Iraq: Emergency Meeting on ISIS Offensive in Nineveh Province
This afternoon at 5:15 p.m. (7 August), at the request of France, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun will brief Security Council members in emergency consultations on the ongoing offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) against the peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq’s Nineveh province, where a large number of minorities live.
ISIS launched an offensive on 1 August in the area around the Mosul Dam and the Sinjar district, a Kurdish-controlled enclave populated mainly by the Yazidi minority. The ISIS offensive has resulted in the peshmerga retreating from strategic holdings, such as the Mosul dam and the Rabiyah border crossing into a Kurdish region of Syria, in order to consolidate protection of the territory controlled by the KRG. Media reports indicate that by 7 August, ISIS was in control of the dam and the crossing. Council members may want more information about the strategic and humanitarian implications of this latest development.
Last night (6 August), ISIS captured Qaraqosh, a city largely inhabited by Assyrian Christians and only 25 kilometres from the capital of the KRG, Erbil, after peshmerga forces withdrew. This fighting has caused significant displacement of minority communities with media reports indicating that between 35,000 and 50,000 Yazidis and a quarter of Iraq’s Christians have fled their homes.
Council members were last briefed on some of these developments three days ago on 4 August under “any other business” by Deputy Special Representative György Busztin via video-teleconference. The next day Council members issued a press statement deploring ISIS attacks, condemning the persecution of minorities and calling for an inclusive political process (SC/11509).
This afternoon Council members are likely to be interested in hearing more about whether ISIS is spearheading this offensive alone or with active participation of former Baathists and Sunni militants who are disillusioned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Council members will be looking for analysis of whether cracks in the cooperation between ISIS and these Sunni groups are beginning to emerge in the aftermath of systematic ISIS attacks against religious and ethnic minorities.
Council members will want to know more about the level of security cooperation between the KRG and Baghdad in the light of ISIS advances and the withdrawal of peshmerga forces. They will also be interested in how such cooperation may impact the current impasse in trying to form a new central government following the 30 April elections. Maliki has so far seemed unwilling to relinquish his electoral advantage in pursuit of a third term as prime minister. (Maliki’s party was due to name a candidate for prime minister today, but had not done so at press time.)
While Council members are eager to keep abreast of these fast-moving developments there is also a palpable sense of frustration over the difficulty in coming up with a practical and strategic response to the threat ISIS poses to the region and beyond. When Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov briefed the Council on 23 July, he said a security response to ISIS is needed but should not be implemented in isolation from a political and economic package addressing the concerns of all communities without exception.
It seems Baghdad, and perhaps now also Erbil, is arguing it needs assistance with the security situation before focusing on an inclusive political solution. Council members have strongly urged the opposite sequence. Since early 2014, the Council has moved from discussing Iraq as an improving situation to more accurately reflecting the situation on the ground. However so far it has proved difficult to break out of its traditional responses of supporting humanitarian action, calling for a political solution and focusing on existing counter-terrorism mechanisms such as sanctions and approaching the issue through the financing of terrorism. However, with the ISIS offensive continuing to gain ground, strategic calculations may be shifting.