What's In Blue

Posted Thu 9 Jan 2014

Iraq Briefing and Draft Presidential Statement

This afternoon (9 January), Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Nickolay Mladenov will brief Council members in consultations via video-teleconference on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, and more specifically in Fallujah and Ramadi in the western province of Anbar. (Anbar province borders Syria and was the center of a Sunni insurgency following the US-led invasion in 2003.) Although the Council has remained largely silent on Iraq in the past year, given the latest turn of events, it seems likely that a draft presidential statement addressing the security situation may be circulated later today following the briefing.

Council members will be looking for an update, in particular on the security and humanitarian situation in Anbar province. Violence in Iraq has increased to levels not seen since the all-out sectarian warfare of 2006 and 2007. There have been almost daily fatal attacks, many of them coordinated and sectarian in nature, against civilians, law enforcement and government officials. According to UNAMI, at least 7,818 civilians were killed in 2013, in comparison to 3,238 in 2012. The surge in violence can be traced to a government crackdown against Sunni protests that began in April 2013, largely over the perception that the Shi’a-led government was consolidating its hold on power. (In late August 2013, Iraqi courts struck down a law limiting the prime minister to two terms in office, allowing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to run for a third, consecutive term in April 2014.) Tensions have also been exacerbated by the destabilising effects of the crisis in neighbouring Syria and the proliferation of the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) fighters there.

In Ramadi, there are pockets of fighters affiliated with ISIS. But unlike in Fallujah, Sunni tribal leaders in Ramadi have agreed to work in cooperation with the government in fighting terrorist groups. Meanwhile, media reports indicate that Iraqi security forces are preparing an assault on Fallujah, which is largely under ISIS control. Maliki has urged local leaders there to drive ISIS fighters out in order to pre-empt a military offensive and that the government “will not use force, as long as the tribes announce their readiness to confront Al-Qaida and expel it”.

In a 30 December 2013 statement, Mladenov said it was the government’s responsibility to protect civilians from terrorism, while observing the rights of Iraqi citizens, providing for humanitarian needs and showing maximum restraint with the use of force. For now, the defense ministry has said that a more robust assault on Fallujah is on hold due to serious concerns about civilian casualties. (Iraqi security forces are blockading Fallujah resulting in skirmishes with ISIS fighters and over 13,000 families fleeing the city.)

A draft presidential statement—drafted by the US, in consultation with Iraq—will likely be circulated to the broader Council membership today. Though the draft had yet to be circulated, most Council members were aware of the main elements of the text. It seems Council members expect the statement to deplore the attacks in Ramadi and Fallujah, condemn terrorism, recognise the efforts of the Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal leaders in the fight against Al-Qaida and ISIS, and express support for the government in addressing the country’s security needs.

Some Council members have expressed the view that the draft should also have critical references to the importance of national dialogue and unity and also echo Mladenov’s call for the government to show maximum restraint.

Council members have found that publicly addressing the growing violence in Iraq has been difficult, primarily because of US sensitivities related to its 2003 invasion. Despite the increasing instability, beyond routine decisions regarding UNAMI, Iraq/Kuwait issues and winding down the Oil-for-Food Programme, until 25 November 2013, when it issued a press statement condemning recent terrorist attacks (SC/11186), the Council has remained silent on Iraq for years. If a presidential statement can be agreed, it would be the first substantive Council decision on the political and security situation in Iraq since it adopted a presidential statement welcoming a national partnership government on 12 November 2010 (S/PRST/2010/23).

Many Council members have found it untenable to continue to ignore the implications of increasingly violent sectarian splits and political dysfunction in Iraq and will likely welcome the US initiative to finally address the issue. There is also a certain degree of acceptance that Iraq and the US have bilaterally consulted on the draft. However, some Council members are wary about whether they will receive the implicit message that there is very little room to negotiate the text, repeating what happened when Council members issued the 25 November 2013 press statement.

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