February 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2023
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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 the country and on the Secretary-General’s latest reports on UNAMI and the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals and missing Kuwaiti property. A representative of civil society may also brief the Council. Both reports were provided to Council members in late January.

UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 May.

Key Recent Developments

The political deadlock that gripped Iraq following the 10 October 2021 parliamentary election has ended. On 27 October 2022, the Iraqi parliament voted to approve the cabinet nominated by new Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the preferred candidate of the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a loose coalition of Shiite political parties with ties to Iran. The vote marked the final step in the government-formation process, which lasted for more than 12 months and saw the emergence of a sharp divide between Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement and the SCF.

Two weeks earlier, on 13 October 2022, the parliament elected Kurdish politician Abdul Rashid as president. In the hours preceding the vote to elect Rashid, the parliament building, which is located in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, was targeted by a rocket attack in which at least five people were wounded. Two days after Rashid was elected, al-Sadr’s movement announced that its members would not participate in the new government.

The new government’s ministerial programme, which outlines the priorities it will pursue, was also approved by parliament on 27 October 2022. According to media reports, the ministerial programme notes that al-Sudani’s government will amend the legislation that governs elections in Iraq and hold early parliamentary elections within a year. Several analysts have noted that the pledge to schedule early elections appears to be an attempt to appease al-Sadr, who reportedly demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held while his supporters occupied the Green Zone throughout much of August.

On 14 November 2022, at least two people were killed and another ten wounded when ballistic missiles and drones launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) struck the bases of Kurdish-Iranian opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. On 21 November 2022, Tasnim, a semi-official Iranian news agency linked to the IRGC, reported that the IRGC had attacked three areas in the Kurdistan Region with missiles and drones, killing at least 26 members of Kurdish-Iranian opposition parties. The following day, on 22 November 2022, Council members discussed the attacks under “any other business” at the request of France, the UK, and the US. These attacks followed a series of Iranian strikes against Kurdish-Iranian groups in north-eastern Iraq in late September 2022, including a 28 September 2022 attack that killed at least 13 people and wounded 58 more.

On 29 November 2022, al-Sudani met with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. In a joint news conference following the meeting, al-Sudani reportedly said that Iraq will strengthen its security cooperation with Iran and prevent “the use of Iraqi lands to threaten Iran’s security”.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues to pose a threat in Iraq. On 18 December 2022, at least nine federal police officers were killed in a bombing near the village of Safra, approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Kirkuk. In a 20 December 2022 press statement, Council members condemned the attack and expressed their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, among other matters. It appears that negotiations concerning the press statement were uncontentious.

On 20 December 2022, senior leaders from Bahrain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) attended the second session of the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership in Amman. According to media reports, the conference focused on stability in Iraq. In a statement issued at the conclusion of the conference, the participants reaffirmed the continuation of efforts to “step up cooperation with Iraq, in support of its security, stability, and sovereignty” and expressed their support for Iraq’s efforts to “develop its constitutional democratic process”. On 27 January, France and Iraq signed a series of strategic agreements intended to boost cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the energy and public transportation sectors.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal reported on 15 January, al-Sudani expressed support for the ongoing presence of US troops in Iraq, saying that “we think that we need the foreign forces” and that “elimination of ISIL needs some more time”. A week earlier, on 8 January, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down above al-Asad airbase in western Iraq, which currently houses US troops.

On 18 January, 580 residents of the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria were repatriated to a rehabilitation camp in northern Iraq. Following a visit to al-Hol in September 2022, General Michael Kurilla, the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), described the camp as “a humanitarian catastrophe” and “a literal breeding ground for the next generation of [ISIL]”.

Women, Peace and Security

On 10 October 2022, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) met to discuss the situation in Iraq. IEG members were briefed by UNAMI Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance Claudio Cordone, accompanied by members of UNAMI, the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), and the UN Country Team. Participants discussed, among other issues, women’s participation in political processes in Iraq; the country’s second national action plan (NAP) on WPS; violence and intimidation against women human rights defenders; accountability for conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV); and the situation of children conceived as a result of rape, and their mothers. UN Women, as the secretariat of the IEG, recommended that the IEG co-chairs and Council members support the implementation and resourcing of Iraq’s second NAP on WPS and urge the government to ensure accountability for attacks against women activists and human rights defenders during protests in 2019 and 2020. Among other recommendations, UN Women also called for encouraging and supporting actors interacting with survivors of CRSV in Iraq to follow a do-no-harm and survivor-centred approach, including by applying the principles contained in the Global Code of Conduct for Gathering and Using Information about Systematic and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence  (“Murad Code”). The meeting was the sixth time the IEG discussed the situation in Iraq.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is reinforcing the importance of maintaining stability and security in Iraq and respecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Depending on how the situation evolves, 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.

If other member states resume carrying out attacks on Iraqi territory, the Council could adopt a product that condemns those attacks and reiterates the Council’s support for Iraq’s sovereignty.

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.

Despite this general consensus, divisions have emerged among Council members in relation to Council products regarding the strikes carried out by Iran in the Kurdish region of Iraq in September and November last year. Following the September attack, it appears that the US circulated a draft press statement condemning the attack and reiterating the Council’s support for the stability, sovereignty, and security of Iraq. Although the draft apparently enjoyed broad support among Council members, it seems that Russia opposed including in the draft any reference to Iran, as well as details regarding the attack and text that described it as a flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. It appears that Russia also argued that the draft should reflect the arguments raised by all parties and, on that basis, sought to add language noting the IRGC’s claim that the attacks were carried out in response to threats from Iranian-Kurdish groups in the Kurdistan Region. Russia’s proposed amendments were resisted by other Council members, including the US, who apparently contended that echoing self-defence claims made by a party to a dispute in the absence of a formal report to the Council under Article 51 of the UN Charter would undermine the credibility of the Charter. Consensus could not be achieved, and the draft press statement was not issued.

A similar draft press statement was also circulated by the US after the November attack. Russia again opposed including any reference to Iran in the text, and the draft failed to achieve consensus. Russia subsequently put forward a presidential statement regarding the attacks. It seems that Russia’s draft went through several iterations, none of which referenced Iran. Early versions of the draft presidential statement apparently also omitted details regarding the attacks. It appears that these details were added to the draft after concerns were raised by other Council members; however, Russia also proposed including language referring to the January 2020 strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC Quds Force. This proposal was opposed by other Council members, and agreement on the text could not be reached.

Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq, as demonstrated by Iran’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, while 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.

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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.