ISHM: October 13 – 19, 2017


Key Takeaways:

  • Iraqi Security Forces, PMUs Move Quickly Into Disputed Territories – Over the past week, on the order of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Units pressed into territories secured by the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, the control over which is disputed between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, including the city of Kirkuk and points south of Kirkuk, Bashiqa and Sinjar in Ninewa Province, Jalawla in Diyala Province, and Salah ad-Din. Forces also wrested control of the K-1 air base and the Bay Hassan, Avana, and Baba Gargar oil fields in Kirkuk Province from the Peshmerga. Abadi has since ordered the withdrawal of all armed groups from Kirkuk, with the exception of local police and the elite Counter-terrorism Service (CTS) of the Iraqi Army. Despite conflicting reports, the initiative to clear Peshmerga positions, raise the Iraqi flag, and reassert federal authority in the areas was mostly done without violence and came amid calls from the United Nations to respect civilian protection. Violent clashes did break out between Peshmerga forces and PMUs in Tuz Khurmatu in eastern Salah ad-Din, where reports of casualties continue to vary but were minimal in number. The influence of Iranian military commander Major General Qasem Soleimani over Shia PMUs and the potentially divided loyalties of units within the Kurdish Peshmerga to KRG President Masoud Barzani or the PUK party have stoked concern of extended conflict and territorial ambition that will play out over the next several weeks. more…
  • Political Fallout Over Referendum Continues: Barzani Loses Leverage, Kirkuk Governor Ousted, Kurdish Elections Postponed – Political division within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is deepening following the September 25 referendum on Kurdish independence. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has refused to negotiate with KRG President Masoud Barzani unless the KRG annuls the results of the referendum. On October 14, a spokesman for Abadi reiterated that the KRG must acknowledge the entirety of Iraqi territory and the federal government’s sovereignty over it as a basis for dialogue. The stalemate has left Barzani’s political rivals in the PUK and Gorran parties doubtful of the KDP leader’s ability to secure leverage with Abadi on the subject of independence, especially after the loss of disputed territory to federal authorities this week. Speaker of Kurdish Parliament and Gorran Party member Yusuf Mohammed called on Barzani to step down. On October 18, the Electoral Commission in the KRI suspended preparations for Kurdish elections on November 1. Also on October 18, Najmiddin Karim was officially ousted as governor of Kirkuk Province following the rejection of his appeal to the Iraqi Administrative Court. Abadi named Deputy Governor Rakan Jabouri as Karim’s interim replacement. Karim had been ousted by the Iraqi Parliament on September 14 for his complicity with holding the Kurdish independence referendum in Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic province that includes Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Assyrians. more…
  • Thousands of IDPs Move Through Disputed Territories Amid Unreliable Reporting – Exaggerated reports of violence and impending calamity plagued social and traditional media over the past week, making it difficult for security officials, aid agencies, and Iraqi citizens to discern imminent threats of violence from political statements during military maneuvers in the disputed territories along the Iraqi-Kurdish border. UNOCHA reported that 61,000 people were displaced from Kirkuk City and the surrounding area, fearing violent clashes between the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces, including Shia Popular Mobilization Units. The majority of those displaced over the past week have already returned to their homes, or are expected to do so relatively soon. more…
  • U.S. Colonel Says There is “Work to Be Done” After ISIS is Cleared – On October 17, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve Colonel Ryan Dillon said that there would still be “work to be done” in Iraq after the military defeat of ISIS in Anbar Province, the militant group’s last firmly held territory in Iraq. Dillon referenced the need to correct ISIS ideology and counter insurgencies. The same day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that Iraq will soon announce the “liberation” of all Iraqi territory from ISIS and will control all of the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Iraqi Air Force and U.S.-led international coalition continued to conduct airstrikes on ISIS positions near Anhu, Rawa, and Qa’im in western Anbar. Many Iraq analysts and members of the international community have expressed concern that recent Iraqi Security Force operations in the disputed territories with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are detracting from anti-ISIS efforts. more…
  • Extreme Hardship Remains in Western Mosul – Doctors Without Borders reported that families returning to western Mosul are facing extreme humanitarian hardship – many returning to destroyed homes without access to clean drinking water, electricity, or medical care. Unexploded ordnance and IEDs continue to be of major concern. In a tragic recent incident, a toddler was killed in western Mosul when she picked up a toy filled with explosives. more…

For more background on most of the institutions, key actors, political parties, and locations mentioned in our takeaways or in the stories that follow, see the ISHM Reference Guide.

Iraqi Security Forces, PMUs Move Quickly Into Disputed Territories

On October 13, Iraqi forces launched a military mobilization south of Kirkuk city, several international news outlets reported from different sources. The Peshmerga General Command warned of a “great disaster.” The Command reported to the media, “Last night, the Popular Forces and the Iraqi army began to move and prepare to attack areas under the control of the Peshmerga in the south of Kirkuk…[These movements] carry serious signals of the outbreak of war and attack on Kurdistan.” The Peshmerga leadership called on the Iraqi government to resolve problems with dialogue rather than the use of military force. In contrast to previous reports, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command denied launching military operations south of Kirkuk. “Our forces are still conducting clearance, search and holding operations in the liberated areas,” it said, and warned that legal action would be taken “against attempts to confuse public opinion.”

On October 13, Zaki Khaia, a commander in the 16th Brigade in Kirkuk Province, reported that the 102nd Brigade of the Peshmerga withdrew from its positions between Taza and Qaseb al-Bashir, south of Kirkuk. “[T]he popular crowd are currently stationed at the sites where the Peshmerga have withdrawn,” he added.

On October 13, the commander of unit 70 of the Peshmerga, Sheikh Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, revealed that the PMUs sent a message to the Peshmerga a day earlier, asking the Peshmerga to evacuate and hand over their headquarters and military installations south of Kirkuk within two hours. Alsumaria received this statement from Mustafa after a meeting of the Peshmerga leadership in the province. Mustafa added that they do not want confrontation and that their forces are “ready to defend our people.”

On October 13, PMU leader, Jabbar al-Mamouri, noticed “sharp differences” among Peshmerga leaders in Kirkuk, noting that loyalists to President of the KRG Masoud Barzani are more prone to confront the ISF and PMUs. Mamouri said in an interview, “Senior leaders in the Peshmerga close to Masoud Barzani are pushing for confrontation with the popular crowd and security forces and want war, while there are other leaders in the Peshmerga reject this framework…because they realize the seriousness of the matter and its repercussions in provoking great sedition in the country…The most dangerous threat to Kirkuk now are the leaders close to Barzani.” In an interview to the Saudi TV channel, “Al-Hadath,” the high-ranking Peshmerga commander, General Sirwan Barzani, asserted that his forces will not withdraw from Kirkuk Province. He noted that recent ISF movements in the south of the province have been hostile, and that the PMUs have been provocative. Furthermore, he explained that the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces from previous positions was in coordination with Baghdad.

On October 13, Peshmerga commander Major General Rasool Qader said in an interview that Iraqi forces moved to the axis of Taza Khurmatu (20 km south of Kirkuk). Peshmerga forces strengthened their positions near the area in response. “We do not want to fight with the Iraqi Army,” Qader said, explaining that the political problems needed to be resolved by dialogue and not involve the security forces. Kirkuk is a disputed territory between Baghdad and Erbil. Oil-rich Kirkuk has a Kurdish majority and was subject to Arabization during Saddam Hussein’s reign. It is not part of the official Kurdish Administration, but it has been under the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga since 2014, after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) fled in the wake of the Islamic State of iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) terrorist organization.

On October 13, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani accused Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of mobilizing forces in Kirkuk and called on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to “intervene” and prevent a new war in the region. He added that the KRG was in favor of dialogue and against the use of weapons. Abadi said on Thursday that he would not send Iraqi forces to fight Kurds. However, Peshmerga commanders have noticed the ISF mobilizing towards Kirkuk, and Iraqi Member of Parliament (MP), Jasim Mohammed Jaafar, confirmed that Iraqi forces, including federal anti-terrorism forces and Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), are mobilizing in preparation to restore control over the oil wells in Kirkuk.

On October 14, deputy chief of staff for the Peshmerga reported that Peshmerga forces positioned on the Taza Khurmatu line near Kirkuk pulled back a few kilometers to avoid clashes with the ISF. The deputy said that the ISF lined themselves in front of the Peshmerga forces, and aim to fight. “The Peshmerga forces will never take the initiative to attack,” he said, “but if the Iraqi forces initiated this, they will respond.”

On October 14, several sources reported that clashes broke out between Peshmerga and PMUs in the night between October 13 and 14 in Tuz Khurmatu District, in the east of Salah ad-Din Province, near the road that connects between Kirkuk and Baghdad. A PMU spokesman reported that the Peshmerga attacked with light weapons and there were no casualties. A local official from Diyala Province seconded that no one was hurt in the incident, and described that the traffic on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road was “very normal” the day following the clashes. However, a council member of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCHR), Ali al-Bayati, reported that the clashes resulted in one security personnel, one wounded civilian, and one abduction. Bayati also noted that member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) participated in the clashes, in addition to the Peshmerga and PMUs. He urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to intervene with federal forces to protect civilians. He called on Abadi to “expedite the dispatch of forces to impose security in mixed areas and protect civilians regardless of their affiliations. There is no justification for waiting, especially after the parliament passed a resolution authorizing the center to deploy forces in those areas, including Kirkuk.” Tuz Khurmatu has a large Turkmen population. Its location, close to Kirkuk and Sulaimania Provinces, has been contested as a Kurdish territory.

On October 15, a security personnel in Salah ad-Din Province reported that a gunman set fire to the PUK party headquarters in Tuz Khurmatu. The perpetrator is unknown. A day earlier, clashes broke out between Peshmerga forces and PMUs in the city.

On October 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially ordered that the Iraqi flag be raised in disputed areas. Around dawn on Monday, Abadi requested that Iraqi forces impose security in Kirkuk. This decision came after days of anticipation of such a move in the region. Later that day, Kirkuk police imposed a curfew from 7pm until 7am.

On October 16, the counter-terrorism service regained control of the K-1 air base. While the ISF had previously had authority over the base, they deserted it in 2014 during a major offensive by ISIS. ISIS only controlled the base for a brief period of time before the Peshmerga removed them and established command. Since then, the Peshmerga has maintained control over the base. However, multiple sources reported that the base is now completely under Iraqi control.

On October 16, Iraqi MP from Diyala Province, Raad Almas, announced that ISF will be deployed in Diyala within three days to restore the situation as it was before June 2014. Diyala will be the second phase after Kirkuk as part of the efforts of the central government to impose its federal powers and restore the [pre-June 2014] situation,” he said in an interview. Specifically, he mentioned that the security forces will be deployed in Jalawla, Tabbah, Jabbara, and Khanaqin.

On October 16, Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement, tweeted in support of the developments in Kirkuk that day, “We seek the wings of our heroic security forces to preserve the unity of the homeland and salute their efforts to take into account the humanitarian aspect of the people of their homeland in all sects and nationalities.”

On October 16, the Media Office of the Prime Minister of Iraq released a statement to the press from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, explaining the deployment of federal troops to Kirkuk Province, “The Iraqi government is seeking to impose its federal authority according to the law and the constitution and it is continuing these measures that are in the interest of all Iraqis, including our Kurdish people.” The statement described that the people of Kirkuk gave the incoming troops a warm welcome.

On October 16, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, released a statement about the developments in Kirkuk. According to Dujarric, the Secretary-General urged the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi federal government to resolve the conflict through dialogue rather than violence.

On October 16, Spokesman of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad released a statement to the press in response to the developments in Kirkuk that began that morning. “We are very concerned about reports of violence in Kirkuk, and we regret any loss of life,” the spokesman said. “We call on all parties to stop military action immediately and restore calm.” The embassy also advised U.S. citizens in the vicinity of Kirkuk that are unable to or unwilling to depart to “shelter in place.”

On October 17, the Directorate of Information declared that the ISF and PMU had retaken the oil field of Bay Hassan in Kirkuk Province. Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, commander of the anti-terrorism service (ATS), said that “our factions faced resistance at the outset due to the arrogance enjoyed by the opposite side, but the influence of the spare parts of the popular mobilization and the army and the fight against terrorism and the federal goals were achieved in record time.”

On October 17, an official in Diyala announced that the Kirkuk-Baghdad road had been reopened a day after it had been closed. An anonymous source had reported the day before that “The security forces cut off, at dawn today, the road to Kirkuk – Baghdad because of the current events in the district of Tuz Khurmatu within the boundaries of Salah ad-Din Province.”

On October 17, Gias Surgi, an information official for the PUK, said that the ISF and PMUs had taken control of the city of Sinjar in Ninewa Province. Surgi noted that the Peshmerga withdrew peacefully and that the city had faced no displacement. That same day, a leader of the Peshmerga in the area reported that the withdrawal was agreed upon by the Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces.

On October 17, Hadi Al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Brigade PMU, announced that the ISF had completed the second step in the process of imposing security in Kirkuk. According to Amiri, the ISF now had control of the oil fields north of Kirkuk. Amiri said, “The operation is very clean and there was no harm to the civilians. I thank the Peshmerga, who made a wise decision not to clash with the security forces.”

On October 17, a leader of a PMU declared that the ISF had negotiated with the Peshmerga and that they had withdrawn to the 2003 borders. An Iraqi MP, Raad Almas, noted that the ISF had reached some areas in Diyala that the ISF had not been in since 2003, including Khanaqin District (about 62 mi from Baquba). Another report added that all the security forces would be under the command of the Tigris operations. According to Almas, “The deployment plan aims to promote stability and protect all components without exception.”

On October 17, the fire brigade worked to put out fires started by Peshmerga forces in the Bay Hassan oil fields in Kirkuk. A day earlier, the oil minister, Jabbar al-Allaibi, had announced that the oil fields had been returned to federal authority.

On October 17, the PUK announced that the Peshmerga had withdrawn from Bashiqa. An anonymous source revealed that Haider al-Abadi was determined to impose federal authority in all of the constitutionally relevant areas. Another report indicated that the Peshmerga had withdrawn from most of the disputed areas in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Mosul, and Kirkuk.

On October 17, Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the security committee in the Diyala provincial council, announced the reopening of the headquarters of the Directorate of Police in Jalawla, in Diyala Province. An Iraqi flag was raised over the building after the Peshmerga withdrew from the city. There had been no police in Jalawla for three years according to the deputy of the province. Jalawla is a disputed city and includes Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.

On October 17, U.S. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, warned the government of Iraq of “serious consequences” if they make a misuse of weapons obtained from the U.S. against the Kurdish forces. He explained that the U.S. provided Iraq weapons to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and to “insure themselves from external threats,” not to attack another of their regions. He reminded that the Kurds in Iraq were an “old and valuable partner of the U.S.”

On October 17, President of the KRG Masoud Barzani responded to the political developments in Kirkuk in a statement to the press, “What happened in the battle of Kirkuk, was the result of a unilateral decision taken by some individuals from an internal political party in Kurdistan,” referring to a decision to withdraw the Peshmerga forces from Kirkuk. He assured the people of Kurdistan that he would exert all his efforts to maintain order, security, and stability in the KRI.

On October 18, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received calls from France and the U.S. in support of his recent actions to reinstate federal forces in Kirkuk Province. A statement from Abadi’s office reported that French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “support for the constitutional steps taken by the Iraqi government in order to preserve the unity of Iraq.” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Abadi over the phone that “Washington does not recognize the referendum in the Kurdistan region, and it supports the unity of Iraq and the steps of the federal government in avoiding confrontation and imposing the rule of law.” Both Macron and Tillerson stressed the importance of focusing on the elimination of terrorism.

On October 18, Aso Mamand, a Kurdish official from the PUK party, reported to have received assurances that the PMUs will withdraw from Kirkuk in a few days. He added that the PMUs have not carried out incursions into homes of citizens or burned party headquarters; such allegations were false.

On October 18, the Director General of Civil Defense  Kazem Salman announced that the fires started in the Bay Hassan oil fields had been contained. Salman clarified that the fires had been in oil residues in the vicinity of wells.

On October 18, President of the United Nations Security Council Francois Delattre issued a statement regarding the unrest in Kirkuk. Delattre said that the Council called on both sides to refrain from the use of force and start peaceful dialogues. However, Delattre noted that the Council “reaffirmed their respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity of Iraq.”

On October 18, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the withdrawal of all armed groups from Kirkuk. Abadi noted that all control would be handed over to the local police and counter-terrorism service (CTS). Abadi also requested “to pursue elements that spread hatred and racism amongst the people.”

On October 19, the Interior Ministry issued a statement that the security forces were still in place and had not withdrawn from Kirkuk, in contrast to Abadi’s statement from the day before. Wahhab al-Tai, the ministry’s advisor, said that “some media biased and in crisis is nothing but attempts raiment to influence the determination of Iraq’s heroes or confuse the Iraqi street.”

On October 19, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released a statement expressing concern over the developments in Tuz Khurmatu. According to the statement, the United Nations had received reports of over 150 houses being burned. The United Nations urged the government of Iraq to ensure that the violence stopped and that no civilians would be harmed.

Political Fallout Over Referendum Continues: Barzani Loses Leverage, Kirkuk Governor Ousted, Kurdish Elections Postponed

On October 12, Bafel Talabani, son of the late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and leader in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), addressed Iraqis and the international community in a televised speech on the disputed territories between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi federal government, and particularly on the situation in Kirkuk. He called on Iraqis to follow the PUK, in the Mam Jalal’s way, out of the tense political situation, which he called “darkness.” He also called on the international community to “de escalate the potential military confrontation.” Further, he requested unconditional dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad, in support of the international community. “This way, we can defend the right of our people,” he explained. He advised that the disputed territories need a joint administration, because of their sensitivity to conflict. On Kirkuk, he said, “Kirkuk needs a joint administration, in accordance with the results of the last elections, the nomination of an entirely new administration and, if necessary, a new governor…We will need temporary joint governance to diffuse this situation”

On October 13, the Ministry of Natural Resources in the Kurdistan region proposed conditions to resolve the financial and oil dispute between Baghdad and Erbil. Most notably, they proposed that 17 percent of Iraq’s oil would be allocated to the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI).

On October 14, the Iraqi government reiterated its conditions for dialogue with representatives of the KRI. Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office, said that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) must accept the following conditions: recognition of Iraq’s entire territory and sovereignty over it, as well as respect for the constitution, which must be the base for dialogue. He said these conditions were “fundamental and constant.” Without them, he said, “I do not think there is a possibility for dialogue.” Conversely, Kurdish representatives have called for unconditional dialogue.

On October 15, the media office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied claims that the Peshmerga forces were given a deadline to withdraw from Kirkuk Province. The Russian news agency, Sputnik, reported on Friday (October 13) that Abadi directed Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to enter Kirkuk City and gave the Peshmerga forces 48 hours to leave the area. However, while denying the claim, the government spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, added that the ISF “must redeploy, and they do so at this time in the province of Kirkuk and the areas where they existed before June 10, 2014.”

On October 15, the Governor of Kirkuk, Najmiddin Karim, addressed the tense situation in his province in an interview to the media. “The Kurdistan political leadership and Peshmerga forces and the administration of Kirkuk and citizens of the province do not want war, but always seek peace,” he said, noting that they will not launch a war against the ISF, “but we will defend the people of Kirkuk.” He added that the situation in Kirkuk is safe and that oil exports continue from the province.

On October 15, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK held a high-level joint meeting in Sulaimania to discuss the repercussions of the referendum for independence of the KRI and possible solutions to the evolving crisis between it and Baghdad. Of the attendees were President of Iraq Fuad Masum, President of the KRG Masoud Barzani, Prime Minister of the KRG Nechirvan Barzani, and Hero Talabani, wife of the late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. An anonymous source reported that the discussions included a proposal to “freeze” the results of the referendum for a two-year period. “This proposal came to show the credibility of the Kurdish side in opening dialogue with Baghdad and reduce the escalation, particularly in Kirkuk,” the source explained. The meeting concluded with the refusal of the KDP and PUK to cancel the results of the referendum. Following the meeting, Nechirvan Barzani said in a press conference that cancelling the results of the referendum would not solve the problem, and that Baghdad was wrong to consider a military solution, which was against the constitution. A leader in the PUK, Mullah Bakhtiar, said that Kurdish leaders were ready to negotiate, and drafted a five-point paper to present to Baghdad to initiate dialogue. “We will not give up our rights under any pressure,” Bahtiar added. Later that day, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, confirmed the Kurdish leadership’s intentions to “freeze” the results of the referendum. He said during a televised interview that he received a text message from Masoud Barzani agreeing to “postpone the adoption of any decision on the results of the referendum,” and that Barzani was waiting for unconditional negotiations.

On October 16, Governor of Kirkuk Najmiddin Karim called on the people of Kirkuk to take up arms and defend the city, as he toured the streets of Kirkuk. His announcement came after Kurdish security officials were informed that Iraqi forces had advanced to seize the oil fields in Kirkuk. In an emergency news broadcast, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi directed the ISF “to protect all citizens of all sects in Kirkuk.” He also called on the people of Kirkuk to continue their life regularly without any disturbance.

On October 16, Iraqi MP Jasim Mohammed Jaafar told the press that deputy governor, Rakan Jabouri, took over the administrative functions of Kirkuk Province, in place of Governor of Kirkuk Najmiddin Karim. Jaafar explained that the replacement was according to the law of provincial councils, and that Jabouri would run the administration until a new governor was chosen by the Prime Minister of Iraq or the administrative responsibilities were handed over to the military. The Iraqi Parliament voted to oust Karim from his position as Governor of Kirkuk on September 14. However, the legality of the parliament’s decision has been contested by Karim and the KRG.

On October 16, Iraqi President Fuad Masum met with United States (U.S.) ambassador to Iraq, Douglas Silliman in the Peace Palace in Baghdad. They discussed the relations between the U.S. and Iraq and the latest developments in Kirkuk Province that day. In a statement to the press, Masum called on the media and parties in the dispute to prevent escalatory rhetoric and warned of “worsening conditions that would negatively affect the future of all Iraqis.” Silliman stated that the U.S is keen to preserve Iraq’s stability and “provide any support to help Iraq to overcome this problem.”

On October 16, Rakan al-Jabouri, who stepped into the role of interim Governor of Kirkuk, called on families who had left the province from fear of violence to return to their homes. He said that the police were dedicated to maintaining security, and directed them to intensify patrols in the province. He explained that federal troops are re-deploying to where they were present before 2014. “According to the Constitution,” he added, “the borders of the Kurdistan region is the border before March 19, 2003.” He also reported that there were no civilian victims.

On October 16, Dexter Filkins, author in The New Yorker magazine, published a story linking the Peshmerga’s withdrawal from Kirkuk (allowing Iraqi forces an easy takeover of the city) to a meeting (and possible deal) between the PUK’s leadership and Qassem Suleimani, an Iranian major general, whom Filkins refers to as “Iran’s chief spymaster.” Filkins wrote that Suleimani struck a deal with PUK leaders, Hero, Bafel, and Lahur Talabani, respectively wife, son, and nephew of late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The content of their conversation is unknown, but a few hours after their meeting, Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk began abandoning their posts. A senior American official working in the region said, “Everyone is calling it the PUK drug deal.”

On October 17, Iraqi MP, Massoud Hayder, revealed the details of a draft agreement reached on October 16 between Bafel Talabani, the PUK leader, and Hadi al-Amiri, a PMU leader, with mediation by Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian major general, and under the supervision of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. It was a nine-item agreement, which included: dividing the KRI into two regions, returning Iraqi forces to disputed areas, handing over 17 administrative units in Kirkuk Province from the KRG to the Iraqi federal authority, agreeing that Kirkuk City will be under a joint administration for six months (Kurds will manage 15 Kurdish neighborhoods out of 40 neighborhoods in the city), agreeing that the federal government will control strategic places in Kirkuk (including oil wells), opening the airport in Sulaimania to international flights, agreeing that the federal government will pay salaries to employees in Sulaimania and Kirkuk and to Peshmerga in Sulaimania, and forming of a new Province — Halabja. Hayder mentioned that the idea to divide the KRI into two regions came from France; its purpose is to take advantage of the KDP-PUK or Erbil-Sulaimania political divide among the Iraqi Kurds in order to prevent them from pursuing self-determination in the near future.

On October 17, Abadi called on Kurdish politicians not to divide the Peshmerga forces into party affiliations or otherwise, noting that “the Peshmerga chose to cooperate with the federal government.” He declared, “the referendum is now over and has become the past,” and called for a constitution-based dialogue with Kurdish leaders.

On October 18, two Kurdish leaders — Yusuf Mohammed, head of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, and Hoshyar Abdullah, Iraqi MP, both of the Gorran party — expressed dissatisfaction with President of the KRG Masoud Barzani’s leadership. Mohammed called on Barzani to step down, noting that it would “provide great service” to the Kurds. “You have to admit failure and let our people decide their own destiny and not to be determined according to your wishes,” he addressed Barzani. Abdullah expressed surprise that Barzani had not already resigned. He called “on all constitutional and legal bodies, the three authorities and the three presidencies, not to deal directly or indirectly with [Barzani] in any official capacity.”

On October 18, Iraqi President Fuad Masum officially endorsed the removal of Kirkuk Governor, Najmiddin Karim, from office. His endorsement followed the Iraqi Administrative Court’s decision to reject an appeal from Karim to stay in office, in odds with the Iraqi Parliament’s vote to remove him. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi named Rakan Jabouri as interim Governor of Kirkuk.

On October 18, the Parliament of the KRI met to discuss a draft law for the continuation of the current parliamentary session past the date of the planned elections. The KRI is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on November 1; however, due to the post-referendum crisis, there is uncertainty the elections will be held on schedule. The Kurdistan Islamic Union party left the meeting in the middle in protest that the parliament did not address issues that were more important for them. KRI MP of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, Abubaker Haldny, cited the “unfair system of salaries” and cited the recent events in Kirkuk and other disputed areas as the reasons his party withdrew from the meeting. The parliamentary meeting came to a close and was postponed following the internal disagreements.

On October 18, the Electoral Commission in the KRI decided to “suspend all procedures for the election process scheduled for the first of November 2017,” explaining that it did not receive names of candidates on time. The Commission added, “the suspension of the measures will remain until the Parliament of Kurdistan to take a decision in this regard.” Earlier that day, the Parliament of the KRI failed to pass legislation for the postponement of the elections and the continuation of the current parliament session.

On October 18, demonstrators stormed the building of the Iraqi embassy in Ottawa, Canada and assaulted one embassy staff member. In the United Kingdom (UK), demonstrators protested in front of the Iraqi embassy in London, and the Iraqi consulate in Manchester was attacked with a Molotov Cocktail. The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep indignation” and called on the British authorities to tighten the security around the Iraqi consulate and embassy and hold the perpetrators accountable.

Thousands of IDPs Move Through Disputed Territories Amid Unreliable Reporting

On October 15, Iran closed the Pervez Khan border crossing, which connects Iran to the KRI, to all travelers and commercial traffic. Reasons for the closure were not given. At first, the Iranian Foreign ministry denied closing the border. However, later that day, Iraqi Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ahmad Mahjoub, confirmed that the border indeed closed that morning. The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted an official requests to Iran and Turkey on October 6, asking them to close their borders with the KRI and stop all commercial traffic with Kurdistan.

On October 16, Voice of America (VOA) reported that thousands of families fled Kirkuk as Iraqi forces advanced on the city. According to VOA, Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) were continuing to fight Peshmerga over Kirkuk and have occupied the airport. When interviewed, Jabar Kareem, a Peshmerga soldier, said, “We were defending the city but eventually we had no choice but to retreat…They are fighting with advanced weaponry.”

On October 16, the Kurdistan Regional Security Council released a statement that Iraqi forces and Iranian-back PMUs launched a major operation against the Peshmerga in Kirkuk. The statement asserted that “they attacked Peshmerga Forces from two fronts…using US military equipment.” The statement also declared that the Peshmerga had destroyed five U.S. humvees being used by PMUs in their “unprovoked attack.”

On October 17, an anonymous source reported that PMU troops took control of the Iraqi side of the Pervez Khan border-crossing with Iran, in Sulaimania Province. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry reported that the border-crossing closed on October 15, after several conflicting reports regarding Pervez Khan’s status that day.

On October 17, an Iraqi MP, Massoud Hayder, accused military elements of burning Kurdish shops in Tuz Khurmatu, Salah ad-Din Province. Hayder reminded that Iraqi leadership had “issued statements on the safety of citizens and the emphasis on the armed forces to maintain the safety of citizens and their security and ownership.”

On October 17, OCHA reported that of the 61,200 people displaced around Kirkuk, thousands of them were already returning home. Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said, “We call on all parties to do everything possible to shield and protect all civilians impacted by the current situation.” To date, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq is only 61 percent funded.

U.S. Colonel Says There is “Work to Be Done” After ISIS is Cleared

On October 12, The Washington Post reported that the roadside bomb that killed Spec. Alexander W. Missildine earlier this month was a explosively formed penetrator (EFP). These bombs were used against U.S. troops in their previous stint in Iraq. While the devices were initially popular with Iranian-backed Shia militias, U.S. military officials were quick to stress that the source of the EFP was still unknown. Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, said “investigations are continuing into the type and quality of the bomb to better determine where it originated. To say whether ISIS did it or not — we have not determined that yet. We are not ruling anything out.”

On October 15, the Iraqi Air Force (IAF) announced that it airdropped thousands of leaflets over Qa’im and Rawa, in west Anbar Province, near the Syrian border. The leaflets directed citizens to move away from Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) headquarters. Iraqi forces have used this tactic several times in preparation to clear ISIS from a city, including, most recently, in Hawija. Currently, ISIS is still controlling the cities of Anhu, Rawa, and Qa’im in west Anbar. The have been there since mid 2014, and it is their last significant presence in Iraq.

On October 15, the Iraqi Military Media Cell announced that Iraqi forces, in cooperation with the U.S.-led international coalition, conducted airstrieks on ISIS headquarters in Qa’im, in western Anbar Province of Iraq, and Abu Kamal, in Syria. Abu Kamal is located 25 km northwest of Qa’im, past the Iraqi-Syrian border. The cell reported that the bombing resulted in the deaths of dozens of ISIS members, including one of its most prominent leaders in Syria, Abu Omar.

On October 15, a leader of the Baghdadi tribes in Anbar Province reported that an Iraqi aircraft bombed and destroyed an ISIS convoy containing 300 oil barrels in the western desert of Anbar Province, approximately 350 km west of Ramadi. The source said that the convoy intended to smuggle the oil.

On October 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi held a press conference addressing the latest political developments in Iraq. He said that Iraq will soon announce the “liberation” of all Iraqi territory from ISIS and control of the Iraqi-Syrian border. The province of Anbar in Iraq near the Syrian border is the last territory left for Iraq to clear of ISIS presence, after ISIS’s recent defeat in Hawija.

On October 17, in a press briefing, Col. Ryan Dillon, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, said that there would still be work to be done in Iraq after the military defeat of ISIS in towns in Anbar Province. In particular, Dillon noted that the defeat of ISIS did not entail the defeat of the ideology or insurgency. Consequently, Dillon said that the need for training in policing and counterterrorism measures would increase. Dillon stated that Iraq would need to be able to understand the threat and be “able to go after that threat prior to any attacks on either Iraqi forces or civilians throughout Iraq.”

On October 18, Ali al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), said that ISIS had attacked villages in the district of Daquq (45 km from Kirkuk). However, Husseini announced that the PMU had mobilized and eliminated the terrorist groups.

Extreme Hardship Remains in Western Mosul

On October 12, Kuwait provided humanitarian aid in the form of treating 180 Iraqis with artificial limbs in Mosul, Ninewa Province. Kuwait has also given about 400 tons of medicine to hospitals in Mosul as well as constructed five medical centers for Iraqis displaced from Mosul.

On October 13, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), funded by a contribution from the European Union, announced that it had established four community centers throughout Iraq. The community centers are focused on creating a safe space where Iraqis can engage in peacebuilding activities to better their communities. More than 4,600 people have already participated in the activities, which are free of charge.

On October 14, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that it was increasing assistance to Iraqis from Ninewa. In recent months though humanitarian aid has totaled: 166,000 people for medical consultations, 91,600 people receiving food parcels, and 35,000 children gaining educational support. However, currently only 57 percent of the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq has been funded — a total of US$ 386 million short.

On October 14, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) reported that, to date, they had provided medical services for 298 displaced families in Mosul. Of these, 195 were emergency cases. Additionally, the IRCS had distributed food to 1,200 families in Hawija.

On October 17, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that families returning to west Mosul were facing extreme humanitarian hardships. Many were returning to partially or completely destroyed houses and had no access to clean drinking water, electricity, or medical care. MSF announced that many of the patients had infections caused by eating spoiled food and drinking or bathing in unclean water. Additionally, many of the houses are filled with unexploded ordnances, causing injuries and deaths. In one instance, a toddler was killed when she picked up a toy filled with explosives.

On October 17, the Government of Italy donated EU€ 500,000 to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). UNMAS has been working to clear cities of unexploded ordnances so that displaced families can return to their areas of origin. In particular, UNMAS recently completed clearing one of the largest hospitals in east Mosul.

On October 19, Oxfam released a report about the effects of displacement on Iraq’s youth in Mosul. Before the conflict with Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), 61 percent of Iraq’s population was below the age of 24. Young people surveyed believed that their quality of life was good to very good. However, after the first few months of the ISIS occupation, their quality of life sharply decreased. Every respondent noted that they had lost friends or family to ISIS-related violence. After Mosul was cleared from ISIS, most of the youth had a strong desire to return home but faced challenges, including mobility and job prospects.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

10/19/17Taji, Salah ad-Din Province, 25 km north of Baghdad04
10/19/17Safwan, near Kuwait's northernmost border with Iraq, Basra Province20
10/19/17Malef neighborhood, south Baghdad20
10/18/17Tabaj Basin, Diyala Province, 79 km northeast of Baquba20
10/18/17Zawiyah district, Anbar Province10
10/17/17Dulab area, west of Hit (70 km west of Ramadi), Anbar Province02
10/17/17Ashraya, Zab area (65 km northwest of Kirkuk)01
10/15/17Nahrawan (30 km east of Baghdad), Diyala Province13
10/15/17Yusufiyah (29 kilometer south of Baghdad), Babil Province
10/15/17Sayed Abdullah, south of Baghdad, Babil Province03
10/13/17Hilla, Babil Province00


Please note: some geographic locations represented are approximations and this map may not represent all incidents.

Derived from firsthand accounts and Iraq-based Arabic and Kurdish news sources, the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor is a free publication of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.

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