Iraq/Kuwait - UNIKOM - Background
  United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission
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On 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. On the same day, the Security Council adopted its resolution 660 (1990), condemning the invasion and demanding Iraqís immediate and unconditional withdrawal its forces to the positions they had occupied the previous day. A few days later, the Council instituted mandatory arms and economic sanctions against Iraq. In all, over the period between 2 August and 29 November 1990, the Council adopted 12 resolutions on various aspects of the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, culminating in resolution 678 (1990). That resolution specified that if Iraq had not fully implemented by 15 January 1991 all of the Council's resolutions relating to the occupation of Kuwait, Member States cooperating with Kuwait's legitimate Government were authorized to use "all necessary means" to compel Iraq to do so and restore international peace and security in the area.

The deadline passed and the next day, on 16 January 1991, the armed forces of the States cooperating with the Government of Kuwait began air attacks against Iraq, followed on 24 February by a ground offensive. Offensive operations were suspended as of midnight on 28 February 1991, by which time Kuwait City had been liberated and all Iraqi armed forces had vacated the territory of Kuwait. On 3 April 1991, the Council adopted resolution 687 (1991), setting detailed conditions for a formal ceasefire to end the conflict and establishing the machinery for ensuring implementation of those conditions. Following Iraqís acceptance of the resolutionís provisions, the ceasefire became a formal one.

Establishment of UNIKOM

By resolution 687 (1991) the Council established, among other things, a demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait, to be monitored by a United Nations observer unit, and requested the Secretary-General to submit a plan for the unit's immediate deployment. The Secretary-General reported back on 5 April 1991, and on 9 April, by its resolution 689 (1991), the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, established the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) with the strength of 300 military observers. It decided further that the modalities for the Mission should be reviewed every six months, but without requiring in each case a formal decision for its extension. The Council's formal decision would be required only for UNIKOM's termination, thus ensuring the indefinite duration of the Mission, its termination being subject to the concurrence of all the permanent members of the Council.

The Council gave UNIKOM a mandate to monitor the DMZ and the Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway between Iraq and Kuwait; to deter violations of the boundary; and to observe any hostile action mounted from the territory of one State against the other.

UNIKOM is deployed

The UNIKOM advance party arrived in the area on 13 April 1991. By 6 May, the Mission was fully deployed. UNIKOM then monitored the withdrawal of the armed forces that were still deployed in its assigned zone. That withdrawal having been completed, the DMZ established by the Security Council came into effect on 9 May, and UNIKOM assumed in full its observation responsibilities. Initially, to provide essential security during the setting-up phase, UNIKOM included five infantry companies, drawn from the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). These troops were withdrawn by the end of June 1991.

UNIKOMís concept of operations was based on a combination of patrol and observation bases, observation points, ground and air patrols, investigation teams and liaison with the parties at all levels. The Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) long. The DMZ, which is about 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, extends 10 kilometres (6 miles) into Iraq and 5 kilometres (3 miles) into Kuwait. Except for the oilfields and two towns - Umm Qasr, which became Iraq's only outlet to the sea, and Safwan - the zone is barren and almost uninhabited. UNIKOM enjoys full freedom of movement throughout the DMZ and observes the length and breadth of the zone.

According to the original mandate, UNIKOM did not have the authority or the capacity to take physical action to prevent the entry of military personnel or equipment into the DMZ. The military observers of UNIKOM are unarmed. Responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in the DMZ rests with the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait which maintain police posts in their respective parts of the zone. Police are allowed only side arms.

UNIKOM mandate expanded

UNIKOM mandate expanded On 5 February 1993, following a series of incidents on the newly demarcated boundary between Iraq and Kuwait involving Iraqi intrusions into the Kuwaiti side of the DMZ and unauthorized retrieval of Iraqi property from Kuwaiti territory, the Security Council, by its resolution 806 (1993), expanded the tasks of UNIKOM to include the capacity to take physical action to prevent or redress: (a) small-scale violations of the DMZ; (b) violations of the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait, for example by civilians or police; and (c) problems that might arise from the presence of Iraqi installations and Iraqi citizens and their assets in the DMZ on the Kuwaiti side of the newly demarcated boundary. The Council increased the authorized strength of the mission to 3,645 (three mechanized infantry battalions including support elements) and requested the Secretary-General to execute a phased deployment of the additional elements.

On 2 April 1993, the Secretary-General informed the Security Council of his intention, in the first phase, to retain the military observers and to reinforce them by one mechanized infantry battalion. The Council concurred with this recommendation. In response to the Secretary-General's request, the Government of Bangladesh agreed to contribute a mechanized infantry battalion to UNIKOM. An advance team arrived in the mission area in mid-November 1993, followed by the remainder of the battalion during the month of December and early January 1994.

With the addition of the mechanized infantry battalion, UNIKOM's concept of operations was modified. It was now based on a combination of patrol and observation bases, observation points, ground and air patrols, vehicle check-points, roadblocks, a force mobile reserve, investigation teams and liaison with the parties at all levels.

In addition, following a lengthy period of preparation, the Khawr 'Abd Allah Waterway Monitoring project commenced operation on 15 February 2000. This new maritime operation was directly under the command of the Force Commander. Its area of responsibility covered the waterways and the land area patrolled by UNIKOM from patrol and observation base on the Al Faw peninsula.

While military observers continued to carry out their original responsibilities, the mechanized infantry battalion was tasked to provide reinforcement patrols in areas where the situation was sensitive and where an infantry force could be required to prevent incidents. The battalion also provided the force mobile reserve capable of rapid redeployment anywhere within the DMZ to prevent or redress small-scale violations of the DMZ and the boundary. Also, where necessary, it provided security for UNIKOM installations.

Situation in the DMZ, February 1993 - March 2003

The overall situation in the DMZ during that period remained generally calm, although there were periods of tension in November 1993 resulting from the demarcation of the Iraq-Kuwait boundary, and in October 1994 in connection with reports about the deployment of Iraqi troops north of the DMZ. Otherwise, there were only a limited number of incidents and violations of the DMZ. These involved mainly overflights by military aircraft and the carrying or firing of weapons other than side arms. UNIKOM investigated all ground violations and communicated its findings to the parties. It also investigated all written complaints. In the performance of its functions, UNIKOM received the cooperation of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti authorities.

Throughout the mission, UNIKOM maintained contact and provided technical support to other United Nations missions working in Iraq and Kuwait, in particular to the Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Demarcation Commission until its dissolution in May 1993, and to the United Nations office dealing with the return of property from Iraq to Kuwait. UNIKOM provided movement control in respect of all United Nations aircraft operating in the area. The Mission also provided assistance in connection with the relocation of Iraqi citizens from the Kuwaiti side of the border to Iraq, following the demarcation of the international boundary. This was completed in February 1994.

UNIKOM also acted in coordination with the authorities of Iraq and Kuwait in cases of unauthorized border crossings and when responding to requests to facilitate repatriation. The Mission closely cooperated on such matters with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

UNIKOM's operations suspended

On 17 March 2003, in advance of the military campaign against Iraq by a coalition led by the United States, the Secretary-General decided to suspend UNIKOM's operations and to withdraw the Mission due to the risks to its security and because UNIKOM could no longer operate in the DMZ. The majority of UNIKOM personnel returned to their countries of origin or to previous assignments. However, a small headquarters, consisting of 12 military officers, 20 essential civilian staff and some local staff, has remained in Kuwait City.

Reporting to the Security Council on 31 March, the Secretary-General said that while it was clear that UNIKOM was unable to fulfil its mandate as a result of the situation on the ground, its personnel had only been dispersed temporarily and the timing of their return to their assignments would be decided in consultation with the Council. The small headquarters at the UNIKOM logistics base in Kuwait City would undertake liaison duties and provide valuable support to other United Nations activities as the need arises. The Secretary-General recommended that this residual peacekeeping presence be maintained for a further three months, until 6 July 2003, subject to any further decisions the Council may take regarding the UNIKOM mandate.

On 3 April 2003, the Security Council concurred with the Secretary-Generalís recommendation.

UNIKOMís mandate extended for a final period

In his further report on UNIKOM dated 17 June 2003 covering the period from 22 March to 15 June, the Secretary-General detailed the Missionís activities following the suspension of its mandate due to the deteriorating security situation in the demilitarized zone prior to the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces on 20 March.

The Secretary-General said that, from April 1991 to mid-March 2003, UNIKOM was a successful, and in many ways, a model United Nations peacekeeping operation. Nonetheless, now that the conflict in Iraq had subsided, and following the adoption of resolution 1483 (2003) on 22 May, the Council might wish to consider whether the continued presence of UNIKOM in Kuwait with a suspended mandate and in changed circumstances was still desirable.

In these altered conditions, the Secretary-General recommended that the residual peacekeeping presence of UNIKOM be maintained for a final three months, until 6 October, when the Mission would be closed. During this period, UNIKOM would scale down its military presence to a minimum, continue to provide support to humanitarian assistance operations in Iraq, maintain liaison with Kuwaiti authorities, undertake the reconciliation and liquidation of UNIKOM assets and, most importantly, make appropriate arrangements for handing over its activities in assistance of humanitarian operations to other entities remaining in the area.

The Secretary-General reported that UNIKOM continued to provide support to other United Nations activities and, through regular liaison, to maintain a climate of trust and confidence in its relationship with the Government of Kuwait, one of the two host countries. That Government had expressed to the Mission its satisfaction with its cooperation in this period that was characterized by uncertainty due to the absence of an internationally recognized representative Government in Iraq.

On 31 March, the Secretary-General recalled, the Permanent Representative of Kuwait informed the Secretary-General that his Government believed that the delicate situation regarding the border between Kuwait and Iraq was ample reason for the maintenance of the mandate until such time as the situation became clearer and peace and security were restored to the area.

Among the main developments cited in the Secretary-Generalís report was the reduction by 21 March of UNIKOMís civilian personnel to the minimum required to provide basic support at Kheitan Support Centre. With the expansion of tasks arising from the decision to retain a headquarters in Kuwait, the Kheitan facility was reconfigured and upgraded. Following the evacuation of the demilitarized zone on 18 March, a small team was established to monitor the situation in Kuwait City and keep all personnel informed of potential threats. A nuclear, biological and chemical detection capability was maintained to alert UNIKOM personnel quickly of any possible contamination from Iraqi missiles falling into Kuwait.

On 3 July, the Security Council, by its resolution 1490 (2003), decided to continue the mandate of UNIKOM for a final period until 6 October 2003. The Council also decided to end the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait at the end of Missionís mandate. It directed the Secretary-General to negotiate the transfer of UNIKOMís non-removable property and assets that could not be disposed otherwise to the States of Kuwait and Iraq, as appropriate.

Mandate completed

Following the suspension of its operations and the subsequent evacuation of most of its personnel to their home countries or safe havens in Brindisi, Italy, or Dhaka, Bangladesh, UNIKOM continued its operations in a small rear headquarters retained at the Kheitan support centre. Under the modified mandate provided under Security Council resolution 1490 (2003), UNIKOM undertook military and political liaison duties, carried out residual tasks for the Mission, such as recovery, reconciliation and disposal of assets, and provided support to other entities of the United Nations system in the region. At the same time, UNIKOM took the measures necessary for the termination of its mandate by 6 October 2003 and undertook arrangements for liquidation of the Mission in accordance with United Nations procedures.

In his last report (S/2003/933) dated 2 October 2003, the Secretary-General stated that until March 2003, UNIKOM did not encounter major obstacles in implementing its mandate. It functioned as an established Mission with adequate facilities for its operations and the welfare of its personnel. The Governments of both Iraq and Kuwait cooperated with the Mission and on numerous occasions expressed satisfaction with UNIKOM’s impartiality. Those relations were vital to establishing trust with the parties and in effectively carrying out the Mission’s mandated tasks. The excellent working relations established over the years with the Government of Kuwait continued during the final months of the Mission’s mandate.

The Secretary-General indicated that since March 2003, the Kheitan support centre had been reinforced with additional infrastructure and various facilities for offices, as well as logistical support services, such as communications equipment, workshops and accommodation, in order to function as the UNIKOM headquarters. Those facilities were also enhanced with a view to providing adequate support to other United Nations offices and international organizations carrying out humanitarian activities in Iraq. In the process, valuable experience was gained in liaison activities with host-country authorities, other government representatives and agencies in the changed post-war circumstances.

In concluding his report, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations could be proud of the achievements of UNIKOM. In its last phase, as a residual peacekeeping presence operating in a difficult environment affected by the conflict in Iraq from mid-March 2003 until the completion of its mandate, UNIKOM proved to be a significant source of support for humanitarian agencies deployed in Iraq and Kuwait.

Having thus accomplished the tasks mandated by the Security Council in its resolution 1490 (2003), the Mission was closed on 6 October 2003.


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