What's In Blue

Posted Tue 25 Aug 2020

Iraq: Open and Closed VTC on UNAMI

Tomorrow morning (26 August), Security Council members are scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is expected to brief.

Hennis-Plasschaert will most likely focus her statement on recent developments in Iraq and on the two latest Secretary-General’s reports—on UNAMI (S/2020/792) and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives (S/2020/753).

Iraq continues to be the military battleground for competing Iran-US interests. On 11 June, Iraq and the US started the first round of a “Strategic Dialogue”, followed by a second round that concluded on 20 August with a meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and US President Donald J. Trump in Washington, D.C. The withdrawal of US forces in Iraq was one aspect discussed during the meeting. According to media reports, al-Kadhimi emphasised that Iraq still needed US support for counter-terrorism training. The US currently has about 5,000 troops stationed in the country. The US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh (the Coalition) has about 2,500 troops in Iraq. Attacks continue to be directed against the US military and diplomatic presence and the Coalition. The US blames Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq and has attacked their bases in retaliation. On 23 August, the Coalition announced the handover of the Camp Taji military base, which had often been the target of attacks, to Iraqi security forces.

Iraq also continues to face significant challenges from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh). According to the 26th report (S/2020/717) of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team (the Monitoring Team), the group has managed to exploit political instability as well as security gaps as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to relaunch an intensive rural insurgency and has been able to conduct sporadic attacks in large cities, including Baghdad.

Council members might be interested in an update from Hennis-Plasschaert about UNAMI’s activities with regard to electoral support.  Renewing UNAMI’s mandate until 21 May 2021 through resolution 2522, the Council specified UNAMI’s tasks related to electoral support. UNAMI was asked to provide “regular technical reviews” as well as “detailed reporting” on election preparations and electoral processes. In the observations section in his latest report on UNAMI, the Secretary-General noted that the Iraqi government’s programme “puts a priority on the holding of free, fair and credible early elections.” He said it was “critical” that the Council of Representatives (the Iraqi parliament) approve the necessary technical annexes to the electoral law in an effort to have a clear legal framework for the elections.

Another issue that some Council members may address in their statements is the recent violence against political activists in Iraq.  They might refer in this regard to the death of Reham Yacoub, an Iraqi medical doctor and prominent political protest activist, who was shot by an unidentified gunman on 19 August in Basra. According to media reports, her death marked the third attack against political activists in Basra within a week. On 18 August, al-Khadimi had dismissed Basra’s chiefs of police and national security after the death of another activist, Tahseen Osama, had led to protests that were met with violence by security forces. UNAMI condemned the killings in a 20 August statement and urged the government to hold the perpetrators accountable. Several countries, including those of Council members (such as Belgium, Germany, the UK and the US) issued statements out of their Baghdad-based embassies condemning the targeted killing of political activists. On 21 August, protesters demanded the dismissal or resignation of Basra’s governor within 48 hours, set fire to the local offices of the Iraqi parliament and clashed with security forces. The following day, al-Kadhimi visited Basra. Hennis-Plasschaert may update Council members on these developments.

Hennis-Plasschaert may also provide information on how UNAMI is assisting the Iraqi government in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic as well as how it is supporting the population in coping with the pandemic. According to the Secretary-General’s report, there were no cases among UNAMI staff during the three month reporting period.

The impact of the pandemic on efforts related to missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, could also be discussed. According to the latest Secretary-General’s report on the matter, the process of reassembling human remains transferred to Kuwait a year ago has slowed due to restrictions implemented to combat the pandemic in Kuwait. Meetings of the Technical Subcommittee of the Tripartite Commission (consisting of representatives of France, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UK, and the US and chaired by the ICRC) could not take place. Hennis-Plasschaert may address how that work might be conducted virtually in the future. She could note that training by UNAMI for staff from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence also had to be put on hold. She may emphasise that overall, the Secretary-General welcomes the new Iraqi government’s pledge to resolve outstanding issues on this matter in order to further improve its relationship with Kuwait.

Turkey continues to conduct military operations against positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. Turkey, the EU and the US, among others, classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Turkey justifies its actions as counter-terrorism measures conducted in self-defence. The Secretary-General regularly reports on these incidents to the Council. On 11 August, Turkish drone strikes killed two high-ranking Iraqi border guards and their driver; the mayor of the town of Sidakan in  Erbil province, Ihsan Chalabi, said that the guards “were in meetings with PKK fighters”. In a 12 August statement, the Iraqi foreign ministry condemned the attack as a violation of its sovereignty. Iraq also disinvited the Turkish defence minister who was scheduled to visit on 13 August. Such operations are routinely condemned by Iraq, which usually stops short of asking the Security Council to take action so as not to jeopardise relations with its neighbour.

In their statements, some members may also choose to mention the sixth anniversary of the 3 August 2014 ISIL attack on Iraq’s Sinjar district, where the majority of the world’s Yazidis (a religious community believed to have been founded in the 11th century) live. The UN has classified the atrocities against the Yazidis that began with the 3 August 2014 attack as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In a 3 August statement, Hennis-Plasschaert emphasised that the Yazidi community continues to suffer “from insecurity, the absence of adequate services and the lack of a unified administration.” She reiterated her call to Baghdad and Erbil (the capital of the Kurdistan region where Sinjar is located) to resolve their outstanding issues. In that regard, Hennis-Plasschaert might speak about her efforts to support the improvement of relations between the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.