November 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 October 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

Expected Council Action

In November, the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing from the Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on the most recent developments in Iraq and the Secretary-General’s upcoming reports on UNAMI and the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals and missing Kuwaiti property. Both reports are due in November. A third report of the Secretary-General, on Iraq’s electoral process and UNAMI’s assistance to that process, is also due in November, and is likely to be discussed during the briefing. In addition, a representative of civil society may brief the Council. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations. The seventh 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 expected to be released in November.

Key Recent Developments

On 10 October, Iraq held its parliamentary election. The election was originally scheduled to take place in 2022, but was held early in response to the Tishreen protests, which affected several cities and led to the passage of a new electoral law. The protests, which began in October 2019 and continued into 2020, demanded an end to corruption, improved employment opportunities and living conditions, better public services, and political reform.

The election results, which must be ratified by Iraq’s Supreme Court before becoming official, were released by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on 16 October. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which controlled the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament prior to the election, won an additional 19 seats, bringing its total to 73. The Taqaddum party, which is led by the Sunni speaker of parliament, Mohamed al-Halbousi, won 37 seats, followed by the State of Law bloc headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with 34 seats; the Kurdistan Democratic Party with 33 seats; and the Iran-aligned Fatah Alliance, which secured 17 seats after winning 48 in the 2018 election. Emtidad, a political party with ties to the Tishreen movement, won nine seats. The remaining seats in the 329-member parliament were divided among the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which won 16; the Azm Alliance of Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar, which won 12; the New Generation Movement, a Kurdish party, which won 9; independent candidates; and smaller political parties.

Voter turnout reached 43 percent, a slight decrease from the 2018 election, when voter turnout was 44.5 percent. The low turnout was partly a result of dissatisfaction and apathy among Iraqi voters. Although al-Sadr renounced his 15 July decision to boycott the election in late August, other political groups subsequently announced that they would not participate in the polls. On 4 September, 40 groups affiliated with the Tishreen movement announced their intention to boycott the election after holding a conference in Baghdad. According to media reports, a spokesperson for the groups said they were boycotting the election because it “lack[s] integrity, fairness and equal opportunities”. This followed a similar announcement in May, when other parties connected to the Tishreen movement announced that they would boycott the election in response to a series of attacks on activists and protesters, including the assassination of prominent activist Ihab al-Wazni in Karbala that month.

Despite the low turnout, the election appeared to run smoothly. In a 12 October statement, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, the Chief Observer of the EU Election Observation Mission to Iraq (EU EOM), said that “voting on election day was largely peaceful and orderly. Voters were able to express their will, but turnout was low. Some 100 EU observers assessed the process positively in the vast majority of polling stations observed”. The EU EOM will publish a comprehensive report in approximately two months that will include recommendations for improving the quality of future elections.

Having won an additional 19 seats, al-Sadr and the bloc that he controls appear to have emerged from the election with substantial gains. Pro-Iranian Shiite parties such as the Fatah Alliance, on the other hand, are widely considered to have lost significant ground. The election also appears to be the first time since 2005 that a Sunni-led party has finished second in an Iraqi election, with al-Halbousi’s Taqaddum party securing the second-highest number of seats. Together with the 12 seats won by the Azm Alliance, this represents a stronger performance for Sunni-led parties when compared to previous elections. Under Iraqi law, the party that wins the most seats in a parliamentary election selects the country’s next prime minister, who, in turn, is responsible for nominating a cabinet that is then approved by parliament. Since no party has secured a clear majority, this process is likely to involve lengthy negotiations among Iraq’s various political parties. Following the previous election in 2018, these negotiations ran for several months before a government could be formed.

This year’s negotiations are likely to be complicated by formal challenges to the election results. In a 12 October statement, the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a group that comprises several Shiite parties, including the Fatah Alliance, questioned the results and raised allegations of fraud against both Iraqi authorities and the UN. The SCF subsequently lodged a series of complaints with the IHEC, which the IHEC must resolve before sending the results to the Supreme Court for certification. Protests in support of the SCF have since taken place in Basra, Wasit, and Baghdad after leaders of the SCF urged their supporters to take to the streets.

On 22 October, Council members issued a press statement regarding the elections in Iraq. Among other matters, the statement commended the IHEC for conducting a technically sound election and stressed that any electoral disputes that may arise should be resolved peacefully through established legal channels. The statement also deplored threats of violence that have been made against UNAMI, the IHEC, and others.

Low-level attacks on US-led coalition forces and Iranian-backed militias active in Iraq continued in the lead-up to the election. On 12 September, Erbil International Airport, which serves as a base for the coalition, was targeted by a drone attack that caused no casualties. On 27 September, airstrikes targeted a base operated by Iranian-backed militias in the Syrian province of Deir-ez-Zor, near the Iraqi border. Neither Israel nor the US took responsibility for the airstrikes, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

On 28 August, Iraq hosted the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, a regional summit aimed at easing tensions among states in the Middle East. The conference was attended by representatives of Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron’s participation in the conference reflects increased French involvement in Iraq. Several French companies have recently signed lucrative deals in the country, including a $27 billion transaction between French energy company Total and the Iraqi government for the development of oil, gas, and solar energy projects. On 30 August, shortly before this deal was announced, Macron visited Erbil and Mosul and pledged to assist Iraq with its fight against terrorism.

Drought, food insecurity and uncertain energy supply are ongoing concerns in Iraq. In a 23 August statement, 13 aid groups, including Action Against Hunger and the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that more than 12 million people in Syria and Iraq were losing access to water, food, and electricity. Carsten Hansen, the Regional Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, noted in the statement that “the total collapse of water and food production for millions of Syrians and Iraqis is imminent…with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced…the unfolding water crisis will soon become an unprecedented catastrophe pushing more into displacement”.

Key Issues and Options

Council members are following recent developments in Iraq closely, particularly in the aftermath of the 10 October election. A key issue for the Council is how it can help Iraq to maintain stability and security following the election. Depending on how the situation evolves before the briefing and consultations take place, Council members may consider issuing a further press statement addressing issues of concern to them, such as the importance of resolving electoral disputes within the applicable legal framework without resorting to violence.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI and remain encouraged by positive developments in Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations.

Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq. Attacks on US-led coalition forces and Iranian-backed militias routinely take place on Iraqi soil, while Turkey continues to conduct military operations against Kurdish positions in northern 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
17 September 2021S/RES/2597 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 17 September 2022.
27 May 2021S/RES/2576 This renewed the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for one year with expiration on 27 May 2022.
Security Council Press Statement
22 October 2021SC/14673 This was a press statement in which Council members commended Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) for conducting a technically sound election and deplored threats of violence against UNAMI, IHEC personnel and others.