Expected Council Action
In October, 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 on the Secretary-General’s latest reports on UNAMI and the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals and missing Kuwaiti property. Both reports were provided to Council members in late September.
Key Recent Developments
The political deadlock gripping Iraq following the 10 October 2021 parliamentary election has deteriorated markedly in recent months. On 13 June, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who controlled the largest bloc in Iraq’s 329-member parliament after the election results were finalised, directed the 73 members of parliament loyal to him to resign. The move followed seven months of failed negotiations to form a new government. These negotiations saw a sharp divide emerge between al-Sadr’s movement, which sought to form an alliance with Sunni and Kurdish political parties, and the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a loose coalition of Shiite political parties, including several parties with close ties to Iran.
The departed Sadrist members of parliament were subsequently replaced by the candidates who received the second-highest number of votes in the election, many of whom were members of the SCF, and the SCF moved quickly to nominate Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister. Al-Sudani is widely seen as a close ally of al-Sadr’s long-time rival and former prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki.
On 27 July, supporters of al-Sadr stormed Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and broke into the Iraqi parliament and other government buildings to protest al-Sudani’s nomination. Similar protests began on 30 July, when demonstrators loyal to al-Sadr again streamed into the Green Zone, staging a sit-in and occupying parliament to prevent its members from convening a scheduled vote on al-Sudani’s candidacy. The sit-in, which later moved outside parliament but remained in its vicinity, ran for nearly a month after al-Sadr urged his supporters to continue their occupation until his demands were met: these included calls for parliament to be dissolved and a fresh round of elections held. Security forces used tear gas and noise bombs to try to disperse the demonstrators, resulting in injuries to more than 100 protesters and 25 members of the security forces. Supporters of al-Sadr staged mass prayer gatherings in other regions of Iraq and the Green Zone during the sit-in while counter-protests were organised by the SCF.
In response to al-Sadr’s demand for new elections, the SCF said in a 4 August statement that it supported any constitutional path to solving Iraq’s political crises, “including holding early elections”. The SCF reportedly indicated, however, that it wanted a government to be formed under al-Sudani first and for that government to make preparations for another round of polls.
While the sit-in continued, Hennis-Plasschaert held discussions with several key figures regarding the crisis, including al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Fatah Alliance, a member of the SCF with close ties to Iran. She also took part in a 17 August national dialogue convened by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to find a solution to the gridlock; participants included President Barham Salih, speaker of parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi, and other political leaders. The dialogue was boycotted by al-Sadr, who had called on the Iraqi judiciary to unilaterally dissolve parliament a week earlier.
On 29 August, al-Sadr announced his “final withdrawal” from politics and the closure of all political institutions linked to his movement. The announcement prompted al-Sadr’s supporters to storm the Republican Palace in the Green Zone and led to serious clashes between Sadrists, Iraqi security forces, and groups aligned with the SCF and Iran. More than 30 people were killed and a further 700 injured during the ensuing violence, which is widely considered the biggest crisis the country has faced since Iraq recaptured the last major strongholds of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in 2017. The unrest subsided after al-Sadr ordered his followers to end their protests on 30 August.
In a 1 September press statement, Council members condemned the violence and appealed for calm and restraint. Among other matters, the statement also urged all parties to peacefully resolve their political differences; respect the rule of law, the right of peaceful assembly, and Iraqi institutions; and avoid violence.
On 5 September, al-Kadhimi, Salih and al-Halbousi convened a meeting with representatives of various political parties with the aim of resolving Iraq’s political crisis. In a statement after the meeting, al-Kadhimi’s office said that attendees at the meeting had “agreed to form a technical committee comprising the various political forces…to bridge differences with the aim of reaching early elections”. Two days later, on 7 September, the Federal Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by the Sadrist movement in mid-August seeking the dissolution of parliament, ruling that it lacks the power to do so.
On 28 September, supporters of al-Sadr clashed with Iraqi security forces as they attempted to storm the Green Zone while parliament convened to vote on speaker of parliament al-Halbousi’s decision to resign, which al-Halbousi had announced two days earlier (under Iraq’s constitution, parliament must decide whether to accept or reject the speaker’s resignation). Iraqi state media reported that several rockets also landed in the Green Zone during the unrest. Despite the violence, Iraq’s parliament voted to reject al-Halbousi’s rejection and also appointed Ali Mosen Madalawi, a member of parliament aligned with the SCF, as his deputy. The following day, another rocket attack struck the Green Zone. At the time of writing, no casualties were reported and no one had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Tensions between Iraq and Türkiye have risen in recent months. On 20 July, artillery shells struck a tourist resort in the Zakho district of the Duhok governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing at least nine people and wounding at least 23 more. Iraq blamed Türkiye for the attack and has commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding it, while Türkiye has attributed responsibility to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist organisation. On 26 July, the Council convened for an open briefing and closed consultations to discuss the attack (for more information, see our 26 July What’s in Blue story).
On 24 September, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a military unit that operates independently from the rest of Iran’s armed forces under the direct control of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, launched artillery and drone attacks against the bases of a Kurdish militant group in northern Iraq. According to media reports, the IRGC’s attack was a response to the group’s support for the protests that have recently swept Iran, which were sparked by the death in police custody of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini. During the ensuing five days, the IRGC continued to attack the positions of Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. At the time of writing, nine people had been killed and at least 32 others injured in the attacks. On 28 September, the US announced that it had shot down a drone used in the bombardment, saying that the drone had threatened US forces.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reportedly denounced the strikes, describing them as “repetitive violations of the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region”, while Iraq’s foreign ministry said that the IRGC’s actions “cast a shadow over the region and will only contribute to more tension”. In a 28 September statement, the Secretary-General called for immediate de-escalation and urged respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. At press time, Council members were negotiating a press statement concerning the attacks.
According to media reports, Iraq’s state-owned oil marketer threatened buyers of crude oil from Iraqi Kurdistan with legal action in a letter dated 23 August. The letter is expected to exacerbate existing tensions between the KRG and the federal government and follows a 15 February ruling by the Federal Supreme Court, which found that a 2007 KRG law regulating the oil industry in Iraqi Kurdistan was unconstitutional. The judgment also directed the KRG to hand control of its oil supplies to the federal government and declared the KRG’s oil contracts with third parties null and void.
ISIL also continues to pose a threat in Iraq. On 3 August, five Iraqi soldiers were killed and another three injured when ISIL fighters attacked a military checkpoint in the eastern province of Diyala. On 21 September, the KRG and the US signed a renewed memorandum of understanding regarding US support for Peshmerga operations against ISIL.
Key Issues and Options
Council members are following developments in Iraq closely, particularly in light of the violent clashes that erupted in Baghdad at the end of August. A key issue for the Council is reinforcing the importance of maintaining stability and security in the country. Depending on how the situation evolves, Council members could issue a further product that reiterates the need to resolve political disputes peacefully through dialogue and within the applicable legal framework.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally unanimous in their support for UNAMI and their desire to see positive developments in the Iraqi political process and Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations. It appears that negotiations concerning the 1 September press statement were uncontentious, with the initial draft circulated by the penholder passing silence without any Council members providing comments.
Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq, as demonstrated by Iran and Türkiye’s recent attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan and the influence of countries in the region on domestic politics. The Iraqi government routinely declares that it does not wish to become a theatre for Iran-US tensions, and Türkiye’s military operations in northern Iraq remain ongoing.
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|
|26 May 2022S/RES/2631||This resolution extended UNAMI’s mandate until 31 May 2023.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|1 September 2022SC/15016||In this press statement, Council members condemned the violence throughout Iraq on 29 and 30 August and expressed deep concern over reported deaths and injuries.|