Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in Iraq. Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert will brief the Council 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.
Key Recent Developments
It has been one year since the Iraqi parliament approved a new cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, ending the political deadlock that had gripped the country following the October 2021 parliamentary election. The new government has pursued a government programme focused on combatting corruption, addressing unemployment, supporting vulnerable and low-income groups, reforming the economic and financial sectors, and enhancing public services. On 13 March, the government announced a draft budget law for 2023-2025 to advance these priorities. On 12 June, the Iraqi parliament approved the budget, allocating a record $153 billion annually.
Among other provisions, the government programme included commitments to amending electoral legislation and to holding 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 replaced a first-past-the-post system with proportional representation and reduced the number of electoral districts, which some analysts predict will favour established political parties at the expense of independent candidates. While a date has not yet been set for parliamentary elections, the government announced on 20 June that provincial elections will be held on 18 December—the first such elections to be held since 2013 (after the 2018 provincial elections were postponed for technical reasons and the provincial councils were subsequently abolished following the 2019 protests). On 3 August, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it would hold its own long-delayed elections in February 2024.
Discussions about sharing oil revenue between the federal government and the KRG persist. On 23 March, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) ruled that the KRG’s oil exports to Türkiye without Baghdad’s approval violated a 1973 pipeline agreement between Iraq and Türkiye, prompting the latter to halt these oil flows, which constitute approximately 0.5 percent of global supply. Baghdad and Erbil subsequently reached a temporary agreement to restart the exports, according to which the KRG would allow federal oversight of its oil revenues in exchange for a share of the newly adopted federal budget.
Despite this agreement, however, Türkiye has not yet reopened the pipeline while it reportedly seeks to negotiate the settlement that the ICC ordered Türkiye to pay Iraq and to resolve a separate but related case that remains pending with the chamber. According to estimates, the prolonged shutdown has so far cost the KRG $4 billion in lost export revenue, leaving the region increasingly reliant on pay-outs from the federal government. Following protests in the Kurdistan region over unpaid civil service salaries, the federal government announced on 17 September that it would disburse an additional $1.6 billion annually to the region.
Regarding the security situation, the Secretary-General’s latest biannual report on the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) to international peace and security, dated 31 July, said that the group continued to command between 5,000 and 7,000 members across Iraq and Syria, “despite sustained counterterrorism operations by Member States”. According to the report, counterterrorism efforts by Iraqi forces continued to result in a reduction in ISIL/Da’esh activities, but the group has maintained its low-grade insurgency, exploiting security gaps along the border of the Kurdistan region to enable attacks and resupply its cells in desert and mountainous areas.
Additionally, in late August, interethnic violence involving Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen broke out in the northern city of Kirkuk. The unrest followed the federal government’s announcement that it would return to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)—the largest party in the KRG—a building that had previously served as the party headquarters but had been occupied by the federal government since it seized Kirkuk in 2017. On 28 August, Arabs and Turkmen protested outside the building, seeking to halt its return to the KDP and the resumption of party activity in the city. Kurdish counter-protesters confronted the group, leading to a violent dispute and the deployment of Iraqi security forces. According to reports, four Kurds died, and two Iraqi officers were injured in the unrest.
There have also been security-related developments regarding Iraq’s bilateral relationships with neighbouring countries. Following a series of Iranian air strikes in September and November 2022 against Kurdish-Iranian opposition groups in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Iran and Iraq announced a border security agreement in March aimed at “protecting the common borders between the two countries and consolidating cooperation in several security fields”, according to a statement by al-Sudani’s office. In September, as part of the deal, Iraq began disarming and relocating Kurdish-Iranian groups from the Kurdistan region to refugee camps farther from the border.
Türkiye has also continued to conduct periodic military operations against Kurdish targets in Iraq. Most recently, on 18 September, Türkiye launched a drone attack on Arbat airport, killing three Kurdish counterterrorism officers. The following day, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid issued a statement condemning the “repeated Turkish attacks” on Iraqi territory. UNAMI also issued a statement condemning the attack on Arbat and emphasising that “[a]ttacks repeatedly violating Iraqi sovereignty must stop”.
On 30 May, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2682, renewing UNAMI’s mandate for another year. On 15 September, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2697, renewing the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) for a final one-year non-extendable term. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 29 May and 14 September.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
From 6 to 9 August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk undertook an official mission to Iraq at the invitation of the government. During his visit, Türk met with senior government leaders, civil society representatives, and religious leaders. In a 9 August press conference concluding the visit, Türk stressed the need to act immediately on the climate emergency, asserting that “the era of global boiling has begun” and noting that Iraq is among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Türk acknowledged the government’s commitment to address climate change and water scarcity as priorities. However, he noted that actions by government officials against journalists, members of civil society, and environmental activists—such as violence, intimidation, and criminal defamation suits—have had a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in the country.
In a 23 August statement, Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to “immediately withdraw a proposed law currently before parliament that would impose the death penalty for same-sex conduct and imprisonment for transgender expression”. The statement said that the law, if adopted, “would violate fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, privacy, equality, and nondiscrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Iraq”.
Women, Peace, and Security
Khanim Latif—Founder and Director of Asuda for Combating Violence Against Women—briefed the Council during the 18 May meeting on the situation in Iraq. She spoke about the prevalence of violence against women in Iraq—including against women human rights defenders—and stressed that “[w]ithout protection from violence and freedom from discrimination, women cannot engage fully or equally on a political, social or economic level”. Among other recommendations, Latif urged the Council to call on the Iraqi government to provide access to shelters to survivors of gender-based violence, including ensuring access to “psychosocial support, justice and legal services, as well as economic empowerment and opportunities for a safe future”. She also called on the government to allocate a budget for, and implement, the March 2021 Yazidi Survivors Law.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues for the Council include supporting the Iraqi government in maintaining its political and economic stability, promoting human rights (such as the freedom of expression and the rights of women), and addressing the adverse effects of climate change on the country’s long-term development.
One option would be to adopt a statement welcoming the progress that Iraq has made in governance over the past year, while expressing concern about violence against women and calling for stepped-up efforts to curtail gender-based violence.
In addition to the Special Representative’s briefing, the Council could invite a civil society representative in October to brief on the challenges facing Iraq.
Council and Broader Dynamics
Council members are broadly supportive of the Iraqi government and the assistance provided by UNAMI. 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 since eased: the recent adoptions of resolutions 2682 and 2697—respectively renewing the mandates of UNAMI and UNITAD—were both unanimous.
Regional dynamics continue to affect Iraq, however, as demonstrated by Iran’s and Türkiye’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|
|15 SEPTEMBER 2023S/RES/2697||This resolution extended the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) for a final one-year non-extendable term, until 17 September 2024.|
|30 MAY 2023S/RES/2682||This resolution extended UNAMI’s mandate until 31 May 2024.|
|11 MAY 2023S/2023/340||This was the Secretary-General’s 120-day report on UNAMI, which covered developments from February to April 2023.|