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Iraq: Videoconference Briefing and Consultations on UNAMI

Tomorrow morning (16 February), Security Council members are scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by closed VTC consultations, on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is expected to brief. It seems that the UK, this month’s Council president, had suggested the meeting be held in the ECOSOC chamber. However, it was unable to achieve consensus on this as one member preferred to have the meeting in the Council chamber, while others were not comfortable doing so.

Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to focus her statement on recent developments in Iraq and on the two latest Secretary-General’s reports—on UNAMI (S/2021/120) and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives (S/2021/93).

On the political situation, early elections are scheduled for 10 October. In two letters to the Council president—on 18 November 2020 and 11 February—Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein requested the Council to strengthen UNAMI’s role with regard to the elections. The Secretary-General reports that Hussein had explained that this was needed to promote participation in the elections and to rebuild trust in the process. Prominent Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on 10 February stated that he supported early elections supervised by the UN.

A major wave of widespread popular protests demanding basic services and systemic change started in October 2019 and ultimately led to the resignation of the Iraqi government that same year. Hennis-Plasschaert might repeat the Secretary-General’s assessment in his report that “criminal accountability for violations and abuses perpetrated against protesters since October 2019 remains largely absent, including with respect to the targeted killings, abduction and torture of protesters and activists”. The Secretary-General further conveyed that a fact-finding body established by the Iraqi government in May 2020 to investigate protest-related violations has yet to start its work and that protesters continue to be violently targeted with impunity.

Regarding the security situation, attacks continue to be directed against the US military and diplomatic presence and the US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh (the Coalition) in Iraq. According to the Secretary-General’s report, 18 attacks against the Coalition have taken place in the past two months. He reiterates that such attacks “remain a serious concern”.

Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to refer to a double suicide attack that hit central Baghdad on 21 January, killing 32 people and injuring at least 110. The attack, the largest of its kind in three years, was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) a day later. Council members condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” in a 22 January press statement.

Hennis-Plasschaert may report that the security situation continues to take a toll on Iraqi civilians. A total of 41 deaths and 63 injured were documented by UNAMI between 1 October 2020 and 31 December 2020. Out of those 104 casualties, UNAMI was able to attribute 71 to ISIL (25 deaths, 46 injured) and 29 to unidentified armed groups (12 deaths, 17 injured).

On the humanitarian front, Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to address the Iraqi government’s mid-October decision to close internally displaced persons camps. The Secretary-General reports that as at early December 2020, 34,000 people (78 percent of them women and children) had been affected. The UN was able to record the arrival of 23,158 people at non-camp settings, out of which almost 30 percent are considered secondarily displaced (not returned to their location of origin). The UN was not able to account for the remaining 11,000 people. Hennis-Plasschaert might reiterate the Secretary-General’s statement that “a new crisis in the form of secondary displacement should be avoided at all costs”. Council members may be interested in an update on the situation.

Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to elaborate on a breakthrough covered in the Secretary-General’s report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives. Exhumed from a burial site in the Iraqi Samawah district in March 2019, human remains could be identified on 10 January as 13 Kuwaiti and third-country nationals. An 18 January letter from the Ambassador of Kuwait to the Council president (S/2021/67) lists the names of the identified persons.

Hennis-Plasschaert is also expected to address developments in the relationship between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, the economic situation in Iraq and the situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council members may begin considering how to respond to the Iraqi request for strengthened electoral support.

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