'Orderly' transition recommended

Independent review completed on UNAMI presence in Iraq

NEWSROOM – The independent strategic review of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, commissioned by the UN Security Council, sheds light on the evolving challenges and needs of Iraq nearly two decades after the mission’s inception in 2003. The review, led by German academic diplomat Volker Perthes, involved extensive consultations and aimed to assess threats to Iraq’s stability, the relevance of UNAMI’s roles, and provided recommendations to optimize its mandate and structure.

The strategic review report provides a sobering view of Iraq’s current conditions, acknowledging the country’s significant strides towards stability but also highlighting persistent vulnerabilities. “Iraq has faced years of violence, uncertainty and structural changes,” the report states, illustrating the complex backdrop against which UNAMI operates. Despite Iraq’s progress towards a functioning state with pluralistic political processes, the review echoes primary concerns about the “fragility of institutions,” the “proliferation of armed actors,” and the “possibility of the emergence of a new Da’esh [ISIS],” all of which continue to pose threats to the country’s peace and security.

The UNAMI mission itself has evolved since it began following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. From its initial humanitarian mandate and efforts towards reconstruction, it has gradually morphed into a quasi arbiter of intra-national disputes. From 2007 onwards, the organization’s mandate has been renewed annually by the Iraqi government, however the last independent assessment of the mandate was carried out in 2017. Now, Baghdad is considering a two-year timeline to transition the agency from its current form to a slimmed down country office.

The review points out the changing nature of threats, including the potential resurgence of terrorism. “The country’s stability today is threatened mainly by three phenomena: (a) the fragility of institutions; (b) the proliferation of armed actors; and (c) the possibility of the emergence of a new Da’esh or other forms of terrorism and violent extremism,” highlights the report. These threats are compounded by regional escalations, making the stability of Iraq’s political system, which has shown increasing capability to manage crises, still precarious: “The absence of the State’s monopoly over the legitimate means of violence throughout Iraq goes against the conventional understanding of a key ingredient of domestic stability.”

It comes as the Kurdistan Region faced yet another attack on the critical Khor Mor gas plant on April 26, which the Iraqi government has pledged to investigate. It also follows months of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq by pro-Iran Shiite militias, causing headaches for the Iraqi government led by Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who has been the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UNAMI since December 2018, spoke of her upcoming departure during a UN Security Council session. In her emotional farewell speech, she praised Iraq’s beauty, culture, and the resilience of its people: “I wish to thank the people of Iraq for their boundless hospitality, their generosity and their kindness. Wherever I go, they will always have a special place in my heart.”

Hennis-Plasschaert’s tenure in Iraq coincided with the significant challenges facing Iraq that are cited in Perthes’s review. Her efforts to support Iraq’s recovery from years of conflict and to advocate for the cessation of attacks by armed actors outside state control were highlights of her mission. She is set to leave in May, with her successor set to lead a mission in transition.

The review evaluates UNAMI’s current relevance and effectiveness, noting that while the agency has made considerable contributions to peace and security in Iraq, its mandate and operational structure need significant recalibration to address the current realities and prepare for a future transition. It suggests a phased withdrawal and a handover of responsibilities to Iraqi institutions and a UN country team by May 2026, ensuring that it does so in an “orderly and gradual manner within an agreed time frame.”

“No United Nations political mission should stay in a country forever,” reads the report. “The prolonged presence of a third party may disincentivize local solutions and national ownership.”

“Unfinished business” that, the report says, could take decades to complete “should not be used to justify a ‘forever presence’ of UNAMI” in Iraq.

Recommendations from the review advocate for a streamlined approach that focuses on the most pressing needs, such as supporting Iraq’s electoral processes, human rights initiatives, and facilitating regional cooperation. It underscores the importance of adapting UNAMI’s roles to “support long-term needs and are expected to remain relevant beyond the Mission’s eventual transition.”