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. Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is also scheduled to brief the Council on 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 May. The sixth 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 18 September 2021.
Key Recent Developments
On 31 March, the Council of Representatives—the Iraqi parliament—adopted the 2021 budget. An initial budget proposal, approved by the Iraqi cabinet, was sent to parliament in December 2020. Differences between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) prolonged the adoption process. According to the 2021 budget, the KRG will receive 12.67 percent of the budget (based on population size) and will share 250,000 barrels of oil per day with the Iraqi federal government. For 2020, the Iraqi parliament had not been able to adopt a budget, instead passing an emergency spending law in mid-November 2020 to be able to borrow money internationally.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 10 October. During her 16 February briefing to the Council, Hennis-Plasschaert urged the Iraqi parliament to pass the Federal Supreme Court Law. On 18 March, the Council of Representatives amended the 2005 Supreme Court Law to include a regulation of the selection process, enabling three vacant seats to be filled. Previously there was no mechanism in place to fill vacant positions. The Iraqi Supreme Court certifies election results.
In an 18 November 2020 letter to the Council, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein requested the Council to strengthen UNAMI’s role with regard to the elections. In a 15 February letter, Hussein repeated the request and specifically asked for election observers.
Attacks continue to be directed against the US military and diplomatic presence and the US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh in Iraq. Although these attacks are usually not claimed by any group, the US in the past has attacked bases of Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq in retaliation. On 15 February, a rocket attack against Erbil airport, the capital of the Kurdistan region, resulted in one person killed and six others wounded, including a member of the US army. The US, on 25 February, attacked buildings in eastern Syria, stating in a 27 February letter to the Council that it was “a targeted military strike in eastern Syria against […] a facility used by Iran-supported non-State militia groups that are responsible for recent attacks against United States personnel and are engaged in ongoing planning for future such attacks.” In a 12 March letter to the Council, Iran rejected the US allegations. Syria condemned the attack in a 27 February letter to the Council.
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 Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), established in 2014 from different, mostly Iran-backed, Shi’a Muslim fighters to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In July 2019, 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. The current Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is trying to implement a zero-tolerance policy towards armed groups operating outside state control.
The overall security situation in Iraq remains fragile. Rockets struck Baghdad airport on 22 April, targeting the area of the airport where coalition troops are stationed. On 15 April, a car bomb exploded at a market in Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 17. A drone attack targeted the Erbil airport on 14 April. The airport also houses coalition troops. On the same day, rockets were fired at a Turkish military base in Bashiqa province, in eastern Iraq, killing one Turkish soldier.
On 24 April, as a result of a fire that broke out at an intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients in a Baghdad hospital, at least 82 people died and more than 110 people were injured, according to Iraqi authorities.
UNITAD was established on 21 September 2017 by resolution 2379 to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold 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 assigned to promote accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL and 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.
On 12 February, the conference of states parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) elected the current Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, as the new ICC prosecutor. He is expected to start his new position in mid-June.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 26 March, several special procedures of the Human Rights Council released a joint statement saying they were appalled by the 10 March killing of Jasib Hattab Abboud Al Heliji, the father of human rights defender Ali Jasib Hattab Al Heliji, who remains forcibly disappeared. The killers allegedly have links to the Popular Mobilization Units, part of the Iraqi Security Forces, the statement said. The statement also called for more to be done to establish the fate and whereabouts of Ali Al Heliji, who was abducted on 8 October 2019, shortly after reportedly being threatened by members of the Popular Mobilization Units for, among other things, his participation in a demonstration against unemployment, corruption and poor public services.
In a 21 April statement, the special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, welcomed Iraq’s adoption of the Law on Yazidi [Female] Survivors on 1 March. The law recognises crimes committed by ISIL against women and girls from the Yazidi, Turkman, Christian, and Shabak minorities—including kidnapping; sexual enslavement; and forced marriage, pregnancy and abortion—as genocide and crimes against humanity. It provides compensation for survivors and includes measures for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society and the prevention of such crimes in the future. However, the special rapporteur said more needs to be done for children born of rape during the conflict.
Key Issues and Options
An immediate issue for Council members in May will be the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate. In that context, Council members may discuss possible options regarding the request from the Iraqi government for a strengthened UN role in the electoral process.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI and the positive developments in Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations.
Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq. The government routinely says that Iraq has no intention of taking sides and becoming caught in the middle of Iran-US tensions. Turkey continues to conduct military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, despite Iraq’s objections.
Council members are generally supportive of UNITAD, as is the Iraqi government. Members whose national jurisdictions do not have the death penalty remain concerned that evidence shared by the investigative team with the Iraqi authorities might be used in criminal proceedings in which the death penalty could be imposed. Other members are of the opinion that the use of the death penalty is Iraq’s sovereign right, a point routinely emphasised by Iraq as well. Those members may accordingly refer to the fact that no evidence has been shared with Iraq yet.
Another issue frequently raised by some members is the prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters currently on Iraqi soil. Some of the governments concerned have been reluctant to take back their nationals in order to prosecute them, leading to criticism that they are outsourcing their legal obligations. Some members also continue to emphasise the need to include in the Iraqi national legal system the international crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate.
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|
|18 September 2020S/RES/2544||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 18 September 2021.|
|29 May 2020S/RES/2522||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNAMI until 21 May 2021.|
|Security Council Letters|
|19 February 2021S/2021/152||This contained the briefing provided by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and the statements given by Council members during the 16 February 2020 open VTC meeting on UNAMI.|
|11 February 2021S/2021/135||This was from the Permanent Representative of Iraq, containing an 11 February 2021 letter from the Iraqi foreign minister requesting the Council to strengthen UNAMI’s role with regard to the upcoming elections, including by sending election observers.|
|20 November 2020S/2020/1130||This contained an 18 November 2020 letter from the Iraqi foreign minister requesting the Council to strengthen UNAMI’s role with regard to the upcoming elections.|