UNITAD may end mission in Iraq early amid strained relations with government

BAGHDAD — The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) is confronting the possibility of an untimely conclusion to its mission in Iraq given its strained relations with the Iraqi government, raising concerns about justice for victims of ISIS atrocities.

Established in 2017, UNITAD has played a pivotal role in investigating allegations of genocide and war crimes perpetrated by ISIS. Its efforts have been instrumental in securing convictions for perpetrators of egregious crimes, contributing significantly to global accountability endeavors.

The potential cancellation of UNITAD’s mission comes at a critical juncture when many victims of ISIS remain displaced in camps, yearning for justice. Christian Ritscher, the head of UNITAD, expressed apprehensions about the “premature” termination of their work, highlighting unfinished investigations and vital projects crucial for delivering justice. In an interview with Reuters, Ritscher stated, “Has the work been completed? Not yet, and that is entirely clear. We need more time … If we set a final deadline in September 2024, we will not have completed the investigations … nor will other projects, such as creating a centralized archive for millions of pieces of evidence, be completed.”

Last December, Ritscher cautioned in a UN press release that “a premature and abrupt ending of UNITAD can only mean a loss for all those concerned.” This move also raises doubts about Iraq’s commitment to holding members of the organization accountable for such crimes domestically.

Farhad Alaaddin, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s advisor for foreign relations, informed Reuters that there is “no longer a need” for the investigative team from Baghdad’s perspective. He cited the team’s purported failure to cooperate successfully with Iraqi authorities, alleging a lack of responsiveness to requests for evidence sharing.

At its peak, ISIS boasted thousands of members, including an estimated 40,000 foreign fighters, and controlled approximately 100,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria. The extremist group, propagating its own ultra-conservative and violent interpretation of Islam, committed numerous crimes against diverse groups, from local minorities like the Yezidis and the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people. The UN classified the ISIS targeting of the Yezidi community as genocide.