What's In Blue

Posted Mon 9 Oct 2023

Iraq: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (10 October), 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 and third-party nationals and missing Kuwaiti property. 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. The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMI, dated 26 September, notes that on 12 June, the Iraqi parliament adopted the Federal Budget Law, which covers the fiscal years 2023, 2024, and 2025. The budget allocates a record $153 billion annually and is intended to advance the priorities set out in the government programme that Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani presented in October 2022, namely: combatting corruption, addressing unemployment, supporting vulnerable and low-income groups, reforming the economic and financial sectors, and enhancing public services.

On 24 June, the Office of the Prime Minister published a summary of the first semi-annual report on the implementation of the government programme, covering the period from December 2022 to June 2023. Key achievements noted by the report include the completion or rehabilitation of healthcare institutions and schools; providing services and engineering support in underserved areas; and introducing the National Education Strategy for 2022–2031. The report also highlighted anti-corruption initiatives, noting that ministries were directed to resubmit major contracts for financial and legal review and to ensure that staff acted impartially and had no affiliation with political parties. Additionally, the report identified economic reform as a priority, including by improving the country’s investment environment and diversifying revenue sources through industrial and agricultural sector development. In this context, the report detailed the government’s efforts to foster regional cooperation and development initiatives, including the launch of the Development Road project, a transportation network that will connect the Gulf region to Türkiye and Europe.

The government programme also included commitments to amending electoral legislation and to holding elections within a year. Consequently, 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. The restored law replaced a first-past-the-post system with proportional representation and reduced the number of electoral districts. While no date has yet been set for new parliamentary elections, the government announced on 20 June that provincial elections will be held on 18 December—the first such elections to be held since 2013 (after the 2018 provincial elections were postponed for technical reasons and the provincial councils were subsequently abolished following the 2019 protests).

On 3 August, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it would hold its own long-delayed provincial elections on 25 February 2024. Those elections were also supposed to be held in 2018 but were postponed indefinitely due to disagreements between the region’s two main political parties, after which the KRG adopted a law extending the provincial councils’ current term. On 30 May, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court deemed that law unconstitutional. Subsequently, on 24 September, the court ruled to dissolve the provincial councils “due to the end of their electoral cycle”. At the time of writing, the current status of the councils remained unclear, with analysts saying the court ruling left them in “a legal void” until next year’s elections.

Hennis-Plasschaert may also update the Council on relations between the federal government of Iraq and the KRG. On 23 March, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) ruled that the KRG’s oil exports 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. Baghdad and Erbil subsequently reached a temporary agreement to restart the exports, according to which the KRG would allow federal oversight of its oil revenues in exchange for a share of the newly adopted federal budget.

Despite this agreement, however, Türkiye has not yet reopened the pipeline while it reportedly seeks to negotiate the settlement that the ICC ordered Türkiye to pay Iraq and to resolve a separate but related case that remains pending with the chamber. According to estimates, the prolonged shutdown has so far cost the KRG $4 billion in lost export revenue, leaving the region increasingly reliant on pay-outs from the federal government. On 2 October, Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar said that Türkiye would reopen the pipeline within a week, but it remained closed at the time of writing.

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/Daesh) 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 the terrorist group’s activity. A total of 178 attacks were attributed to ISIL/Daesh during the first half of 2023, compared with 526 attacks during the first half of 2022. That figure was the lowest reported over a six-month period since Iraq declared victory over ISIL/Daesh in December 2017, which the Secretary-General’s report says is “indicative of the overall decline in attacks attributed to the group”.

The Secretary-General’s report also notes that Türkiye has continued to conduct periodic military operations against Kurdish targets in Iraq. Notably, on 18 September, Türkiye launched a drone attack on Arbat airport, killing three Kurdish counter-terrorism officers. The following day, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid issued a statement condemning the “repeated Turkish attacks” on Iraqi territory. UNAMI also issued a statement condemning the attack on Arbat and emphasising that “[a]ttacks repeatedly violating Iraqi sovereignty must stop”. However, following a suicide bombing on the Turkish Ministry of Interior in Ankara on 1 October—for which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) claimed responsibility—Türkiye has stepped up its activity in northern Iraq, reportedly launching three additional airstrikes against suspected PKK positions in the region.

In addition, Hennis-Plasschaert may brief the Council on Iraq’s human rights and humanitarian situations. The Secretary-General’s report notes that UNAMI documented 34 incidents resulting in at least 59 civilian casualties (including 24 deaths) from 1 April to 31 August. The majority of civilian casualties were caused by explosive remnants of war, followed by improvised explosive devices, small arms fire, and air attacks.

Approximately 1.15 million persons remain internally displaced in Iraq. The Secretary-General’s report says that the UN has continued to work with the federal government and the KRG towards “finding durable solutions for internally displaced persons and returnees and advancing development efforts” but notes that funding shortfalls “remain a challenge and are affecting the response to remaining critical humanitarian needs”.

The civil society briefer is expected to focus on women’s rights in Iraq. In this regard, she may underscore the importance of ensuring the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in Iraq’s political process, while calling for the passage of an anti-domestic violence law—a recommendation that the Secretary-General has made in prior reports. She may also call on the government to rescind the 8 August directive of the Iraqi Communication and Media Commission—the country’s media regulatory authority—which prohibited the use of the terms “gender” and “homosexuality” in media publications and broadcasts. International human rights organisations have previously criticised this regulation.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to commend the efforts of the Iraqi government during its first year in power, welcoming the relative political stability it has maintained and the progress it has achieved advancing its government programme, including the approval of the 2023-25 federal budget and the scheduling of provincial elections. Some members might express concern about the negative impact on human rights of recently adopted regulations, however. Some might also condemn violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the context of continued Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

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