- The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2470 (2019), in which the Secretary-General was requested to report every three months on the progress made towards fulfilling the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The report covers key developments relating to Iraq and provides an update on the activities of the United Nations in Iraq since my previous report of 5 August 2019 (S/2019/660) and the briefing to the Security Council by my Special Representative for Iraq and Head of UNAMI on 28 August 2019.
II. Summary of key political developments
A. Political situation
The reporting period witnessed large-scale public protests in October that rapidly spread and escalated. On 1 October, demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, demanding economic reforms, employment opportunities, reliable public services, effective and impartial governance, governmental accountability and an end to corruption. The demonstration turned violent as protesters attempted to cross the Jumhuriyah Bridge over the Tigris River towards the former International Zone, and were met with a forceful response from Iraqi security forces, who used water cannons, tear gas and live rounds. Protests continued in Baghdad on subsequent days and spread to the southern governorates. A curfew was imposed in Baghdad from 5 a.m. on 3 October until the morning of 5 October. Curfews were also imposed across the south of Iraq. The curfew was accompanied by blanket restrictions on access to the Internet, in particular social media sites. On 6 October, the Ministry of the Interior announced that official casualty figures stood at 104 dead (of which eight were members of the security forces) and 6,107 wounded (including 1,241 members of the security forces). In addition, the Ministry reported that a total of 51 government and private buildings, 8 political party offices and 52 military and civilian vehicles had been set on fire across the protest areas. By 7 October, the situation had calmed down in most areas.
On 2 October, Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi, President Barham Salih and Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi issued a statement in which they recognized the right to peaceful protest, called for restraint and announced the launch of an investigation into the violence and loss of life. In a nationally televised speech early on 4 October, the Prime Minister emphasized the need for unity, dialogue and remedial action, and underlined that the protesters had been heard. A speech by the Speaker was also broadcast later that day, in which he stated that he would deal with the protesters’ demands in a genuine manner. In a sermon delivered on 4 October, the representative of Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, urged all parties to refrain from violence, reminded the leadership and the political parties of Iraq of their responsibilities to the people of Iraq and called on the Government to take concrete measures to improve the lives of all Iraqis. In statements, the leaders of political parties and blocs condemned the violence against the protesters and called for measures to be taken by the Government to address their demands.
On 5 October, the Prime Minister chaired an extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers in which an initial package of 17 measures were decided to address the protesters’ demands, including steps to provide housing and employment opportunities.
On 7 October, the President also delivered a televised speech in which he called for dialogue and restraint. He urged the security forces to identify and hold to account those who had perpetrated violence during the protests and agreed with demonstrators’ calls for social justice, freedom and security.
On 8 October, the Council of Ministers announced a further package of 13 measures, which the Prime Minister then outlined in a televised speech on 9 October.
The package included the establishment of a high committee for the distribution of residential lands that would be chaired by the Prime Minister, as well as measures to encourage youth employment. In addition, on the same day, the Council of Representatives approved recommendations made by a committee that had been formed to consider the protesters’ demands.
In a sermon delivered on 11 October, the representative of the Grand Ayatollah held the Government and security forces responsible for the use of excessive force against protesters, including “sniping” by “unlawful armed elements”, and demanded a credible investigation into the events surrounding the protests, to be completed within two weeks. In addition, the Marja’iya called on the Government to prioritize reforms and the fight against corruption.
On 12 October, the Prime Minister announced the formation of a High Investigative Committee to identify and bring to justice perpetrators of violence during the protests from 1 to 7 October. On 22 October, the Committee released its report, stating that 149 civilians and 8 security personnel had been killed, and 4,207 civilians and 1,287 security personnel injured. The Committee’s key findings included excessive use of force by security forces, a lack of control over security forces, a lack of riot units, as well as violent behaviour by some demonstrators and attacks on government and public property conducted by infiltrators seeking to derail the demonstrations. The Committee recommended that its findings be referred to the judiciary and that several security personnel be dismissed. On 23 October, the National Security Council affirmed the right to peaceful demonstrations and instructed the Iraqi security forces to guarantee the protection of demonstrators and public and private property.
On 24 October, the Prime Minister delivered a national televised address in which he pledged to undertake further reforms, including: the appointment of new ministers based on competence, with a stronger presence of women and young people; the reduction of senior officials’ salaries, including those of the Prime Minister, President and Speaker; the establishment of a social insurance fund for unemployed citizens; and the formation of a central court for combatting corruption.
On 25 October, a representative of the Grand Ayatollah expressed his support for the demands of the protesters and called for peaceful demonstrations. He strongly criticized the report of the High Investigative Committee and demanded that an independent judicial committee be established to conduct further investigations. The Marja’iya stressed that the State should have sole control of the use of force and asked the security forces to protect the demonstrators.
Large-scale demonstrations resumed on 25 October in Baghdad, as well as in Babil, Basrah, Dhi Qar, Karbala’, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, Qadisiyah and Wasit governorates. Protesters expanded their earlier demands to include political accountability for the loss of life, the resignation of the Government and electoral and constitutional reforms. According to figures released by the Iraqi Human Rights Commission on 27 October, 74 people were killed and 3,654 were injured during the first three days.
During a special session on 28 October, the Council of Representatives adopted measures to address protestors’ demands, including the cancellation of State officials’ financial privileges. The Council dissolved all provincial, district and subdistrict councils outside the Kurdistan Region and assumed the administrative and financial supervision of the Governors until the provincial council elections. A special measure was adopted for Kirkuk whereby the members of parliament from the Governorate would supervise the Governor and his deputies. In addition, the Council of Representatives voted to form a constitutional review committee of 18 members, from all political blocs, tasked with providing recommendations for constitutional amendments within four months.
On 31 October, in a televised address, President Salih stated that the Prime Minister had agreed to submit his resignation provided that there was no constitutional vacuum and that all political blocs agreed on an “acceptable alternative”. He announced that the Presidency had initiated the drafting of a new comprehensive electoral framework that would aim to increase the participation of young people in political life and replace the current Independent High Electoral Commission. Following the adoption of the new law, he would approve the holding of early elections.
Prior to the outbreak of protests, political actors had been focusing on the current round of government appointments, the implementation of the government programme and enactment of key legislation. On 3 August, the Council of Representatives concluded the second legislative term of its first parliamentary year and entered recess until 14 September. The Government had yet to reach consensus on several positions essential to State functions, including the Minister for Education, the Central Bank Governor, the President of the Audit Commission, the Deputy Minister for Oil and the Deputy Minister for Industry. Furthermore, citing corruption and neglect of the health-care sector, the Minister for Health and the Environment,
Alaa al-Alwan, submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister on 12 September. The Council of Ministers rejected his resignation, placing the Minister on extended leave until such a time as the matter could be resolved.
Progress was made in the election of chairs, deputy chairs and rapporteurs of parliamentary committees, though the chairs of 3 of the 23 parliamentary committees remained vacant. To date, three chair positions were held by female members of parliament, including the Committee for Higher Education, the Committee for Women, the Family and Childhood and the Committee for Culture, Tourism and Archaeology.
On 8 August, the parliamentary Committee for Monitoring the Implementation of the Government Programme announced the completion of its evaluation for the period up to April 2019. In its report, published on 1 July, the Committee disputed aspects of the Government’s own reporting, claiming, inter alia, that the Government had overstated the rate of project implementation and recommending the use of stronger indicators to measure results.
On 17 September, as part of the Government’s efforts to address social, reconstruction and economic needs, the Council of Ministers approved a draft law on the establishment of a reconstruction council that was sent to the Council of Representatives for endorsement. The draft law aimed to establish oversight of infrastructure and other major projects throughout the country, to promote investment and to tackle youth unemployment. Various experts called for the inclusion in the draft law of financial accountability mechanisms for the Council board members.
Meanwhile, the Government maintained its focus on countering corruption. The Supreme Council for Combating Corruption continued to meet on a monthly basis, chaired by the Prime Minister. On 11 October, the Council referred to judicial authorities the cases of nine senior officials – including former ministers, deputy ministers and governors – for investigation into their alleged corruption.
The Council of Representatives reconvened on 14 September. During the opening session, an agreement was reached to continue work on nine sets of legislation, including amendments to the Commission of Integrity Law. The Council called on the Government to submit further draft laws for its consideration, inc luding the draft 2020 federal budget law and the long-stalled draft hydrocarbon law.
Members also voted to form temporary committees to monitor government efforts to preserve the sovereignty of Iraq and to discuss the issue of missing persons and enforced disappearances.
On 8 October, the Council of Representatives abolished the offices of Inspectors-General by voting to annul the laws that had been used to establish them.
The work of the Inspectors-General would be transferred to existing oversight institutions, including the Integrity Commission and the Federal Board of Supreme Audit. In the same session, the Council voted to proceed with legislative measures that would allow the immediate suspension of all provincial councils, all of which had exceeded their legal term, rather than wait until March 2020, the period stipulated in the existing Governorate Council Electoral Law of 2018.
On 10 October, the Council of Representatives voted to accept the resignation of the Minister for Health and endorsed the Prime Minister’s proposed replacement,
Jaafar Allawi. In addition, the Prime Minister’s candidate for Minister for Education and the Cabinet’s first female member, Suha Ali Bek, was endorsed and sworn in.
Both endorsements were prompted by the Prime Minister’s proposal to reshuffle his cabinet in response to the popular unrest.
In response to a string of explosions at facilities used by popular mobilization forces and an attack on a convoy of those forces close to the Syrian border in August, the Prime Minister, President and Speaker conducted extensive consultations with the forces’ leaders as well as senior politicians to seek a common response. All parties publicly emphasized the need to await the results of official investigations, noting that the State bore primary responsibility for protecting the Iraqi people.
Meanwhile, progress was made on completing government formation in the Kurdistan Region. On 8 September, the President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, issued a presidential decree appointing two Vice Presidents: Jafaar Mustafa Ali, from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and Mustafa Sayyid Qadir, from the Movement for Change/Gorran. The positions of Minister for Natural Resources and Kurdistan Region Security Chancellor, both assigned to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, had yet to be filled.
Political parties in the Kurdistan Region had begun planning their national congresses, to take place before the end of the year. On 14 September, Gorran held a congress in Sulaymaniyah and re-elected Omar Said Ali as its General Coordinator.
On 5 October, the New Generation Movement held its first congress after its formation in January 2018 and re-elected Shaswar Abdulwahid as President.
During the inaugural parliamentary session on 1 September, following consultations with all major political parties, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region, Rewaz Faiq, set out a programme to help deliver the Kurdistan Regional Government’s reform and services agenda. Discussions were ongoing on the reform programme, budget arrangements, the drafting of a Kurdistan Region constitution and relations between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.