What's In Blue

Posted Mon 10 May 2021

Iraq: UNAMI Briefing and Consultations via VTC

Tomorrow (11 May), the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by closed VTC consultations, on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is expected to brief on recent developments in Iraq and on the two latest Secretary-General’s reports, on UNAMI (S/2021/426) and on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives (S/2021/395).

The security situation in Iraq is expected to feature in tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh/ISIL) continues to perpetrate attacks in the country.

Attacks also continue to be directed against the US military and diplomatic presence and the US-led Global Coalition against Da’esh in Iraq. So far this month, three such attacks have taken place: on 2 May, two rockets targeted Baghdad airport (which houses coalition troops); on 4 May, six rockets targeted an airbase north of the Iraqi capital housing contractors working for a US company; and on 8 May, there was an unmanned aerial surveillance system attack on an airbase in Anbar province housing coalition forces. Such attacks are usually not claimed by any group. The US regularly blames Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq and may raise the issue at tomorrow’s meeting.

One of the Iran-backed militias that the US has accused of perpetrating attacks against its personnel in Iraq is Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the US has designated as a terrorist organisation. Kata’ib Hezbollah is part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), established in 2014 from different, mostly Iran-backed, Shi’a Muslim fighters to combat ISIL. In July 2019, then-Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi issued an executive order bringing the PMF under the exclusive control of the Iraqi state and ordering it to cut all links with political entities. The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is trying to implement a zero-tolerance policy towards armed groups operating outside state control.

Despite Iraq’s objections and as reflected in the Secretary-General’s report, Turkey continues to conduct military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. On 3 May, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish Ambassador to protest a 1 May visit by Turkey’s minister of defence to a Turkish military base in Iraq while such a military operation was being conducted.

Another possible topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting is the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for 10 October. Hennis-Plasschaert might elaborate on electoral assistance provided by UNAMI. According to the Secretary-General’s report, this assistance includes, among other things, technical support and advice to the Independent High Electoral Commission, the deployment of international electoral advisers and national electoral officers and the review of electoral procedures and guidelines. The Secretary-General emphasises that “thorough and effective preparations are essential for the success of the planned parliamentary elections”.

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. Iraqi authorities used excessive force against protesters, resulting in 490 deaths and 7,783 injured, according to UNAMI statistics from August 2020. In addition, killings and enforced disappearances of activists have increased, with media reports connecting these crimes with some elements of the PMF. Hennis-Plasschaert might reiterate the Secretary-General’s call from his report that “state institutions should redouble efforts to pursue criminal accountability for these acts”. The report emphasises that efforts in that regard so far have “produced limited results”. Regarding the arrests of protesters, the Secretary-General stresses that the legitimate and lawful exercise of the right to freedom of expression must be respected, and fair trial standards for those arrested should be observed. Some Council members may also raise those points.

On 8 May, a prominent activist and protest leader, Ehab al-Wazni, was killed in an assault by unidentified gunmen. Protests broke out in response to his death and a group of protesters set fire to trailers belonging to the Iranian Consulate in Karbala on 9 May.

Hennis-Plasschaert is also expected to update Council members on the latest developments regarding the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives. According to the 30th Secretary-General’s report on the issue, some progress was made regarding the identification of human remains, which were previously exhumed in Iraq and then transferred to Kuwait for DNA analysis. In a 12 April letter to the Council (S/2021/355), the Permanent Representative of Kuwait lists the names of the eight individuals who were identified. The remains of a soldier from Iraq found in Kuwait were also handed over to Iraq on 30 March. There was also progress on the return of Kuwaiti property, according to the Secretary-General’s report. On 28 March, Iraq handed over 6,500 books to Kuwait, among other things.

Looking ahead, Council members are expected to renew UNAMI’s mandate ahead of its 31 May expiry.