improper use of less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, he said. UNAMI’s Human Rights Office published a special report on 22 October, which covered protests that had taken place from 1 to 9 October. Its preliminary findings include reports of excessive use of force against demonstrators and “deliberate killings of unarmed protesters” constituting violations of the right to life. The report further found an extensive use of repressive measures against media coverage of the protests, such as “arbitrary arrests, threats and harassment, confiscation of equipment, deletion of footage, attacks against media outlets as well as blanket restrictions on the dissemination of information through shutting down internet and blocking social media.”
On 6 November, the Secretary-General’s spokesperson issued a statement on the demonstrations in Iraq, expressing the Secretary-General’s “serious concern over the rising number of deaths and injuries”. The Secretary-General further described as “disturbing” the reported “continued use of live ammunition” against the demonstrators.
UNAMI published a second special report on 5 November, which covered protests that took place from 25 October to 4 November. Its preliminary findings include continuing human rights violations and abuses. Among those are multiple arrests, abductions, efforts to hinder media coverage of the protests, “unnecessary, disproportionate and/or improper use of tear gas and stun grenades”, and the use of lethal force against protesters.
On 31 October, in response to the demonstrations, Iraqi president Barham Salih announced Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi’s intention to resign if a successor were to be agreed upon. Al-Mahdi remains in power following an intervention by Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, according to media reports. On 18 November, The Intercept and the New York Times simultaneously published their joint findings from documents leaked to The Intercept by an anonymous source detailing Iranian influence in Iraq. The protesters have also started calling for an end to Iran’s influence in the country.
Also on 31 October, ISIL confirmed the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi near Barisha, Syria, during a raid conducted by US special forces. The latest report on UNAMI by the Secretary-General emphasizes that ISIL continues to conduct asymmetrical attacks in Iraq. In that context, UNAMI attributed to ISIL more than half of the 139 documented civilian casualties (49 dead and 60 injured, not including the protest-related casualties) between 5 August and 31 October.
On 11 October, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani delivered a sermon demanding that a credible investigation take place within two weeks into what he said was an excessive use of force against protesters, attributable to the Iraqi government. A High Investigative Committee formed by Prime Minister Al-Mahdi found, inter alia, that security forces lacked oversight and used excessive force, as well as finding that some demonstrators had used violence.
A package of 17 measures in response to the protests was decided upon by the Council of Ministers on 5 October. In his latest UNAMI report, the Secretary-General calls it a step in the right direction and emphasizes the importance of swift implementation.
UNAMI continued to observe trials and investigative hearings, 144 in total between 5 August and 31 October, focusing on ISIL defendants. The report enumerates concerns in relation to those trials and hearings, including prosecutions for association with terrorist groups without distinction between defendants who had perpetrated violence and those who had connected with ISIL in order to survive, and the use of “confessions allegedly obtained under duress”.
On 1 July, Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Mahdi issued an executive order bringing the “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMF) under the exclusive control of the Iraqi state. The PMF was established in 2014 from different mostly Iran-backed Shia Muslim fighters for the fight against ISIL. The executive order further announced that the PMF had to cut all links with political entities and warned that armed groups operating outside the control of the Iraqi state were illegal and subject to prosecution. The Secretary-General, in his latest report on UNAMI, reiterates the importance of the implementation of this executive order as part of broader security sector reform.
On 26 November, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, addressed the Council on his third report in a briefing and consultations. Kachi, a civil society representative, also briefed (via video-teleconference). Support for UNITAD is part of UNAMI’s mandate.
At press time, the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Iraq of $611.7 million was funded at 88 percent, with $82.57 million outstanding.
Women, Peace and Security
The Secretary-General reports a lack of funding for gender-based violence programming in Iraq which delivers essential services, psycho-social support and case management. The shortfall stands at more than $20 million. As a consequence, some camps for refugees and internally displaced persons have no gender-based violence programming at all and vital services in camps and for host communities have been cut. Serious incidents of gender-based violence perpetrated by armed actors continue to be reported in several governorates, including in camps.
UNAMI continues to support Iraq in electoral matters, including on gender mainstreaming. For instance, staff of the Independent High Electoral Commission took part in a workshop co-organised by UNAMI’s Senior Gender Adviser and its Office of Electoral Assistance on gender-responsiveness in electoral processes. The Secretary-General further reiterates his call for “immediate appointments of Iraq’s many talented, qualified women to senior decision-making positions.” He welcomes the appointment of a female Minister of Education, Suha Ali Bek, noting that she is the only female member of the current Iraqi government. Of the 23 chairs of Iraqi parliamentary committees (of which three are yet to be appointed), three are now held by women parliamentarians: the Culture, Tourism, and Archaeology Committee; the Higher Education Committee; and the Women, Family, and Childhood Committee. In relation to the ongoing demonstrations, AL-Mahdi made commitments for further reforms, which would also entail appointing new ministers, based on merit, and include more women.
Issues and Options
An immediate option for Council members would be to issue a statement voicing concern over the destabilising effect the protest-related violence may have for the whole of Iraq and supporting the work of UNAMI in its plan for next steps.
As chair of the 1518 Iraqi Sanctions Committee, Poland could seize the momentum and political will of Council members and the Iraqi government to further advance the delisting of entities and follow-up on concrete proposals on the unfreezing of Iraqi assets.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI, Iraq’s post-ISIL reconstruction needs, and the positive development of Iraq-Kuwait relations.
They are following the events on the ground. Members may differ in their assessment of the role the Council should play in relation to the demonstrations, as some Council members may see them as an internal matter for Iraq.
Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq: the Iraqi government routinely makes clear that Iraq has no intention of taking sides and becoming a theatre for regional and Iran-US tensions. Iraq is also affected by the conflict dynamics in neighbouring Syria, including the issue of 30,000 Iraqi nationals currently in al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria.
Turkey continues to have troops stationed in Iraq, over Iraq’s objections.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues and UNITAD. Ambassador Joanna Wronecka (Poland) is the chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee; on 1 January 2020, she is likely to be succeeded by Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia).
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
|Security Council Resolutions|
|20 September 2019S/RES/2490||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 21 September 2020.|
|21 May 2019S/RES/2470||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNAMI until 31 May 2020.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|20 September 2019S/PV.8624||The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2490, renewing the mandate of UNITAD until 21 September 2020.|
|21 May 2019S/PV.8531||The Council adopted resolution 2470, renewing the mandate of UNAMI until 31 May 2020.|
|7 November 2019S/2019/865||This was the Secretary-General’s 24th report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.|
|Security Council Letters|
|13 November 2019S/2019/878||This was from the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, transmitting the third report on the activities of UNITAD.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|30 October 2019SC/14005||This was a press release on the removal of two entities from the sanctions list.|