Controversy and caution surrounds Iraq's bid to end UN mission

Controversy and caution surrounds Iraq's bid to end UN mission
Iraq's government's call to end the United Nations mission in Iraq by 2025 has sparked diverse reactions from Iraqi politicians and observers.
3 min read
13 May, 2024
Plasschaert, who assumed her role in January 2018, succeeding Jan Kubis, has been both praised and criticized for her approach. [Getty]

Iraq's government, led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, has called for the United Nations to end its longstanding political mission in Iraq by 2025, asserting that the mission has outlived its necessity. This plea has elicited a range of responses from Iraqi politicians and observers, with some endorsing the decision while others warn of potential consequences.

Raed Al-Maliki, a member of the Iraqi Parliament's Legal Committee, welcomed the government's stance, affirming on the X platform that "The presence of this mission is based on Chapter VII resolutions of the United Nations Charter and it is a form of restricting sovereignty at the international level." He agreed with the government's view that the mission's continuation may impinge on Iraq's sovereignty.

However, the decision has not been universally embraced. The Al-Hal party, led by politician Jamal Al-Karbouli, urged caution, stating, "The decision needs caution and review." Al-Karbouli highlighted instances where the UNAMI allegedly displayed bias towards political interests, particularly in its interactions with successive governments. He suggested that Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN mission's representative, had influenced its trajectory, sometimes favouring certain political factions.

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The Iraqi government issued a statement on Sunday regarding the termination of the United Nations mission, indicating its request to conclude the UNAMI mission by the end of 2025.

Government spokesperson Bassem al-Awadi stated that this decision aligns with the government's approved program by the parliament and its efforts to regulate Iraq's relations with international bodies in light of developments since 2003. 

The government formally submitted its request to the UN Security Council and the Secretary-General of the United Nations in May 2023, aiming to assess UNAMI's work objectively and prepare for its definitive closure, al-Awadi added. 

Plasschaert, who assumed her role in January 2018, succeeding Jan Kubis, has been praised and criticised for her approach. Despite her significant role in political dialogues, she faced backlash for perceived closeness to armed faction leaders, earning her the local nickname "the auntie." Before her UN appointment, Plasschaert served as the Netherlands' Minister of Defense from 2012 to 2017, making her the first woman to hold the position.

In her final briefing in February, Plasschaert emphasised the critical juncture facing Iraq and urged restraint against internal and external threats. She also highlighted the continued prevalence of corruption, stressing the need for accountability to curb embezzlement and misuse of public funds.

Responding to the government's call, Muhi al-Ansari, head of the Iraqi movement Al-Bayt Al-Iraqi, criticised the UN mission's perceived role, stating to The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that it had contributed to institutional fragility and legitimised non-state armed groups, dubbing Plasschaert as the "saviour of the regime" amid the 2019-2020 protests.

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On the other hand, Iraqi political researcher Ghaleb al-Daimi acknowledged Plasschaert's controversial role but stressed the ongoing need for UN representation in Iraq despite criticism from various political factions.

Ending the mission necessitates a decision from the United Nations Security Council, which mandates majority approval and requires no objection from any of the five permanent member states. This authority is derived from the powers bestowed upon the Security Council by the Charter, spanning from Article 39 to Article 52.

This decision-making process underscores the Security Council's role in establishing and annually extending the mission. It reinforces the council's prerogative to terminate the mission, highlighting that such a decision can only be revoked through an official mechanism.