What's In Blue

Iraq: Briefings by Human Rights, Humanitarian and UN Mission Heads

Tomorrow morning (18 November), the Council will hold its regular quarterly briefing and consultations on Iraq. Since the surprise takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in June, the Council’s revived engagement on Iraq has been almost exclusively ISIS-related. The Council has reinforced its counter-terrorism framework and deliberations tomorrow will include a discussion of the efforts by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition to counter the threat of ISIS. However, with the security response to ISIS happening outside of the Security Council purview, there may be increased appetite among Council members to refocus their attention on the range of challenges facing Iraq.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Nickolay Mladenov will present the most recent UNAMI report (S/2014/774) and will likely focus his comments on the newly formed Shi’a-led government and Baghdad’s relationship with Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish population. In recognition that the discussion on Iraq should not be exclusively ISIS-related, Australia, the presidency of the Council in November, invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein to brief in order to highlight the human rights dimension of the conflict in Iraq. Late last week, the UK furthermore requested that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos brief on the deteriorating humanitarian situation. All three briefers are likely to emphasise that the crisis in Iraq cannot be solved by military intervention alone.

Regarding the political situation, Haider al-Abadi succeeded Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in August, with a mandate to form an inclusive government to unify Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish citizens against ISIS and ease the sectarian tensions and violence that had characterised Maliki’s leadership. The formation of Abadi’s government was completed on 18 October after considerable delay over two crucial security portfolios—the ministries of defense and the interior. Sunnis were opposed to appointing a high-level member of the Shi’a Badr Organisation to the interior ministry, as the Badr militia is suspected of having run death squads against Sunni opponents since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. In the end, parliamentarians finally agreed to appoint Mohammed Ghabban—from the Badr bloc, but not its leader—as the minister of interior. Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni leader from Mosul, was approved as minister of defense. Council members may be interested in Mladenov’s assessment of how these appointments reflect on Abadi’s mandate to form an inclusive government and improve Sunnis’ confidence in the central government.

Council members will also be interested in more details about the new government’s ministerial platform and how it might begin to be concretely implemented. Abadi’s announced priorities include fighting ISIS, tackling sectarian divisions, addressing corruption, restructuring the security forces and improving relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government. However, there are indications that, even with a new government, it is going to be difficult to rein in the sectarian violence. Abadi announced on 13 September that airstrikes against civilian areas would stop and has called for militias to be withdrawn from cities. Council members will be interested to hear from Mladenov whether government aerial bombardment of Sunni areas has dissipated and his assessment of media reports that unchecked activity by Shi’a militias has continued.

Mladenov is also likely to provide an update on several significant developments such as Abadi’s removal of 36 commanders from the Iraqi Security Forces, the breakthrough agreement between Baghdad and Erbil over oil exports and revenue sharing, as well as last Friday’s retaking of the strategic city and refinery of Baiji by Iraqi forces from ISIS. Council members will want to hear whether Mladenov thinks these events indicate a sustainable, positive trajectory for Iraq’s political, security and economic situations.

Finally, in light of the open debate on counter-terrorism the following day (19 November), Council members may be interested in more details from Mladenov during consultations on the reports UNAMI receives regarding illegal financing of ISIS via oil smuggling, ransom for kidnappings and trade in antiquities. Such information may feed into the Council’s consideration of recent recommendations from the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Monitoring Team regarding ISIS financing that called for enhanced sanctions to help staunch these illicit funding avenues.

The briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights will outline the broad range of violations committed by both ISIS and Iraqi forces. Regarding ISIS, Zeid is likely to draw attention to serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross abuses of human rights perpetrated by ISIS and associated armed groups. He is also likely to reinforce the concerns voiced by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, who visited Iraq in mid-October and said the violations by ISIS against the Yezidi community may amount to attempted genocide. Since July, Council members have adopted a presidential statement and issued several press statements condemning various ISIS attacks and highlighting the group’s threat to ethnic and religious minorities, including the Yezidis. However, Council members have never referenced genocide in any of their agreed language on Iraq. While many Council members are sympathetic to the plight of these communities and have called for accountability, there is unlikely to be any concrete action by the Council in this regard.

In relation to the government, Zeid is likely to highlight violations by Iraqi forces such as airstrikes against and shelling of civilian areas, extrajudicial killings and summary executions perpetrated by Iraqi forces or affiliated militias. He may also draw attention to significant deficiencies in Iraq’s criminal justice system, in particular, a rise in judges systematically issuing death sentences based solely on disputed evidence (i.e. confessions resulting from torture) and testimony of secret informants. Zeid is also likely to reiterate his 16 October call during a press conference for accountability and to report that his office has urged Iraqi officials to pass legislation that would make war crimes and crimes against humanity punishable under Iraqi law and to accede to the ICC statute, accepting its ad-hoc jurisdiction for crimes committed during the ongoing conflict.

Zeid is also likely to stress that the tremendous strain communities are under has increased sectarian violence and has also led to a trend in intra-communal violence in areas under ISIS control, as various actors, in particular Sunni tribal and religious leaders, have come down on one side or the other of the ISIS divide. Such violence was seen in late October in Anbar when ISIS massacred hundreds of Sunnis who were cooperating with the government against the group. This emerging trend will be of concern to Council members as it further complicates the prospects of easing sectarian tension in Iraq.

In reporting on the humanitarian situation, Amos is likely to highlight that the crisis in Iraq has sparked a humanitarian and protection crisis with about 8,600 civilians killed and 13,800 injured thus far in 2014. Council members will likely be interested in hearing more about Amos’s September visit to Iraq, in particular about the needs of the Kurdistan Regional Government that has received almost half of the 1.9 million Iraqis who have been displaced. She is expected to describe a deteriorating humanitarian situation that is likely to be exacerbated by the onset of winter and the threat of food insecurity as Iraq’s agricultural sector faces collapse. Humanitarian access will also be an issue of concern to Council members since there are reports that access to 650,000 displaced persons has been restricted in ISIS controlled areas. Council members may also want to hear whether access in government-controlled areas has faced challenges.

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