Iraq: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (17 May), 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. A representative of civil society is also expected to brief. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
Hennis-Plasschaert is expected to provide an update on the government formation process in Iraq, which remains deadlocked in the aftermath of the 10 October 2021 parliamentary election. As the negotiations on this process have progressed, a sharp divide has emerged among Iraq’s political parties. Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who leads a movement that won 73 seats in the 329-member parliament (the highest number of any single bloc), has formed an alliance with several other groups, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Sunni Taqaddum party, and members of Sunni businessman Khamis al Khanjar’s Azm Alliance. The new grouping, known as the Coalition for Saving the Homeland (CSH), is reportedly pushing to form a majority government under their control that excludes all other parties. The Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), a coalition that comprises several pro-Iranian Shiite political parties, is resisting this proposal. It favours a consensus government in which power is shared among various political parties.
Among other matters, Iraq’s political parties have been unable to reach agreement regarding the next step in the government formation process, the election of the president by parliament, which was due to be completed by 8 February. This has contributed to the political gridlock, as the president is responsible for appointing the prime minister, who in turn is charged with selecting a cabinet. In a 31 March tweet, al-Sadr announced that he was stepping back from the government formation process for 40 days, beginning on 3 April, to give his opponents a chance to form a government without his bloc. The following day, the other parties in the CSH released a joint statement expressing appreciation for the move and declaring their adherence to the alliance, while the SCF announced that it would introduce an initiative to resolve the impasse during a dialogue with “the political forces”. On 4 May, al-Sadr called on the independent members of Iraq’s legislature to form the government, and on 15 May, a group of independent members of parliament released a seven-point proposal for ending the impasse. During tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in receiving an update from Hennis-Plasschaert regarding the government formation process. Council members are also likely to emphasise the importance of finding a solution to the current political deadlock.
The security situation in Iraq is expected to be discussed tomorrow. On 1 May, a missile attack targeted an oil refinery in the northern city of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The missiles caused a fire at the refinery, which had also been attacked on 6 April, but no casualties were recorded. Kurdistan authorities subsequently announced that the missiles were launched from Nineveh province. According to media reports, Shiite units of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a group of fighters that was formed in 2014 to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), are currently deployed in that area. Several units of the PMF have been linked with the Iranian government. In an 18 April statement, Turkey announced that it had launched a new offensive, known as operation Claw-Lock, against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.
On 11 May, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) shelled a village in Sikedan, an area north of Erbil near the border between Iraq and Iran. In a statement published on its website, the IRGC said that its ground forces had captured a “terrorist team” based in Erbil the previous day and that it had decided to target their bases in northern Iraq based on information received from those captured. The incident follows a 13 March ballistic missile attack on Erbil by the IRGC that landed near the US consulate and reportedly injured one person.
Clashes have erupted in recent weeks between Iraqi troops and the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi militia based in the Sinjar district of Iraq with reported ties to the PKK. The YBS has controlled parts of Sinjar since 2014 when it expelled ISIL fighters from the district with the assistance of the PKK. Other armed groups, including the PMF, are also active in the district.
On 1 May, the Iraqi military began attacking YBS positions in Sinjar, leading to the displacement of more than 3,000 people. According to media reports, the Iraqi military has said that the aim of the offensive is to dismantle YBS checkpoints and re-establish the government’s authority in the areas. Injuries and deaths have also been reported on both sides.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members might ask Hennis-Plasschaert for her analysis of the security situation in Iraq in light of these developments. Some members may also call for the implementation of the October 2020 Sinjar agreement between the Iraqi government and the government of Kurdistan, which aims to facilitate the return of internally displaced persons, accelerate reconstruction, improve public services, and establish a consolidated security force.
The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil may be discussed tomorrow. In a 15 February judgment, Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that a 2007 oil and gas law enacted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was unconstitutional. The judgment also directed the KRG to hand control of its crude oil supplies to the federal government and declared the KRG’s oil contracts with third parties null and void. On 28 February, the KRG’s presidency announced that the KRG would “exhaust all available legal means” to protect its constitutional power and rights. Council members may ask Hennis-Plasschaert about the effect that this decision will have on Baghdad/Erbil relations.
Hennis-Plasschaert might raise the impact of climate change in Iraq during the meeting tomorrow. A series of dust storms have recently swept across the country, including a 5 May storm that caused at least 3,000 people to seek medical assistance, and several analysts have suggested that the increased incidence of these storms may be linked to climate change. According to Global Environment Outlook 6, which was prepared by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to the effects of climate change. Some Council members may note the importance of mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change in their statements.
The threat posed by Da’esh is also likely to be raised tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s report of 29 April on UNAMI notes that Da’esh conducted 69 attacks between 24 February and 2 April, most of which targeted Iraqi security forces. The report also notes that Iraqi security forces continued their counter-terrorism operations against Da’esh.
Council members are expected to receive an update 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 34th Secretary-General’s report on this issue, which was issued on 29 April, the members of the Technical Subcommittee of the Tripartite Commission engaged in productive discussions concerning various burial sites during the reporting period and also considered the status and number of open and closed cases pertaining to missing Kuwaitis and third country nationals.