Expected Council Action
In February, 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 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 February. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
The Security Council is also expected to receive a briefing from Ambassador Michael Gaffey (Ireland), the UN Compensation Commission (UNCC) Governing Council President. The UNCC was created by the Security Council to process claims and pay compensation for losses and damage suffered as a direct result of Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The UNCC has recently finished its work, and it appears that the Council may adopt a resolution regarding this development.
Key Recent Developments
Tensions have continued to rise in Iraq in the aftermath of its parliamentary election, which was held on 10 October 2021. Following the resolution of a series of challenges to the initial election results, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced the final results on 30 November 2021.
In the final tally, Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which already controlled the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament prior to the election, won an additional 19 seats, bringing its total to 73. The Taqqadum 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 33 seats; the Kurdistan Democratic Party with 31 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 Kurdistan Alliance (17); the Azm Alliance of Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar (14); the New Generation Movement, a Kurdish party (9); independent candidates; and smaller political parties.
The Iraqi Supreme Court ratified these results on 27 December 2021. Under Iraq’s constitution, ratification initiated a series of steps in the electoral process that must be completed within particular timeframes in order for a government to be formed. To begin with, the new parliament is required to convene within 15 days of the ratification of results to elect a new parliamentary speaker and two deputy speakers. The parliament must then elect a president within 30 days of this meeting, and the new president is required to appoint a prime minister within 15 days of being elected. The president has no discretion in choosing a prime minister and is required to appoint the person nominated by the largest bloc in parliament. By political convention, these offices are divided among different ethnic groups, with the speaker traditionally being Sunni, the president Kurdish and the prime minister Shiite. Once appointed, the prime minister has 30 days to appoint a cabinet. A new government is formed when the cabinet is approved by a majority vote of the Iraqi parliament.
Negotiations regarding this process have been ongoing since the election. As the negotiations have progressed, a sharp divide has emerged among the Shiite political parties. Shiite cleric al-Sadr, who controls the largest parliamentary bloc, is reportedly pushing to form a majority government headed by his party. On the other hand, the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a group that comprises several pro-Iranian Shiite parties, is in favour of a consensus government in which power is shared among various political parties. Members of the SCF have also challenged the election results by, among other things, filing lawsuits seeking to have them annulled and making public allegations of electoral fraud. SCF supporters have also staged demonstrations, some of which turned violent, in various cities throughout Iraq.
On 9 January, the Iraqi parliament convened and elected Mohamed al-Halbousi, the leader of the Taqaddum party, as speaker. At this meeting, the SCF apparently claimed that it controlled the largest parliamentary bloc and tabled a list of 88 parliamentarians to support its claim. According to media reports, this issue was not resolved, and several physical altercations took place between members of parliament during the meeting.
In recent weeks, political violence has begun to escalate in Iraq. On 16 January, the headquarters of the Taqaddum party was reportedly targeted in a grenade attack. A similar attack apparently struck the office of Khamis al-Khanjar, the head of the Azm Alliance, on the same day. Two days later, two banks in Baghdad associated with Kurdish politicians were attacked using explosives.
US-led forces in Iraq, which remain in the country in an advisory role after formally ending their combat mission in December 2021, have also been the focus of a recent spate of attacks. During the first week of January, several drone attacks targeted bases hosting troops from the US-led coalition. These attacks coincided with the second anniversary of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of Iran’s Quds Force. On 13 January, two people were wounded after a rocket attack struck inside the perimeter of the US embassy in Baghdad.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) continues to pose a threat in Iraq. On 20 January, ISIL gunmen reportedly killed 11 soldiers after storming Iraqi military barracks north of Baghdad shortly before dawn. This follows several attacks by ISIL against Iraqi Kurds in December 2021.
Approximately 400 Iraqis who had been detained in the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, which houses many former ISIL fighters and their families, were repatriated on 8 January. According to media reports, around 2,150 Iraqis have been repatriated from this camp to date, and almost a third of the people remaining in the camp are from Iraq.
On 13 January, the UNCC announced that it had paid $629,324,488 to Kuwait and that all claimants awarded compensation by the UNCC have received the full amount of their respective awards. A special session of the UNCC Governing Council will be held on 9 February to mark the payment of all compensation awarded by the UNCC and the conclusion of its mandate. In total, the UNCC paid $52.4 billion to more than 1.5 million claimants.
Key Issues and Options
Council members are following recent developments in Iraq closely, particularly in the aftermath of the 10 October 2021 election. A key issue for the Council is helping 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 wish to consider issuing a product that addresses issues of concern to them, such as the threat posed by ISIL or the need to resolve political disputes through dialogue and within the applicable legal framework without resorting to violence.
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 demonstrated by the recent attacks on US-led coalition forces in the country. The Iraqi government routinely states that it does not wish to become a theatre for Iran-US tensions. Turkey continues to conduct military operations in different parts of 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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
|Security Council Resolution|
|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.|