Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). UNAMI’s current mandate expires on 27 May. The Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is scheduled to brief the Council 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 May. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
The eighth 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.
Key Recent Developments
Iraq’s political system remains deadlocked in the aftermath of the 10 October 2021 parliamentary election. Under the Iraqi constitution, the government formation process that follows ratification of the election results involves a series of steps that must be completed within specific timeframes. The first of these steps took place on 9 January when Iraq’s parliament convened and elected Mohamed al-Halbousi, the leader of the Sunni Taqaddum party, as speaker.
The deadline for the next step in the process, election of the president by parliament, was 8 February. By political convention designed to prevent sectarian violence, the president is traditionally Kurdish. In previous years, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has nominated the president pursuant to an informal power-sharing agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). In line with this arrangement, the PUK nominated incumbent President Barham Salih in early February. The KDP broke with convention, however, and put forward former finance minister Hoshyar Zebari for the role.
Several members of the Iraqi parliament subsequently commenced legal proceedings challenging Zebari’s nomination, arguing that he did not meet the good character requirements for the president outlined in Iraq’s constitution due to allegations of corruption stemming from his time as finance minister. On 6 February, the day before parliament was scheduled to elect the new president, Iraq’s Supreme Court decided to temporarily suspend Zebari’s candidature while it considered the case against him.
The Court’s decision led to a boycott of the vote by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which controls the largest bloc in parliament, and also by the Taqaddum party and the KDP, among others. As a result of the boycott, there was a lack of quorum in the parliament and the vote was postponed. The president was thus not elected within the constitutional timeframe. The Supreme Court ultimately barred Zebari from running for president in a ruling issued on 13 February. A new government cannot be formed until the president has been appointed, as the president is responsible for appointing the prime minister, who in turn is charged with selecting a cabinet. The formation process is complete once the cabinet is approved by parliament.
On 24 March, al-Sadr announced that his movement had forged an alliance with several other parties, including the KDP, the Taqqadum party, and members of Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar’s Azm Alliance. The new grouping, known as the Coalition for Saving the Homeland, nominated KDP politician Rebar Ahmed Khalid as its presidential candidate and Jaafar al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr’s cousin and Iraq’s ambassador to the UK, as its candidate for prime minister.
A second vote to elect a new president was scheduled for 26 March. This vote was boycotted by the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a group that comprises several pro-Iranian Shiite political parties, leading to another postponement due to lack of quorum. A third vote that was slated for 30 March was also postponed for similar reasons.
The difficulties that have arisen with selecting a president are emblematic of the sharp divide that has emerged among Iraqi political parties during the government formation process. Al-Sadr and the Coalition for Saving the Homeland are reportedly pushing to form a majority government controlled by their alliance. The SCF, on the other hand, is in favour of a consensus government in which power is shared among various political parties. In a 31 March tweet, al-Sadr announced that he was stepping back from the process for 40 days to give his opponents, including the SCF, a chance to form a government without his bloc and the parties aligned with it.
On 13 March, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility for a series of ballistic missile attacks that struck Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, that day. According to media reports, the missiles appeared to target the US and its allies and exploded near a new US consulate building, injuring one Iraqi civilian. The IRGC said in a statement that the attack was directed against an Israeli “strategic centre”. Several analysts have suggested that the missile attack was retaliation for an alleged Israeli air strike in Syria that killed four people on 9 March, including two members of the IRGC. On 28 March, supporters of groups linked to Iran reportedly attacked the Baghdad office of the KDP, prompting the KDP to cease its operations in the capital.
In a 15 February judgment, Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that a 2007 law regulating the oil industry in Iraqi Kurdistan enacted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was unconstitutional. The judgment also directed the KRG to hand control of its crude oil supplies to the federal government and declared null and void the KRG’s oil contracts with third parties. On 28 February, the KRG’s presidency announced that it rejected the ruling and said that the KRG will “exhaust all available means in order to safeguard the Kurdistan region’s constitutional power and rights”.
Rising food prices have also been an issue in Iraq. On 9 March, approximately 500 people reportedly gathered in Nasiriya to protest increases in the price of cooking oil and flour. The previous day, Iraq’s caretaker government announced a series of measures that were intended to address this issue. A spokesperson for the trade ministry blamed the war in Ukraine for the higher cost of cooking oil.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) continues to be active in Iraq. On 9 April, ISIL fighters attacked Iraqi soldiers in Anbar province under the cover of a sandstorm. According to media reports, ISIL claimed 120 attacks in Iraq during the first quarter of 2022.
On 18 April, Turkey announced that it had launched a new offensive against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. The offensive, which Turkey refers to as Operation Claw-Lock, reportedly involved commando units, special forces, unmanned aerial vehicles, and attack helicopters. At the time of writing, at least 19 PKK fighters and four Turkish soldiers have been killed during the attack.
Key Issues and Options
Council members are following developments in Iraq closely, particularly in the aftermath of the 10 October 2021 election. A key issue for the Council is reinforcing the importance of maintaining stability and security following the election. Depending on how the situation evolves, Council members may wish to issue a product that addresses issues of concern, such as the need to resolve political disputes through dialogue and within the applicable legal framework without resorting to violence. The Council could also consider urging the parties to reach an agreement on government formation as soon as possible.
The renewal of UNAMI’s mandate is another key issue for the Council. Council members may wish to consider whether there is a need to amend UNAMI’s mandate given the Iraqi government’s request for technical assistance, advice, support, and monitoring from UNAMI during the upcoming October elections in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and the current political deadlock in the country. The Council could, for example, add language regarding the political impasse to the paragraph that requests UNAMI to prioritise the provision of advice, support, and assistance on advancing inclusive political dialogue and national and community-level reconciliation.
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 attack carried out by the IRGC in Erbil. The Iraqi government routinely states that it does not wish to become a theatre for Iran-US tensions, while 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, until 27 May 2022.|