What's In Blue

Posted Wed 17 May 2023

Iraq: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (18 May), the Security Council will convene for a briefing, followed by closed consultations, 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 woman civil society representative is also expected to brief.

Hennis-Plasschaert is likely to provide an update on the latest political developments in Iraq. On 13 March, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced that the Council of Ministers had approved a draft budget for 2023-2025. The budget, which is awaiting parliamentary approval, is intended to advance the priorities set out in the October 2022 government programme, namely: combatting corruption, addressing unemployment and creating work opportunities, supporting vulnerable and low-income groups, reforming the economic and financial sectors, and enhancing public services.

The programme also committed to amending electoral legislation and to holding early parliamentary elections within a year. Consequently, the parliament voted on 27 March to abolish the 2020 election law, which was adopted in the wake of the 2019 anti-government protests, and to reinstate the prior election law of 2018. Among other changes, the restored law replaces a first-past-the-post system with proportional representation and reduces the total number of electoral districts. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report, dated 11 May, these amendments “drew criticism from civil society groups, independent members of parliament, and some smaller political parties”, in part because they are expected to favour established political parties at the expense of independent candidates. The legislation also included a decision to hold provincial council elections no later than 20 December, with the date to be decided by the Council of Ministers in consultation with the Independent High Electoral Commission.

Hennis-Plasschaert may update the Council on relations between the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The governments have continued dialogue on outstanding issues, such as revenue sharing and the draft federal hydrocarbon law, including during al-Sudani’s first official visit to the region on 14 and 15 of March. On 23 March, however, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that the export of oil by the KRG to Türkiye without Baghdad’s approval violated a 1973 pipeline agreement between Iraq and Türkiye, prompting the latter to halt these oil flows, which constitute approximately 0.5 percent of global supply. On 4 April, Iraqi authorities and the KRG announced a “temporary” agreement under which the KRG will maintain control of the oil revenues under federal audit supervision. Following additional negotiations between the KRG and Iraq over details of this arrangement—during which exports remained halted—the parties announced a final deal on 11 May and requested Türkiye to reopen the pipeline. It remained closed at the time of writing, however.

The security situation is another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued to conduct asymmetric attacks—primarily in Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninawa, and Salah al-Din Governorates—while Iraqi security forces continued counter-terrorism operations in response to ISIL activity. The number of attacks attributed to ISIL during the first quarter of 2023 (92 attacks, compared with 188 attacks during the first quarter of 2022) is the lowest quarterly figure since Iraq declared victory over ISIL in December 2017, which highlights an overall decline in attacks attributed to the group in recent years.

Hennis-Plasschaert may also highlight the adverse effects of climate change in Iraq. The country is one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable and is currently experiencing increasing water scarcity as a result of desertification, salination, and disputes over water management with neighbouring countries, reportedly leading to plunging water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Secretary-General report notes that during the Iraq Climate Conference held in Basrah on 12 March, Hennis-Plasschaert described climate change and water scarcity as “threat multipliers” and warned of heightened risks of poverty, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, displacement, forced migration, instability, and conflict as a possible result of these challenges.

In addition, Hennis-Plasschaert may brief the Council on Iraq’s human rights and humanitarian situation. The Secretary-General’s report notes that UNAMI documented 31 incidents resulting in at least 61 civilian casualties (including 31 dead) from 1 January to 31 March. The majority of civilian casualties were caused by explosive remnants of war, followed by small arms fire, complex attacks, and improvised explosive devices. Approximately 1.17 million people remain internally displaced in Iraq, of which an estimated 990,000 people are in acute need of humanitarian assistance. Although the overall humanitarian situation in the country has improved, “returns to areas of origin remain slow due to poor basic services, lack of physical safety and security, and limited livelihood opportunities”, according to the Secretary-General’s report.

The civil society briefer is expected to focus on issues related to women, peace and security (WPS). In this regard, she may underscore the importance of ensuring the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in Iraq’s political process, as well as call for the passage of an anti-domestic violence law—a recommendation that the Secretary-General also makes in his report, and which has received renewed public attention following the so-called honour killing of Tiba al-Ali in January. In addition, the civil society briefer may note that while the Iraqi government has distributed the first payments to survivors eligible for compensation under the 2022 Yazidi Female Survivors Law, the committee established to consider requests under the law has required survivors to submit a criminal complaint before a local court for the application to be approved. According to the Secretary-General’s report, this requirement “deviates from the Yazidi Female Survivors Law and related bylaws, which stipulate that court files are a type of evidence, rather than a mandatory one”. The civil society briefer may call on Iraqi authorities to rescind this requirement and implement the law as written, echoing calls made by human rights organisations.

Broader regional dynamics affecting Iraq remain complicated. After a series of Iranian air strikes in September and November 2022 against Kurdish-Iranian opposition groups in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Iran and Iraq announced on 19 March a border security agreement aimed at “protecting the common borders between the two countries and consolidating cooperation in several security fields”, according to a statement released by al-Sudani’s office. On 13 May, however, Iranian authorities summoned the Iraqi ambassador to the country to protest the presence of Kurdish-Iranian opposition groups at an official government ceremony in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, which Tehran argued violated the countries’ security agreement. On 14 May, media outlets reported that the drone attack that killed a U.S. military contractor in northeast Syria on 23 March was launched by an Iranian-backed militia in northern Iraq.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to commend the progress Iraqi authorities have made in implementing the government programme, including the finalisation of a draft budget for 2022-2025, the scheduling of provincial elections, and the temporary agreement with the KRG on the sharing of oil revenue. They may also welcome continued military success against ISIL and the further stabilisation of the security situation, while cautioning that additional efforts are required, particularly in addressing the root causes of radicalisation and extremism.

Council members might highlight their priorities for the upcoming renewal of UNAMI’s mandate, which expires on 31 May. In this regard, some members may call on UNAMI to strengthen its engagement on certain thematic issues, such as women’s participation, human rights, and climate change. They might also ask Hennis-Plasschaert for her assessment of the mission’s mandate in light of Iraq’s improving political and security situations. Her views could inform ongoing negotiations over the mandate, particularly with regard to requesting the Secretary-General to conduct an independent strategic review of UNAMI’s configuration—an option Council members are apparently considering.

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