Iraq: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (24 February), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Special Representative and head of UNAMI Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to brief on recent developments in Iraq and on the Secretary-General’s latest reports on UNAMI and the issue of missing Kuwaiti property and missing third-party and Kuwaiti nationals. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations. A press statement proposed by the UK—the penholder on Iraqi-Kuwaiti issues—on recent developments concerning missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals is a possible outcome of the meeting.
Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to provide an update on the government formation process following Iraq’s 10 October 2021 parliamentary election, which saw Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement win 73 seats in the 329-member parliament, the highest number for any single parliamentary bloc. As this process has progressed, a sharp divide has emerged among the Shiite political parties. Al-Sadr is seeking to form a majority government and has reportedly forged a political alliance that includes Sunni Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi’s Taqaddum party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which won 37 and 31 seats, respectively. On the other hand, the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a group which comprises several pro-Iranian Shiite parties, is advocating for a consensus government in which power is shared among various political parties. The SCF has also filed a series of unsuccessful lawsuits challenging the election results and has made public allegations of electoral fraud.
The election results were ratified by Iraq’s Supreme Court on 27 December 2021. The ratification initiated a series of steps that must be completed within certain timeframes in order for a government to be formed. The first of these steps was completed on 9 January, when the Iraqi parliament elected al-Halbousi as speaker, Hakim al-Zamili as first deputy speaker, and Shakhwan Abdulla as second deputy speaker. Al-Zamili is a member of al-Sadr’s movement, while Abdulla is from the KDP.
The next step in the process, the election of the president by parliament, was due to be completed by 8 February. By political convention, the president is traditionally Kurdish, the speaker Sunni and the prime minister Shiite. In previous years, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has chosen the federal president and the KDP has selected the president and prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, pursuant to an informal power-sharing arrangement among the Kurdish parties. In line with this arrangement, the PUK nominated incumbent President Barham Salih in early February. The KDP, however, defied convention and put forward former Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari for the role.
Zebari has previously been accused of engaging in corrupt activities, and several members of the Iraqi parliament filed a legal challenge to his nomination, arguing that he does not meet the good character requirements for the president outlined in Iraq’s constitution. On 6 February, the day before the Iraqi parliament was scheduled to convene to elect the next president, Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that Zebari’s candidature should be temporarily suspended while it considers the case against him. This led to a boycott of the vote by al-Sadr’s movement, the Taqaddum party and the KDP, among others. As a result of the boycott, the scheduled parliamentary session was postponed, and the president was not elected within the constitutional timeframe.
On 13 February, the Supreme Court barred Zebari from running for president. Iraq’s parliament released an amended list of presidential candidates on 22 February, but the vote to elect the president has not been formally rescheduled at the time of writing. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Hennis-Plasschaert’s analysis of these developments. Members are also likely to emphasise the importance of finding a solution to the current political deadlock.
The rise in political violence in Iraq is expected to be discussed tomorrow. On 26 January, al-Halbousi’s residence was targeted by rockets, injuring two civilians. This incident followed an assassination attempt against Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in November 2021 and attacks against other political figures during January. In a 28 January statement, UNAMI expressed deep concern regarding the “current wave of attacks targeting political party offices, residences as well as business in Iraq”. Council members are likely to condemn the recent attacks and stress that electoral disputes should be resolved through the applicable legal framework without resorting to violence.
The effects of climate change on the security situation in Iraq are a possible topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. In a report published in late November 2021, the World Bank said that “by 2050, a temperature increase of one degree Celsius, and a precipitation decrease of 10 percent would cause a 20 percent reduction of available freshwater”, which would lead to “nearly one third of the irrigated land in Iraq [having] no water by the year 2050”. In this regard, some Council members may note that water scarcity has the potential to drive conflict in the country.
The threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in Iraq is also likely to be raised tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s UNAMI report (S/2022/103), which was published on 10 February, notes that Da’esh carried out 123 attacks targeting security forces between 23 November 2021 and 5 January and that the group continued to target “community leaders, off-duty security personnel and civilians accused by Da’esh of collaborating with Iraqi authorities”. On 21 January, Da’esh gunmen reportedly killed 11 soldiers during an assault on Iraqi military barracks in Diyala governorate. In a 24 January press statement, Council members condemned the attack and underlined the need to hold perpetrators accountable. Members may express similar sentiments and welcome Iraq’s counter-terrorism efforts in their statements tomorrow.
The repatriation of Iraqi nationals from facilities in north-eastern Syria that house foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and the women and children associated with them may be raised during the meeting. The Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI indicates that two rounds of voluntary returns were facilitated in December 2021 and January and says that 1,778 individuals have returned to Iraq since May 2021. Some Council members might emphasise the importance of repatriating FTFs and the women and children associated with them and commend Iraq for its efforts in this regard.
Hennis-Plasschaert is 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 32nd Secretary-General’s report (S/2022/100) on this issue, which was published on 8 February, Kuwait has finished the formal identification of human remains recovered from the city of Samawah in Iraq and returned to Kuwait in 2019 and 2020. The report further notes that “out of the 59 cases identified from the 2019 and 2020 sets of remains, 57 matched Kuwait’s list of missing persons and two corresponded to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s list”. It seems that the press statement proposed by the UK relates to this development.