Expected Council Action
In August, the Security 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 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 August. If the measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in place, the briefing and the subsequent consultations are likely to be held as open and closed videoconferences, respectively.
The mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) expires on 21 September, and UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 May 2021.
Key Recent Developments
Following the start of a “Strategic Dialogue” on 11 June, Iraq and the US issued a joint statement, saying that “the U.S. would continue reducing forces from Iraq”. No timeline was provided. The US currently has about 5,000 troops stationed in the country. The US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh (the Coalition) has about 2,500 troops in Iraq. Attacks continue to be directed against the US military and diplomatic presence and the Coalition. According to media reports, about 36 such assaults have taken place since the end of October 2019. In the joint statement, Iraq “committed to protecting the military personnel” of the Coalition as well as “the Iraqi facilities hosting them”. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The US, however, blames Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq and has attacked their bases in retaliation, showing that Iraq continues to be the military battleground for competing Iran-US interests.
On 3 January, Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed by a US strike near the Baghdad airport, as was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Deputy of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). On 5 January, the Iraqi parliament adopted a resolution calling on the government to work towards ending the presence of foreign troops in Iraq (the resolution has not been implemented). In a 6 January letter to the Council president, Iraq condemned the attack as violating “the sovereignty of Iraq and the principles of international law”. In a 9 January letter to the Council president, the US argued that it had acted in self-defence. On 8 January, Iran retaliated by striking a base in Iraq, injuring approximately 100 US troops, according to media reports. In her 29 June annual report to the Human Rights Council, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard, concluded that “the targeting of General Soleimani, and the deaths of those accompanying him, constitute an arbitrary killing”. Referring to international human rights law, Callamard said that “the US is responsible” for this internationally wrongful act. She also dismissed the US’ claim of self-defence as no evidence was provided by the US of “an ongoing or imminent attack”. During his first official visit abroad, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who reiterated that Iran continued to be determined to fully retaliate against the US for the killing of Soleimani.
One of the Iran-backed militias that the US has accused of perpetrating attacks against its personnel in Iraq is Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the US has designated a terrorist organisation. Kata’ib Hezbollah is part of the PMF, established in 2014 from different, mostly Iran-backed Shia Muslim fighters to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh). Last July, then-Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi issued an executive order bringing the PMF under the exclusive control of the Iraqi state and ordering it to cut all links with political entities. He 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, and current Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi announced his intention to take actions in that regard. The Iraqi government carried out a raid on 25 June on a Kata’ib Hezbollah base, and 14 members of the group were arrested. Following pressure by the PMF, all but one were released.
Iraq’s political situation continues to depend on support from both Iran and the US. On 31 October 2019, Iraqi president Barham Salih announced that Prime Minister Al-Mahdi intended to resign, following widespread popular protests demanding basic services and systemic change. According to UNAMI statistics, 490 people have died and 7,783 have been injured since the demonstrations started in October 2019. On 9 April, Salih named Al-Kadhimi, then chief of intelligence, as prime minister-designate. He seems to be acceptable to Iran and the US. Al-Khadimi will hold the position only until elections are held, presumably sometime next year. So far, no prime minister-designate has received support from the protesters. Al-Kadhimi has declared that he will maintain the muhasasa (apportionment system), a political system based on quotas for ethno-sectarian groups. The abolition of that system has been one of the protesters’ core demands. The Iraqi parliament approved the new government led by Al-Kadhimi on 6 May, with seven out of 22 cabinet positions still outstanding. On 6 June, the parliament approved all outstanding positions.
Turkey continues to conduct military operations against positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. Turkey, the EU and the US, among others, classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation. On 4 July, the Turkish Defence Ministry claimed to have killed three PKK members in an operation. In an 8 July letter to the Council, the Turkish ambassador to the UN said that Turkey was “obliged to take appropriate measures” in self-defence “in the absence of Iraq’s ability to deal with the presence of terrorists in its own territory”.
On 15 June, the Council received a briefing in an open and closed videoconference from Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.
COVID-19 case numbers in Iraq continue to rise sharply. As of 31 July, Iraq had 121,263 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
At the time of writing, the UN’s 2020 humanitarian response plan for Iraq of $748.1 million was funded at 31.9 percent, with $450.7 million outstanding.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 10 July press briefing note, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, expressed deep concern at the murder of the prominent security analyst Hisham al–Hushami on 6 July. Al Hushamihad been outspoken against both ISIL and Shia militias in Iraq. Throssell emphasised that OHCHR welcomes the pledge of the prime minister to “hold Al Hushami’s murderers to account”. Referring to a series of popular protests that started in October 2019 and have continued with varying intensity, the press briefing note said that UNAMI and the UN Human Rights Office “verified the targeted killings of 23 people linked to the demonstrations…. These victims included political and human rights activists, people who were vocal on social media in support of the demonstrators, and local community organisers”.Throssell underscored that OHCHR calls on the newlyformed Iraqi government to “ensure accountability—through thorough, independent and transparent investigations and prosecution”.
Key Issues and Options
Council members are closely following the political and security situation in Iraq. After closed consultations, Council members could issue a press statement addressing issues of concern to them.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI and positive developments in Iraqi-Kuwaiti 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. Turkey continues to have troops stationed in Iraq despite Iraq’s objections.
The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraqi-Kuwaiti issues and UNITAD. Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) is the chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 May 2020S/RES/2522||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNAMI until 21 May 2021.|
|20 September 2019S/RES/2490||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 21 September 2020.|
|Security Council Letters|
|17 June 2020S/2020/547||This was a letter transmitting the briefing provided by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan on 15 June.|
|1 June 2020S/2020/467||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council containing the draft UNAMI renewal resolution in blue, the votes submitted by all Council members and an explanation of vote by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.|
|29 May 2020S/2020/460||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council containing the results of the vote on resolution 2522.|