1 . The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2522 (2020), in which the Secretary-General was requested to report to the Council every three months on progress made towards fulfilling the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The present 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 10 November 2020 (S/2020/1099) and the briefing given to the Security Council by the Special Representative for Iraq and Head of UNAMI on 24 November.
II. Summary of key political developments
A. Political situation
2 . The Government of Iraq continued to undertake efforts to establish conditions conducive to holding free, fair and credible early elections. After the electoral legislative framework was published on 9 November, the Council of Ministers approved a draft law under which 329 billion Iraqi dinars (approximately $225 million) would be allocated for election-related activities and referred it to the Council of Representatives for adoption. On 17 December, the Council of Representatives adopted the Law on Allocating and Financing the Expenditures of the Council of Representatives Elections (2020), with an allocated budget of 290 billion dinars (approximately $198 million).
3 . Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi engaged with the country’s electoral authorities to emphasize the importance of effective coordination and transparency in all electoral preparations. During a visit to the headquarters of the Independent High Electoral Commission on 30 November, the Prime Minister stressed the import ance of ensuring that electoral procedures were in line with the electoral legal framework as a necessary precondition to building integrity and public trust in the electoral process. He instructed relevant governmental agencies to provide full support to the Commission for the completion of all technical and operational preparations.
4 . The Government paid particular attention to promoting inclusivity in the elections, including through technical preparations to ensure broad voter participation. On 6 December, Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi of the Council of Representatives met with the Board of the Commission to urge an expansion in the biometric registration of voters and the development of mechanisms to expedite the process for completing the distribution of biometric voter registration cards. Discussions were also focused on ensuring the integrity of the elections, including the identification of a reputable international company to audit the results management and information technology systems, and continued cooperation with the United Nations on the audit.
5 . Discussions took place on the electoral timetable needed for technical preparations. On 14 January, the three presidencies held a meeting with the President of the Supreme Judicial Council and the Independent High Electoral Commission. Following the meeting, a presidential statement was issued in which it was noted that the Council of Representatives must adopt the law on the Federal Supreme Court and dissolve itself prior to the election as specified in article 64 of the Constitution (60 days in advance). On 17 January, the Commission sent a letter to the Prime Minister in which it proposed 16 October as the date for early parliamentary elections and to extend the registration period for political alliances and candidates, which would allow United Nations experts and international observers to play a role in achieving the greatest degree of monitoring and transparency.
6 . The Government of Iraq took steps to address the budget deficit, which was compounded by a decline in global oil prices and the economic impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Following lengthy negotiations between the Government and the legislature on the scale of permissible borrowing to finance the budget deficit until the end of 2020, the Council of Representatives adopted the Law on Financing the Fiscal Deficit for 2020 on 12 November. The Law authorized the Government to use internal and external borrowing to finance the 12 trillion Iraqi dinar deficit (approximately $10 billion) from October to December 2020. The Law also allowed the Government to disburse the salaries and pensions of civil servants and included funding for investment projects, the operational expenses of ministries and independent bodies, and governorate-level projects. The Law stipulated that federal budget allocations to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq would be based on the share stipulated in the 2019 Law on the Federal Budget (12.67 per cent) and made them conditional on the transfer of oil and non-oil revenues to the federal Government by Erbil.
7 . On 28 November, the Finance Committee of the Council of Representatives submitted a reform paper to the Government in which it recommended urgent measures to address the fiscal situation, in particular the lack of liquidity. Recommendations covered three main areas: increasing revenues and decreasing expenditures; reform of financial and monetary policy; and general economic reforms. The Committee called on the Government to elaborate on its plans to implement the White Paper for economic and financial reform, which had been approved by the Council of Ministers on 13 October.
8 . Work on the preparation of a budget for 2021 continued. On 19 December, the Central Bank of Iraq announced a devaluation of the dinar by approximately 20 per cent at the request of the Minister of Finance. According to a Central Bank statement, the devaluation of the country’s currency constituted a one-off measure to address the liquidity crisis caused by low oil revenue. After extensive debates in the Council of Ministers and numerous amendments to the initial budget as submitted by the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister announced on 21 December that the draft budget had been finalized. The next day, the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers announced that the draft had been submitted for parliamentary approval. On 29 December, the Speaker confirmed in a statement that the Council of Representatives had received the draft and announced the extension of the current legislative term by one month, until 3 February, to allow the completion of the 2021 federal budget law and other legislation.
9 . A step was taken to increase the diversity in senior positions within the Government, including women’s representation, when, on 15 December, the Council of Representatives confirmed Hiyam al-Haidari as a Minister of State and the third female cabinet member.
10 . On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November, the President issued a statement in which he affirmed the need to take all measures necessary to end violence and discrimination against women. He called on the Government and relevant authorities to develop effective programmes, plans and mechanisms that support women’s economic, social and political empowerment. The Speaker marked the occasion by issuing a statement on social media in which he called on the legislature to fight violence against women. Meanwhile, on 7 December, Deputy Speaker Bashir al-Haddad chaired a consultative forum organized by the parliamentary committee on women, family and child affairs in cooperation with the Iraqi Al-Amal Association and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign.
11 . The Government continued to address the COVID-19 pandemic. On 17 November, the Prime Minister announced in a statement that the Ministry of Health had started preparations for vaccine storage. On 24 November, the Min istry of Health announced that Iraq would purchase a sufficient number of doses of any vaccine approved by the World Health Organization, with priority given to healthcare personnel, security forces and the elderly. On 22 December, the Council of Ministers directed the Ministry of Finance to fund the purchase of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine. Further public directives were issued by the Ministry of Health on 30 November to slow the transmission of COVID-19, including calls for maskwearing and social distancing in public places. On 22 December, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority announced international travel restrictions in response to the emergence of a new COVID-19 strain.
12 . Small-scale and predominantly peaceful protests continued in southern and central governorates. On 27 November, demonstrations were staged in Baghdad and southern Iraq that led to violent clashes with other protesters in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar Governorate. In response, on the same day, the Prime Minister ordered the dismissal of the Dhi Qar Police Commander and formed an investigative committee. On 28 November, tensions escalated between security forces and protesters in Nasiriyah. Security forces fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and later withdrew from the area as protesters burned tyres and blocked major intersections. On 29 November, the Prime Minister affirmed his support for peaceful, lawful protests and announced the formation of an emergency crisis team headed by National Security Adviser Qasim al-Araji. The crisis team was granted powers to protect peaceful demonstrators, State institutions and private property and met with security officials, tribal leaders and youth representatives in Dhi Qar Governorate.
13 . On 27 November, security forces in Wasit Governorate removed protesters’ tents from the main demonstration site in Kut to end protests close to government buildings. Confrontations broke out the next day as protesters returned, burned tyres, damaged public property and threw stones at security forces. One protester died after setting himself on fire.
14 . From 2 to 12 December, demonstrations also took place in Sulaymaniyah Governorate. Protesters initially gathered in the city of Sulaymaniyah, calling for the payment of public sector salaries, criticizing the lack of government transparency and accountability, and demanding basic services and jobs. Security personnel forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The protests then spread within the governorate and became violent, with protesters setting fire to political parties’ offices and government buildings.