Iraq: UNAMI Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (25 August), the Security Council is scheduled to hold a briefing 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, which relate to UNAMI and the issue of missing Kuwaiti property and missing third party and Kuwaiti nationals. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
The upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for 10 October, are expected to be a focus of the meeting. In resolution 2576 of 27 May, which renewed UNAMI’s mandate, the Security Council bolstered the mission’s electoral support role in response to a request from the Iraqi government. The resolution requires UNAMI to “provide a strengthened, robust and visible UN team with additional staff” to “monitor Iraq’s election day…continue to assist with the election…and report to the Secretary-General on the election process”. UNAMI was also directed to provide logistical and security support to international and regional election observers and to launch a strategic messaging campaign regarding election preparations and the work undertaken by the UN to support the elections.
Council members may be interested in hearing about the steps that UNAMI has taken to fulfil the electoral support aspect of its mandate. According to the Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI, which was issued on 3 August, the mission worked with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to develop a proposal for the deployment of an additional 130 UN electoral experts ahead of election day. Under the terms of this proposal, a dedicated communications team tasked with implementing the strategic messaging campaign called for by resolution 2576 will also be established. The report further notes that UNAMI provided technical advice to the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission on a range of different matters, including the recruitment and training of 350,000 staff who will undertake polling and counting duties; the enactment of regulations and procedures for polling, counting, and announcing results; COVID-19 safety measures for election day; and the audit process for ballots. Regarding the provision of logistical and security support to international election observers, the report refers to the EU’s 21 June announcement that it will deploy an election observation mission and indicates that “UNAMI will assess support to third-party international observers, as appropriate and pending available resources, based on their deployment plans and specific needs”.
The deteriorating political climate in Iraq is another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. To date, the preparations for the elections have been marred by the withdrawal of different political parties from the race. In mid-July, the Iraqi Communist Party withdrew from the elections, arguing that the political parties are “not serious” about achieving the goals of the Tishreen protest movement, which began in October 2019 and led to the elections being called. On 28 July, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, which won 21 seats in parliament in the 2018 elections, also announced its withdrawal.
Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’a politician who controls the largest bloc in the current Iraqi parliament, announced on 15 July that he is withdrawing his support for the current government and will not participate in the polls. Although politicians loyal to al-Sadr have not formally withdrawn their candidacies, they have stopped campaigning and have publicly declared that they will comply with al-Sadr’s decision, according to media reports. Several analysts have expressed concern that al-Sadr’s withdrawal could lead to violence in the aftermath of the elections, particularly as his supporters may see the polls as a challenge to al-Sadr if they proceed without him and his allies. There are also fears that al-Sadr’s decision will suppress voter turnout, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the elections. Approximately five million Iraqis are estimated to support al-Sadr and his political affiliates. Council members may be interested in hearing Hennis-Plasschaert’s analysis of these developments.
Council members are also likely to raise the worsening security situation in Iraq. There have been several retaliatory attacks between Iraqi militias and US-led forces during 2021, some of which are described in the Secretary-General’s UNAMI report. On 26 June, for example, the US carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that targeted two Iranian-backed militias, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the Pentagon blamed for organising drone strikes against US personnel in Iraq. On 8 July, the US embassy in Baghdad was targeted by rocket attacks. Approximately six weeks later, on 17 August, at least five people were killed, and many others were injured in a Turkish air raid that struck Sinjar, a predominantly Yazidi region in Iraq. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) also continues to pose a threat, having carried out 98 attacks in Iraq during the last two months, including a 19 July bomb attack at a Baghdad market that killed at least 35 people. Council members may be interested in hearing about the effect that the growing violence in Iraq is having on election preparations.
The recent uptick in violence has increased domestic pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi regarding the presence of US troops in Iraq. During a 26 July meeting with al-Kadhimi, US President Joe Biden announced that that the US combat mission in Iraq will conclude by the end of 2021. He said, however, that the US military would continue to work with Iraqi forces in their fight against Da’esh, and that US troops will “be available to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with [Da’esh]”. Council members may seek more information from Hennis-Plasschaert about the effect that this announcement might have on UNAMI’s work.
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 31st Secretary-General’s report on the issue, which was published on 28 July, Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on 10 July that the remains of a further ten individuals had been identified by DNA testing and that their families had been notified. The report also notes that there were no significant developments regarding the return of Kuwaiti property during the reporting period, which spans April to July.