Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), which expires on 31 May. Special Representative and head of UNAMI Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert is also 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. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
Key Recent Developments
The new Iraqi cabinet approved by parliament in October 2022—which ended the political deadlock that had gripped the country following the October 2021 parliamentary election—continues to move forward with its government programme under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. Presented on 27 October 2022, the programme highlights the following objectives: combatting corruption, addressing unemployment and creating work opportunities, supporting vulnerable and low-income groups, reforming the economic and financial sectors, and enhancing public services. On 13 March, al-Sudani announced that the government had finalised its draft budget law for 2023-2025 to advance these priorities. The budget now awaits parliamentary approval.
The programme also committed the government to amending electoral legislation and to holding early parliamentary elections within a year. Consequently, parliament voted on 27 March to abolish the 2020 election law, which was adopted in the wake of the 2019 anti-government protests, and to reinstate the prior election law of 2018. The restored law replaces a first-past-the-post system with proportional representation and 83 electoral districts with 18 provincial seats, which some analysts predict will favour established political parties at the expense of independent candidates. The legislation, combined with a recent government crackdown on social media content and newly launched enforcement of a dormant 2016 law banning alcohol, has raised concerns among some minority religious communities and human rights activists.
On 13 April, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he was suspending his organisation for one year in an effort to curb “corruption”—a reference to a fringe element of al-Sadr’s adherents, who claim that he is a messianic figure and whom the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council has labelled a “gang” and ordered arrested. Al-Sadr’s movement won the most seats in the 2021 parliamentary election, but his followers were unable to form a government as a sharp divide emerged between them and the Iran-aligned Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), which backed al-Sudani. After violent clashes broke out in Baghdad’s Green Zone between al-Sadr’s supporters and pro-Iranian factions, al-Sadr announced his retirement from politics in August 2022. His most recent announcement suspending his organisation—and deactivating his Twitter account—may signal a further step back from public life.
On the economic front, the government has announced a series of agreements in recent months with international energy companies to boost domestic oil, gas, and renewables production, including a $27 billion project with TotalEnergies over which negotiations had long been stalled. Tensions over the sharing of oil revenue between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) persist, however. On 23 March, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) ruled that the export of oil by the KRG to Turkey without Baghdad’s approval violated a 1973 pipeline agreement between Iraq and Turkey, prompting the latter to halt these oil flows, which constitute approximately 0.5 percent of global supply. Although Baghdad and Erbil subsequently reached a temporary agreement to restart the exports, Turkey has reportedly not yet reopened the pipeline, while a separate but related case remains pending with the ICC. Regarding the prospects of a general hydrocarbon law to regulate revenue-sharing between the federal government and the KRG, al-Sudani said on 18 February at the Munich Security Conference that he expected a law to be passed “by the end of the year”.
There have been noteworthy developments in the security situation in recent months. On 29 November 2022, following a series of Iranian air strikes in September and November 2022 against Kurdish-Iranian opposition groups in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, al-Sudani met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. In a joint news conference after 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”. Subsequently, on 19 March, the two countries announced a border security agreement aimed at “protecting the common borders between the two countries and consolidating cooperation in several security fields”, according to a statement released by al-Sudani’s office.
On 7 April, Turkey launched a drone attack near Sulaymaniyah airport in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, allegedly targeting a travelling commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The strike, which did not result in any casualties, was the latest in a series of military operations Turkey has conducted against Kurdish targets in the region. Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid reportedly condemned the attack and what he described as Ankara’s “approach of intimidating civilians under the pretext that forces hostile to it are present on Iraqi soil”.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) remains a threat. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report, dated 25 January, ISIL conducted 116 attacks across the country between 4 October and 31 December 2022, mostly targeting Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi military estimates that there are approximately 500 ISIL fighters still active in the country, though it assesses that recent military operations have further degraded the group’s recruitment capabilities. On 18 April, Iraqi authorities unexpectedly closed the Jadah 5 camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs)—which housed approximately 300 families with alleged ties to ISIL—reportedly giving each family 1,500,000 Iraqi dinars ($1,030) to “return to their original areas of residence on a voluntary basis”. The decision prompted a press release from UNAMI that expressed concern at the lack of “adequate notification and preparation for the IDPs and the receiving communities”.
March marked the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Secretary-General António Guterres travelled to the country for the first time in six years, reiterating in a joint press conference with al-Sudani in Baghdad on 1 March “the commitment of the United Nations to support Iraq in the consolidation of its democratic institutions and advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights for all Iraqis”. One week later, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin also travelled to Baghdad and, after a meeting with al-Sudani, reaffirmed the US commitment to retaining its current military presence of 2,500 troops in the country. On 20 March, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, held a press conference on “the 20th anniversary of US aggression against Iraq”.
Human-Rights Related Developments
On 4 April, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances published the full report of its visit to Iraq from 12-25 November 2022. The report underscores that up to one million people are estimated to have been “disappeared” over the past five decades with “impunity and revictimization prevail[ing]”. Emphasising that the crisis is continuing with “ongoing patterns”, the Committee appealed to the government of Iraq to “immediately establish the basis to prevent, eradicate and repair this heinous crime”.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching issue for the Council is how UNAMI can most effectively support the new Iraqi government, in light of changing political and security dynamics in the country. In this regard, the key issue in May is the renewal of UNAMI’s mandate.
The most likely option is for the Council to renew the mandate without significant changes. However, some Council members may propose further strengthening UNAMI’s engagement on thematic issues, such as women’s participation, human rights, and climate change. In addition, some members—as well as Iraq—may request a further reduction in the frequency of Council briefings on UNAMI after the last renewal extended the reporting cycle from three to four months.
In the longer term, there is a growing perception among several Council members that the political and security situations in the country have stabilised to such a degree that UNAMI’s broader configuration should be reviewed. Consequently, the Council may consider requesting an independent strategic review to make recommendations on changes to UNAMI’s mandate to reflect improving conditions on the ground.
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. While divisions emerged among Council members in relation to proposed Council products concerning the strikes carried out by Iran in the Kurdish region of Iraq in September and November 2022, these tensions have seemingly eased and may further ebb following the March announcement of a border security agreement between Iran and Iraq.
Council members expect this general consensus to extend to negotiations on UNAMI’s mandate. Last year’s negotiations went relatively smoothly with the partial exception of language about climate change, which was the subject of debate between Council members seeking to strengthen UNAMI’s support for Iraqi authorities on this issue and other members who questioned its relevance to the mission.
Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq, as demonstrated by Iran’s and Turkey’s 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 broader geopolitical tensions, seeking a balanced relationship with regional and international security partners.
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 Resolutions|
|26 MAY 2022S/RES/2631||This resolution extended UNAMI’s mandate until 31 May 2023.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|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.|
|25 JANUARY 2023S/2023/58||This was the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on UNAMI, which covered developments from October 2022 to January 2023.|