May 2020 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

Expected Council Action

In May, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), which expires on 31 May. The Council is also scheduled to receive a briefing by the Special Representative and head of 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. Both reports are due in May. The fourth report of the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) is also due in May. 

UNITAD’s mandate expires on 21 September 2020.

Key Recent Developments

Iraq’s political situation has remained unstable and dependent upon support by both Iran and the USOn 31 October 2019, Iraqi president Barham Salih announced Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi’s intention to resign, following widespread popular protests demanding basic services and systemic change. On 1 February, Salih designated Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, a politician with cabinet experience, as the new prime minister. On 1 March, Allawi withdrew after parliament twice failed to approve his proposed cabinet. On 17 March, Adnan al-Zurfi, a former governor of the Najaf governorate, was designated the new prime minister by Salih. On 9 April, he also withdrew. The same day, Salih named Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the current chief of intelligence, as prime minister-designate. He seems to be acceptable to Iran and the US. Meanwhile, Al-Mahdi remains as the caretaker prime minister, and a new prime minister would only hold that position until elections are held, presumably sometime next year. The demonstrations have been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, no prime minister-designate has received support from the protesters.

Iraq also continues to be the military battleground for competing Iran-US interests. March was marked by a string of attacks and counter-attacks on Iraqi soil. The attacks were directed against the US military or diplomatic presence or the US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh. According to media reports, a 16 March attack on the former “Green Zone” in Baghdad marked the 26th such assault since the end of October 2019. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the US blames Iran-backed militias and attacks their bases in retaliation. One example was a 12 March attack on Camp Taji, housing US and Coalition troops, and counter-attacks by the US on 13 March on facilities used by Kata’ib Hezbollah (designated by the US as a terrorist organisation) in Iraq. Kata’ib Hezbollah is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), established in 2014 from different, mostly Iran-backed Shia Muslim fighters to combat ISIL. Last July, then-Prime Minister Al-Mahdi issued an executive order bringing the PMF under the exclusive control of the Iraqi state, ordering them 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. This order has yet to be implemented.

UNAMI condemned the attack on Camp Taji in a 12 March statement and said in a 13 March statement that “attacks and retaliatory attacks, including repeated strikes on the Global Coalition forcespresent in Iraq at the invitation of its government to fight Da’esh (ISIL)do not serve the common interest of Iraq”. In a 14 March statement, the Secretary-General expressed “his serious concern about repeated attacks in Iraq”. In a 16 March letter to the president of the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of Iraq condemned the assault on Camp Taji as an act of aggression. He further called the US’ retaliatory strikes “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of Iraq”, “an act of aggression”, and “a flagrant violation of the conditions under which American forces are present in Iraq”. The US continues to pull troops out of Iraq.

In her latest Council briefing, on 3 March, Hennis-Plasschaert said that “the state-to-state violence we saw play out across Iraq earlier this year was received as a clear and substantial threat to the country”. She further recalled remarks by the Secretary-General that “the large number of armed groups operating outside State control is preventing the country from functioning as a normal State. She stressed the need for the Iraqi government to dismantle or formally integrate those armed entities under full State control without delay”.

On 25 March, the Secretary-General launched the UN’s $2.01 billion “Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19” (GHRP), with Iraq being a priority country. The plan emphasised that “the Iraqi health system is severely under-resourced and not well suited to addressing a wide scale medical emergency”. Neighbouring country Iran has the highest number of cases in the region. As of 30 April, Iraq had 2,003 confirmed cases of COVID-19. At time of writing, the GHRP was 43.8 percent funded, with $1.13 billion outstandingOn 15 March, Iraqi authorities enacted a curfew, closed airports and schools, and ordered the population to mostly stay at home. The restrictions were loosened on 21 April for the month of Ramadan.

Iraqi authorities announced on 3 April that they would fine the Reuters news agency and revoke its license for three months after it reported that the actual number of infected and dead was much higher than the official number and that officials were urged not to disclose the real numbers. The same day, UNAMI released a statement saying that the World Health Organization “dismisses the prospect that the government is deliberately hiding or falsifying the results”. At the same time, the statement emphasised that the Iraqi government “must also continue to defend independent reporting, as media freedom is one of the pillars of a democratic society”. On 19 April, Reuters license was reinstated.

The Secretary-General’s Middle East Envoys (for Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and the Middle East Peace Process) issued a joint appeal on 11 April in support of the 23 March Secretary-General’s appeal for an “immediate global ceasefire”They called for “negotiating immediate halts to ongoing hostilities” and for action “to facilitate humanitarian access and assistance”, among other things.

At time of writing, the UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan for Iraq of $519.8 million was funded at 17.1 percent, with $431 million outstanding.

UNITAD was established on 21 September 2017 by resolution 2379 to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) accountable for crimes it committed in the country “by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”. Additionally, UNITAD is tasked to promote accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL, to counter ISIL narratives that have led people to join the terrorist group. UNITAD’s investigations are focusing on those ISIL members who bear the greatest responsibility among the leadership as well as regional and mid-level commanders.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 12 March, during its 43rd session, the Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Iraq (A/HRC/43/14). Out of the 298 recommendations received, 245 enjoyed the support of Iraq and 48 had been noted. At the adoption, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Iraq said a National Plan of Action on Human Rights would be developed in order to implement the accepted recommendations before the next cycle. In the discussion, speakers welcomed Iraq’s decision to implement national strategies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, foster women’s empowerment and ensure the protection of children, despite security challenges. Other speakers urged the Iraqi government to publicly condemn the killing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for Council members in May will be the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate and its potential adjustments. Council members are also closely following the political situation in Iraq. Like most countries, Iraq is facing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the involvement of the US on the ground, a statement by the Council on the security situation is unlikely. 

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI and the positive developments in Iraq-Kuwait relations.

Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq, as evidenced by the continued attacks on US and Coalition bases and US counterattacks on Iraqi soil. The government routinely says that Iraq has no intention of taking sides and becoming a theatre for Iran-US tensions. 

Council members are also generally supportive of UNITAD, as is the Iraqi government. Some divisions exist with regard to evidence-sharing, the death penalty and foreign terrorist fighters. Some members continue to be concerned about the possibility that evidence shared by UNITAD might be used in Iraqi criminal proceedings in which capital punishment could be imposed. Other members stress that this matter falls under Iraq’s sovereignty, a viewpoint shared by Iraq. Another issue frequently raised by some members is how and where to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters currently in Iraq.

The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues and UNITAD. Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) is the chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee.

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 Letters
17 March 2020S/2020/213 This was a letter from the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the president of the Security Council.
Security Council Meeting Records
3 March 2020S/PV.8739 This was a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of 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.