May 2024 Monthly Forecast



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. Outgoing 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.  

Key Recent Developments   

The security situation in Iraq remains tense amidst regional fallout from the Israel-Hamas war. Following the outbreak of the conflict, Iraqi militia groups—considered Iranian proxies forming part of the country’s “axis of resistance” across the region—launched dozens of attacks on US military assets in Iraq and Syria, as well as a 28 January drone strike against a US military outpost in north-eastern Jordan in which three people were killed. On 2 February, the US launched retaliatory airstrikes against 85 militia targets in western Iraq and eastern Syria, reportedly killing 16 people and wounding 25 in Iraq. On 7 February, the US conducted a drone strike in Baghdad that killed a senior leader of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia group who was allegedly responsible for the 28 January strike. Since then, the militias do not appear to have attacked US assets in the region.   

The hostilities raised tensions between the US and Iraqi governments. Iraq condemned the US strikes as violations of Iraqi sovereignty, and some officials called for the withdrawal of the 2,500 US military advisers stationed in the country as part of the international coalition combatting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). In a 25 January statement, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced that the US-Iraq Higher Military Commission—established in August 2023 to begin phasing down the US-led military coalition—would start holding working group meetings to “enable the transition to an enduring bilateral security partnership” between the countries. The commission’s three working groups have subsequently met in Baghdad to assess the continued threat from ISIL/Da’esh, the operational environment, and the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces, respectively. In a joint statement issued after a 15 April meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’a al-Sudani and US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, the two leaders affirmed that they would continue to review these three factors to determine “when and how” the anti-ISIL/Da’esh coalition in Iraq would end and transition to bilateral security partnerships. 

Iraq has also been implicated in the rising tensions between Iran and Israel. On 12 April, Iran launched an airborne attack against Israel comprising approximately 300 uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. In a 14 April press statement, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the strikes were “supplemented” by additional attacks by militias in Iraq, as well as the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Al-Sudani denied that strikes on Israel were launched from Iraqi territory.  

On the political track, the Iraqi Federal Court, in a 20 February ruling, struck down an election law in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) that reserved 11 seats in the regional parliament for ethnic and religious minorities. The ruling also transferred authority to oversee regional elections from the KRI’s electoral commission to the federal Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission and divided the region’s single-constituency system into four separate constituencies. In response, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)—the region’s dominant political party—announced that it would boycott the regional parliamentary elections scheduled for 20 June. 

In a 20 March statement, UNAMI took note of both decisions by the Iraqi Federal Court and the KDP and called on all parties to work together toward a solution to avoid “another prolonged impasse”, noting that it was “essential” to hold the parliamentary elections on the prescribed date. The elections had originally been scheduled for October 2022 but have been postponed several times because of political disagreements between Kurdish and federal Iraqi officials and between rival Kurdish political parties.  

On 15 January, the Secretary-General submitted to the Council his report containing recommendations on ways for the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL in Iraq (UNITAD) to share its collected evidence with Iraqi authorities. That report was requested by resolution 2697of 15 September 2023, which renewed UNITAD’s mandate for a final one-year term. On 14 March, Special Adviser and head of UNITAD Christian Ritscher transmitted to the Council a road map for the completion of the team’s mandate and necessary steps for its closure, also requested by resolution 2697. 

On 28 March, the Secretary-General transmitted to the Council the independent strategic review of UNAMI, requested by resolution 2682 of 30 May 2023, which most recently renewed the mission’s mandate. According to the review, the Iraqi government has proposed that UNAMI draw down by May 2026 through a two-year transitional period that would limit the mission’s mandated tasks to humanitarian and development activities during the next one-year mandate period and subsequently transfer residual mission tasks to the UN Country Team (UNCT) in the following period. The review appeared to endorse this timeline, which it said could facilitate an “orderly reconfiguration” of the UN presence in Iraq. It also recommended, however, that the timeline be combined with an indicator-based approach to reassure all Iraqi stakeholders—notably minority groups and civil society actors—of “the sustainability of the current political system and their continued safe participation in it” after UNAMI’s drawdown. The proposed indicators include, among other things, the peaceful holding of parliamentary elections; the undertaking of a constitutional review; a sustainable UN human rights presence beyond UNAMI; an agreement between the federal government and the KRI on the equitable sharing of oil revenues; and continued progress in providing security in all areas of Iraq, including through the progressive transfer of security tasks from the military to the police.  

Furthermore, noting a “discrepancy” between UNAMI’s current mandate and what is achievable on the ground, the review recommended that the Council streamline UNAMI’s mandate during the transitional period to better address present threats to Iraq’s peace and security. It identified these threats as the fragility of state institutions, the proliferation of armed actors, and the possibility of a resurgence of ISIL/Da’esh or other violent extremist groups—all of which are exacerbated by uncertainty about the impact of the current regional crisis on Iraq. In this context, the review recommended focusing UNAMI’s mandate on supporting Iraqi efforts to consolidate nationally owned conflict resolution, crisis management, and reconciliation mechanisms, as well as continuing to provide technical elections and human rights assistance. It also recommended that the Council reduce the frequency of the Secretary-General’s reporting from three times a year to a biannual cycle to allow for better analysis of UNAMI’s progress in areas that are increasingly focused on longer-term issues. 

On 5 February, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed Council members at Russia’s request on the US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue story of 5 February.) The following day, on 6 February, the Council convened for its regular briefing on UNAMI. At that meeting, Hennis-Plasschaert announced her intention to step down from her position in late May. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed her in 2018. 

Human-Rights Related Developments 

On 9 February, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado expressed great concern about proposed amendments to legislation in Iraq. Approving these amendments, she noted, would impose the death penalty or life imprisonment for engaging in consensual same-sex relations. The spokesperson called on the members of Iraq’s parliament to ensure that any legislation is fully in line with Iraq’s human rights obligations. On 15 April, Iraqi lawmakers postponed voting due to time constraints; disagreements over the amendments remained unresolved. 

Key Issues and Options   

The key issue for the Council in May is to renew UNAMI’s mandate. The Council is expected to initiate the transition towards a recalibrated UN presence in Iraq while seeking to preserve the relative stability that the country has enjoyed since the current government came into power in October 2022.  

The independent strategic review is expected to inform Council negotiations, including with regard to the transitional timeline, the substance of UNAMI’s mandate during the transition, and proposed indicators to measure progress. Escalating regional and national tensions in the context of the Israel-Hamas war could also affect these discussions.   

In the longer term, the Council could also consider options described in the review for supporting Iraq in strengthening effective regional cooperation on transnational issues, such as border security, energy, trade, environment, refugees, and the adverse impacts of climate change. In this regard, the review recommended that the Council establish a “dedicated capacity” to help countries in the Gulf region consolidate linkages on these issues, possibly in the form of a regional UN office to promote regional dialogue and confidence-building.  

Council and Broader Dynamics   

Council members are broadly supportive of the Iraqi government and the assistance provided by UNAMI. Last year’s adoptions of resolutions 2682 and 2697—respectively renewing the mandates of UNAMI and UNITAD—were unanimous. 

Council members also largely agree that the UN’s long-term configuration in Iraq should be reviewed in light of the improving political and security situations in the country, a position shared by the Iraqi government. Resolution 2682 therefore requested an independent strategic review of UNAMI’s mandate. 

Despite this consensus, Council members may have diverging views on the specific elements of a transition. For instance, they may debate the length and sequencing of the timeline, such as the two-year transitional period recommended by the review and the Iraqi government’s proposal to limit the mission’s mandate to humanitarian and development activities as of the next mandate period. Members are also likely to deliberate the review’s recommendation to combine a transitional timeline with an indicator-based approach, including which indicators to employ and the extent to which the timeline should be contingent on progress on those indicators. 

More broadly, the current regional situation has exacerbated geopolitical tensions, which have played out in the context of Iraq. US and Iranian military operations in the country have strained Baghdad’s relations with both Washington and Tehran while stoking concerns about a direct confrontation between the US and Iran in the region. The escalation may also further inflame relations between the US and both China and Russia, which have forged close ties with Tehran. The Iraqi government routinely declares that it seeks a balanced relationship with regional and international security partners and does not wish to become a theatre for geopolitical conflicts.  

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 Resolutions
15 SEPTEMBER 2023S/RES/2697 This resolution extended UNTIAD’s mandate 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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
25 JANUARY 2024S/2024/96 This was the Secretary-General’s 120-day report on UNAMI, which covered developments from September 2023 to February 2024.
25 JANUARY 2024S/2024/95 This was the Secretary-General’s report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals and missing Kuwaiti property.
15 JANUARY 2024S/2024/20 This was the Secretary-General’s report containing recommendations on ways for UNITAD to share its collected evidence with Iraqi authorities, which was requested by resolution 2697.
Security Council Letters
26 MARCH 2024S/2024/270 This letter transmitted to the Council the strategic independent review of UNAMI, prepared by Volker Perthes, requested by resolution 2682.
14 MARCH 2024S/2024/238 This letter transmitted to the Council a road map for the completion of UNITAD’s mandate and necessary steps for its closure, requested by resolution 2697.

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