UNAMI Renewal Reflects Need for an Inclusive Government to face ISIS Offensive in Iraq
Tomorrow (30 July), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for a year and increasing reporting to a quarterly cycle instead of three times a year. The resolution—which is now in blue—acknowledges the extreme insecurity in Iraq that was brought into sharp relief by the surprise takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in early June, but otherwise does not substantively alter the mission’s mandate.
The preambular language in the draft resolution expresses grave concern at the large scale offensive of ISIS and associated armed groups (an indirect reference to former Baathists and Sunni tribal leaders) threatening Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The draft also underscores that the only way to address the threat posed by ISIS is through united political leadership, an indirect reference to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government’s sectarian policies and consolidation of power since he took office in 2006. It also indirectly references the need for the tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government to be bridged by calling for a comprehensive solution on the fair distribution of resources, i.e. oil. In response to the fact that ISIS has taken control of oil fields and pipelines, the draft condemns any direct or indirect trade in Iraqi oil involving terrorist groups and emphasises such trade may lead to further sanctions. (On 28 July, the Council adopted a presidential statement on illicit oil trade as a source of revenue for terrorists in Iraq and Syria.) The draft does not, however, reference the unilateral oil sales of the Kurdistan Regional Government, orchestrated in circumvention of the central government, and which Iraq considers illegal and in violation of national sovereignty.
These additions are a significant departure from past resolutions that consistently, if undeservedly, characterised the security situation in Iraq as improving. For several years, Council members found it difficult to address the growing violence in Iraq and at times narrowed their consideration of the issue to tangential matters, such as Camp Ashraf. This was primarily because of US sensitivities related to its 2003 invasion and 2011 withdrawal, as well as the degree to which the US, the penholder on Iraq, sought Iraq’s agreement prior to any Council outcome. In fact, during last year’s renewal negotiations several Council members objected to language that referred to “improvements in the security situation” in Iraq, which was grudgingly changed to the “improved situation”, striking the word security from that particular line. In contrast, this year’s negotiations were smooth as Council members were in broad agreement that the changes to the text more closely reflected the situation on the ground.
The operational paragraphs of the UNAMI mandate have not changed since the adoption of resolution 1770 in 2007, and other than increased reporting, that remains the case in this renewal. Council members believe that the existing mandate is broad enough and flexible enough to allow the mission’s good offices to respond to the situation at hand without having to renegotiate the mandate with Iraq. (UNAMI’s presence requires Iraq’s consent since it operates under a Chapter VI mandate.)
When the Council met most recently on Iraq on 23 July, Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov said Iraq will never be the same after this crisis and that the country faced two choices: disintegration or moving towards a new internal balance of power. He said that Iraq cannot afford a protracted government formation process given the threats the country is facing. (A prime minister has still not been elected by parliament following the 30 April elections.) He also briefed on the security implications of the seizure of north-western Iraq by ISIS, the fact that over a third of Iraq was outside the government’s control, territorial consolidation of Kurdistan and the ongoing impasse between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad. In the consultations that followed, Council members were interested in hearing more from Mladenov on two main issues: first, what an appropriate security response to ISIS might be and second, whether Maliki would persist in seeking a third term as prime minister.
It seems Mladenov informed Council members that any security response to ISIS, while very much needed, cannot be implemented in isolation from a political and economic package addressing the concerns of all communities without exception. It seems Baghdad is arguing it needs assistance with the security situation before focusing on an inclusive political solution, with the international community very strongly urging the opposite sequence. The draft resolution that will be voted on tomorrow explicitly stresses the need for the latter scenario.
As to whether Maliki would relinquish his pursuit of a third term as prime minister, Mladenov said Maliki’s bloc had won the largest number of parliamentary seats and was therefore technically entitled to a first pass at nominating a candidate for prime minister. If Maliki’s bloc acts on that technicality, it would likely reflect that Maliki is planning to use his electoral advantage to stay on as prime minister. However, if his bloc joins a broader coalition it may indicate that he is willing to step down.
Finally, Mladenov discussed the humanitarian impact of the current crisis as well as human rights violations being committed by ISIS, loosely affiliated armed groups and, in consultations, also raised concerns about violations by Iraqi security forces.