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Iraq Briefing ahead of UNAMI Mandate Renewal

On Friday (15 July), Special Representative Ján Kubiš will brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) ahead of the mission’s mandate renewal later this month.

When Kubiš last briefed the Council in public on 6 May, he reported on Iraq’s deepening political crisis and challenges to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reform efforts; the financial crisis resulting from corruption, plunging oil prices and the high cost of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); and projected increased humanitarian needs in the context of counter-ISIL operations. Council members expect that all of these issues will be highlighted again during the briefing tomorrow.

Regarding challenges to Abadi’s leadership, many Council members will want Kubiš’s assessment of the political stalemate. The prime minister has so far failed to form a reform cabinet of technocrats to counter corruption and curtail the power of political actors opposed to reform efforts. The partial progress achieved on this issue on 26 April, when Iraqi parliamentarians approved five of Abadi’s cabinet nominees, was declared unconstitutional by Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court on 28 June due to the lack of a quorum at the April session. Exacerbating the political crisis is the security reshuffle in Baghdad following the 3 July ISIL car bombing that killed hundreds in a largely Shi’a neighborhood, and ongoing mass demonstrations in Baghdad demanding reforms and the replacement of the prime minister, president and parliament speaker. These demonstrations are being called for by influential Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, with the next one expected this Friday.

Council members expect Kubiš to focus on the humanitarian and human rights situation related to the government’s recent offensive to retake Fallujah from ISIL. The Fallujah campaign was launched by Iraqi forces with the Shi’a militia Hashd al-Shaabi—otherwise known as the popular mobilisation forces (PMF)—that are nominally under the command and control of the government. The campaign was also supported by local Sunni fighters and airstrikes by the US-led anti-ISIL coalition. The PMF have been accused of targeting Sunni men and boys fleeing Fallujah during security screenings. Allegations of abuse include disappearances, torture to elicit confessions and summary executions. Some Council members will want an update from Kubiš on the status of Abadi’s promise to establish an investigative committee to look into all alleged abuses.

The Fallujah campaign also resulted in a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Some 82,000 civilians fled the city during the month-long offensive, according to OCHA. Council members will be interested to hear more from Kubiš about the conditions facing this newest wave of internally displaced persons (IDPs), given Iraq’s limited capacity to respond effectively to the displacement crisis compounded by the severely underfunded UN humanitarian appeal for Iraq.

In relation to IDPs, Council members will want to know when IDPs might be able to return to Fallujah and what the government’s re-stabilisation plans are for the city, in light of concerns about lagging re-stabilisation in other areas already liberated from ISIL. Council members expect Kubiš to report that IDP return to Fallujah could begin as early as August and to reiterate a position, also held by many Council members, that for military advances against ISIL to hold, the government, in cooperation with the UN, would have to work quickly to restore the rule of law and basic services, particularly in the Sunni provinces, which have a strained relationship with the Shi’a-led government in Baghdad.

Given the humanitarian and human rights consequences of the Fallujah offensive, Council members will be interested in knowing more about both the government’s and the UN’s plans to deal with the anticipated aftermath of the Mosul offensive, expected later this year. The report Kubiš will present to the Council on Friday predicts that 1 million people could be affected by military operations in Mosul, significantly worse than the Fallujah exodus.

The role of the PMF in the planned Mosul offensive is of concern to some Council members. The PMF has insisted it will play a central role in Mosul. Meanwhile, Sunni fighters have signaled their unwillingness to participate in the Mosul offensive alongside the government if Shi’a militias are involved, especially after the reports of abuses resulting from the militias’ participation in both the Fallujah and Tikrit operations.

Finally, many Council members may want Kubiš’s views on how the Turkish presence in the Ba’shiqa region near Mosul may impact the planning for the Mosul offensive since, according to the most recent UNAMI report (S/2016/592), Turkey and Iraq have yet to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the Turkish military presence in northern Iraq. This issue was last raised when Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča briefed Council members in consultations on 23 June under “any other business” on cross-border issues involving Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

At press time, a draft UNAMI resolution was being discussed among the P5 and had not yet been circulated to the entire Council membership. Council members are generally supportive of UNAMI and some subscribe to the view held by the US and Iraq, as well as by Kubiš, that its mandate is sufficiently broad and flexible enough for the mission to fulfil its good offices role.

Other Council members, including the UK and several elected members, believe that UNAMI would benefit from a resolution that updates and prioritises its tasks, since the mandate has not changed since resolution 1770 was adopted in 2007. Although wider negotiations have not begun, these Council members have exhibited interest in incorporating stronger language on various issues in the draft resolution such as promoting national reconciliation, accountability, security sector reform, deeper political and economic reforms, issues related to women, peace and security and to children and armed conflict, and the right of IDPs to return to their homes. However, while some of these issues may be reflected in the preambular paragraphs of the draft resolution, it seems unlikely that the operational paragraphs of the mandate renewal will be changed.
Some Council members have observed that while neither Iraq, as the host country, nor the US, as the penholder on Iraq in the Council, want the mandate to change, there are other concerns about changes – in particular, that opening up the mandate will allow cross-over issues with Syria to enter the text, and with it political divisions. Except through the lens of counter-terrorism, Council members have not approached the connected crises in Iraq and Syria holistically and have exhibited a strong preference to treat the two situations as discrete issues.

The adoption of the UNAMI renewal is currently scheduled for next Wednesday, 20 July.

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