What's In Blue

Posted Thu 28 May 2020

Iraq: Renewal of UNAMI’s mandate

Tomorrow afternoon (29 May), the Security Council president (Estonia) is expected to announce the adoption of a resolution renewing the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) until 31 May 2021.

Background

Iraq’s political and security situations have remained unstable and are dependent on support from both Iran and the US. On 31 October 2019, Iraqi president Barham Salih announced Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi’s intention to resign, following widespread popular protests demanding basic services and systemic change. The demonstrations were temporarily halted by the COVID-19 pandemic but have resumed in different parts of the country.

Two candidates designated by Salih as prime minister later withdrew their candidacies. On 9 April, Salih named Mustafa al-Kadhimi, then chief of intelligence, as prime minister-designate. He seems to be acceptable to Iran and the US. Al-Khadimi will only hold that position until elections are held, presumably sometime next year. So far, no prime minister-designate has received support from the protesters. Al-Kadhimi has declared that he will maintain the muhasasa (apportionment system), a political system based on quotas for ethno-sectarian groups. The abolition of that system has been one of the protestors’ core demands. Al-Khadimi has announced the release of detained protesters, a decision that has yet to be implemented.

The Iraqi parliament approved a new government led by al-Kadhimi on 6 May, although seven out of 22 cabinet positions (including agriculture, foreign affairs, justice, migration, oil, and trade) still need to be filled. In her 12 May briefing to the Council, Special Representative and head of UNAMI Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert reaffirmed that “Iraq does not have the luxury of time”. In a 13 May press statement, Council members welcomed the formation of the new government.

In his 6 May report on UNAMI, the Secretary-General points out that “the final text of the Electoral Law, approved by parliament in December 2019, has yet to be published in the official parliamentary gazette due to the absence of a parliamentary decision on the delineation of constituencies and the apportionment of parliamentary seats per constituency.”

Negotiations

It seems that the US, the penholder on Iraq issues in general, shared a zero draft of the mandate renewal resolution on 18 May with all members of the Council. One virtual meeting of Council experts took place on 20 May. The first revised version of the resolution was circulated on 21 May for comments until 5 pm on 22 May. The penholder then shared a revised draft on 26 May and put it under silence until 2 pm on 27 May. The silence was not broken and the draft is now in blue. Voting started this morning at 10 am. Council members have 24 hours to submit their votes, in line with the procedures agreed to by the Council in late March (S/2020/253). A meeting to read out the results of the voting is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

Council members are generally in agreement in their support for UNAMI, as apparently reflected by the negotiations. A unanimous adoption is expected.

In the preambular part, the draft in blue contains new language on fighting terrorism, elections and the urgent delivery of meaningful reforms addressing the people’s legitimate demands.

In the operative part, the draft retains UNAMI’s mandate and specifies its tasks related to electoral support. In this regard, UNAMI is asked to provide “regular technical reviews” as well as “detailed reporting” on election preparations and electoral processes. It seems that one member argued for stronger language emphasising Iraq’s sovereignty. The penholder appears to have accommodated that position by adding language referring to referenda and elections as “Iraqi-led” and “Iraqi-owned”.

It seems that the main differences during the negotiations arose around the question of the Secretary-General’s reporting cycle. Some members suggested that a four-month cycle would be sufficient, rather than the current three-month cycle. It seems that this position was supported by Iraq and UNAMI as well. It appears that other members, including the penholder, preferred to retain the shorter reporting cycle. Among the reasons was that it might not be timely to introduce a longer reporting period considering the situation in the country. Another factor was the existing alignment of the UNAMI reporting with the reporting on missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, which is also on a three-month cycle. Some members argued that this alignment should be retained. While the draft in blue does not change the reporting cycle, it contains a formulation expressing the Council’s intention to review the reporting cycle ahead of UNAMI’s next mandate renewal or sooner upon the request of the Iraqi government.

It appears that some members proposed additional language, including on children and armed conflict, climate change, human rights, and access restrictions for humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Addressing humanitarian concerns, Hennis-Plasschaert, in her 12 May briefing to the Council, emphasised that “humanitarian workers, especially NGOs […] provide life-saving services”. She further described the administrative hurdles facing humanitarian partners in the country. The draft in blue does not reflect these concerns, however.