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UN mission in Iraq to end after two decades

Motorists drive past Iraqi security forces' armoured vehicles in Baghdad on December 26, 2023
— United Nations (United States) (AFP)

At the request of Baghdad, the UN Security Council unanimously decided Friday that the United Nations political mission in Iraq will leave the country at the end of 2025 after more than 20 years.

The Iraqi government welcomed the decision, saying it reflected progress and stability in the country since the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was established in 2003 after the US-led invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein.

But analysts say the mission has struggled to make an impact in areas such as impunity, and that its exit is part of a trend for host nations to reject UN missions.

The UNSC resolution adopted on Friday extended the mission's mandate until December 31, 2025 "after which UNAMI will cease all work and operations."

The mission has about 700 staff, with tasks including advising the government on political dialogue and reconciliation, as well as helping with elections and security sector reform.

An Iraqi government spokesman said the UNSC decision marked "the completion of the political building process initiated in 2003 after the fall of the dictatorial regime."

Earlier this month, in a letter to Security Council, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani said UNAMI had overcome "great and varied challenges" and that "the grounds for having a political mission in Iraq" no longer exist.

During the mission's previous renewal in May 2023, the Council asked the secretary-general to launch a review, which was overseen by German diplomat Volker Perthes.

In a report issued in March, Perthes signaled that the closing schedule would reassure reluctant Iraqis that the transition "will not lead to a reversal of democratic gains or threaten peace and security."

- Sovereignty, or politics -

Given that UN missions can only operate with the host nation's consent, Russia, China, Britain and France this month all voiced support for the change.

"The people of Iraq are now ready to assume full responsibility for the country's political future," said Russia's deputy UN ambassador Anna Evstigneeva.

"We express our firm support for Iraq sovereignty and oppose any interference in the country's internal affairs."

The United States drafted the resolution, after initially being more wary.

"We all recognize that Iraq has changed dramatically in recent years, and UNAMI's mission needed to be realigned as part of our commitment to fostering a secure, stable, and sovereign Iraq," deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said on Friday.

Analysts say Iraq's prime minister was seeking a political win, and that the UN was not pulling out of Iraq.

"This does not mean they want to end UN programs," Renad Mansour, senior research fellow at Chatham House, said.

"This is all part of Prime Minister Sudani's attempts to show Iraq as a country entering a new phase, one he hopes can be defined by sovereignty."

Mansour added UNAMI had some limited successes but had struggled "to ensure accountability and create the space for a thriving and independent civil society."

The UN has been facing hostility in recent years, in Africa in particular.

Several countries have forced UN missions to depart, including in Mali where MINUSMA pulled out last year. December also saw the Security Council end the political mission to Sudan at the request of authorities.

"Council members now seem resigned to the fact that many states which have hosted UN missions for a long time want them gone," Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

"The Council's default position was to keep UN missions in place indefinitely. Now the new default is to let them go quietly."