- Federal Supreme Court Annuls Referendum Results; Abadi May Be Open to More Funding for KRI – On November 20, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled that the September 25 referendum on Kurdistan’s independence was unconstitutional, after ruling earlier this month that the Iraqi Constitution does not authorize the separation of any part of Iraq and instead emphasizes a federal responsibility to maintain unity (as previously reported in ISHM). Ayas al-Samuyk, a spokesperson for the Court, said that in accordance with the decision, the results of the referendum would be cancelled. Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani condemned the ruling and the Court itself, suggesting it is acting “in accordance with the wishes of some political parties.” The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq called on the KRG to respect the decision, as the KRG had accepted the previous decision on unity. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi signaled that the proportion of the federal budget allocated to the Kurdistan Region may change from the previously proposed 12.67 percent (a figure far lower than the expected 17 percent). Abadi withdrew the proposed budget containing the lower figure from Parliament and it will now be further reviewed by the Council of Ministers. more…
- Rawa Cleared of ISIS – Iraqi Security Forces cleared ISIS militants from the small town of Rawa, approximately 20 kilometers northwest of Ana on the Euphrates River in Anbar Province. The town represents the last urban enclave occupied by ISIS, though militants are still spread throughout western Anbar. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the ISF for their “strength and great capacity” to swiftly clear the town. Operations will continue to focus on intercity transit points in Anbar Province. more…
- Vehicle Bomb Targets Tuz Khurmatu Market, 83 Casualties Reported – On November 21, a truck laden with explosives was detonated at a market in Tuz Khurmatu, approximately 86 kilometers south of Kirkuk in Salah ad-Din Province. Preliminary casualty reports indicate at least 23 fatalities and 60 more wounded. Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, said that those involved “know that they have been defeated on the battlefront and that is why they resort to these cowardly tactics against innocent civilians.” more…
- NY Times: Airstrikes Killed More Civilians in Mosul than Reported – Writers for The New York Times Magazine published an extensive investigation into civilian casualties stemming from U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes conducted during operations to clear the city of Mosul of ISIS militants, from October to December 2016. The investigation found that one in five coalition airstrikes resulted in a civilian death – a rate 31 times that which was reported by the coalition. According to the report, the coalition consistently failed to investigate claims of civilian casualties and has not issued any condolence payments to-date. The investigation did not include reports of airstrikes that occurred after December 2016, when a rule change allowed field commanders to call in strikes (as previously reported in ISHM). The investigators suggest that the rule change may have contributed to an even greater increase in the civilian casualty rate. more…
- Abadi Pledges Elections Will Be Held on Schedule, Despite Pushback from Ninewa MPs – On November 18, Iraq’s Electoral Commission opened registration for Parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on May 15, 2018. Several Members of Parliament from Ninewa Province threatened to “work hard to postpone the elections” if IDPs are unable to return to their places of origin before the May date. The return of IDPs and security have been cited as prerequisites for the election, with Abadi pledging that “the elections will be held on their Constitutional date.” Meanwhile, influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for a two million-strong rally in support of a “technocrat” government to be vote in next May. Sadr emphasized that the next government should not be “militant or partisan.” more…
Please note: This edition of ISHM is being released a day ahead of schedule in recognition of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. We will return to our regular Thursday schedule next week, which will cover November 23 – 30, 2017.
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.
On November 18, Spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Saad al-Hadithi, announced that the Iraqi 2018 budget bill was in its “final review phase,” and would be sent to the Iraqi Parliament for approval “within days.” Notably, Hadithi said that the proportion of the budget allocated to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) would “change in proportion to the number of its population, compared to the population of Iraq, and to ensure a fair distribution of the wealth of the country.” The last draft for the 2018 budget reduced the KRI’s portion to 12.67 percent from the precedent 17 percent — a change to which Kurdish politicians across the board voiced strong opposition. That draft had been withdrawn from Parliament back to the Council of Ministers. Hadithi’s announcement signals that the KRI’s portion of the next draft could be higher than 12.67 percent, and more appeasing to Kurdish leaders.
On November 18, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani by phone. According to the KRG, Tillerson “expressed satisfaction at the calm conditions” between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and he praised the KRG for their decision to respect the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution. Tillerson also “stressed the importance of maintaining stability in order to create the atmosphere for serious dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil.” Barzani replied that the KRG is ready for dialogue with Baghdad, and he thanked Tillerson for the U.S.’s willingness to help the victims of the recent earthquake.
On November 20, head of foreign relations for the KRG, Falah Mustafa Bakir, asked the U.S. State Department to appoint a special envoy to help in negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We feel we are under a huge threat,” Bakir said during an interview.
On November 20, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said in a press conference after a government meeting that the withdrawal of the draft 2018 Iraqi budget bill was an “opportunity” for Kurdistan. He called the current draft, which allocates the KRI 12.67 percent of the Iraqi budget, a “betrayal.” The portion of the budget allocated to the KRI is supposed to match their portion of the Iraqi population. However, no proper population census had been conducted for over a decade to determine the size of the population in the KRI. Many Kurdish politicians argued that precedent agreements with the Iraqi Federal Government guaranteed the KRI 17 percent of the budget.
On November 20, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled that the referendum for independence of the KRI, held on September 25, was unconstitutional. Ayas al-Samuk, Spokesman of the Court, stated that, in accordance with the Court’s decision, the results of the referendum were cancelled. On September 18, the Court issued a state order to suspend the referendum, asserting that the decision to hold it was unconstitutional; however, the KRG decided to proceed with the referendum anyway. The KRG stated its respect for the Court’s interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution on November 6, which stated that the Constitution does not authorize separation of any part of Iraq.
On November 20, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani commented on the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s ruling at a press conference. “We respect the decisions of the Federal Supreme Court, but there is no law or authority that can cancel the referendum,” he said. Barzani blamed Baghdad, attributing holding the referendum to Baghdad’s “unconstitutional” policies towards the KRI. “We were not going to [hold] a referendum if Baghdad had already adhered to the constitution,” he explained. Furthermore, Barzani critiqued the Court’s decision for being “unilateral… without the presence of representatives of the Kurdistan Region,” and applying the Constitution selectively. He pointed out that Baghdad’s decision to sanction the airports in Erbil and Sulaimania and prevent international flights violated human rights.
On November 20, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi welcomed the decision of the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court to rule the September 25 Kurdish referendum “unconstitutional” and cancel its results. Abadi pointed out that the ruling was in-line with the Iraqi Government’s position rejecting the referendum. He called on the KRG to “respect the constitution and work under its roof to resolve all controversial issues.”
On November 20, the KRG appealed to the international community to urge Baghdad to stop its restrictive policies towards the KRI. Specifically, the KRG’s statement addressed the sanctions on airports in the KRI of international flights and the draft 2018 Iraqi budget bill, which would significantly reduce the KRI’s portion of the Iraqi budget. The KRG described these two policies as “collective punishments” against the Iraqi citizens in the KRI. “The restrictive policies adopted by Baghdad against Erbil violate Iraq’s obligations and responsibilities under international and humanitarian law… The Erbil and Sulaimania airports are vital to meet the humanitarian needs of displaced people and the basic needs of the people of the [KRI] in general,” the KRG statement said. It noted that the airports’ block of international flights bars providing critical humanitarian assistance ahead of winter to over 1.5 million IDPs, and that the ban also results in a negative impact on the economy of the KRI.
On November 20, former KRG President Masoud Barzani criticized the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of the September 25 Kurdish referendum. He claimed that the Court was silent towards constitutional violations by the Iraqi Government, and that its interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution was “in accordance with the wishes of some political parties.” He argued that the Court should have been dissolved and re-formed after the adoption of the Iraqi Constitution in 2005, according to Article 92 of the Iraqi Constitution; hence, the Court, unchanged since before 2005, was “exercising its work without having any legal and constitutional basis.”
On November 20, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy, Qubad Talabani, met with the leadership of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan to discuss “fundamental” issues in the KRI. The purpose of the meeting was to build a united front among the leading parties in the KRI ahead of talks with Baghdad. The Islamic Union of Kurdistan, as well as the Kurdish Gorran Party, have been voicing opposition to the KRG’s leadership.
On November 21, Deputy Chairman of the Kurdish Gorran Party, Iraqi Member of Parliament (MP) Amin Bakr, called on the Iraqi Federal Government to open the airports in Erbil and Sulaimania to international flights and stop implementing punitive measures on the KRI. Bakr connected unbanning international flights to the decision of the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court to cancel the results of the Kurdish referendum for independence. The airport ban was implemented on the condition that the KRG did not nullify the referendum results. Bakr pointed out that the airport ban and other punitive measures by the Federal Government harmed Iraqi citizens in the KRI.
On November 21, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy, Qubad Talabani, met with the leadership of the Kurdish Gorran Party with the aim of creating a unified front among Kurdish political parties ahead of talks with Baghdad. A day earlier, Barzani and Talabani met with the Islamic Union of Kurdistan. Recently, Gorran and the Islamic Union of Kurdistan have both been in opposition to the KRG’s leadership and called for an interim government to replace the KRG ahead of talks with Baghdad. Barzani spoke to the press after the meeting. He said that all parties agreed not to divide the KRI into two administrations, and declared that they would “visit Baghdad as a delegation representing the [KRI].” Furthermore, he mentioned that they discussed the subjects of an interim government and elections, but he did not give any details of specifics.
On November 21, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released a statement on the Federal Supreme Court ruling on the Kurdish referendum. UNAMI urged the KRG to acknowledge and respect the decision by the Court that cancelled the referendum results. UNAMI also called again on Baghdad and Erbil to start negotiations and reaffirmed its previous stance on the use of force.
On November 17, Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Rashid Yaarallah announced the clearing of four villages in Rawa of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) also regained control of the bridge in Rawa, a large market, and the Council of Comrades. Later that day, Yaarallah reported that ISF had entered the city center of Rawa. Iraqi Defense Minister Irfan Hayali said that clearing Rawa would mark a “turning point in the security and stability of Iraq.”
On November 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the ISF for their quick and successful operation to clear Rawa, in west Anbar Province. “The liberation of the district of Rawh within hours reflects the strength and the great capacity of our heroic armed forces,” he said. The same day, Minister of the Interior Qassem al-Araji announced that the ISF had completed the operation to clear ISIS from Rawa within hours after the beginning of the operation Friday morning.
On November 20, an anonymous source reported that ISF had arrested 15 people suspected of being ISIS members in Rawa. The people arrested were transferred to a security center to be interrogated. ISF has also been working to remove ordnances in Rawa since it was cleared of ISIS militants three days before.
On November 21, a vehicle based improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated at a market in Tuz Khurmatu, approximately 86 kilometers south of Kirkuk in Salah ad-Din Province, killing 17 people and wounding 36 others in initial reports. Later that day, Shafaaq News raised the casualty count to 23 fatalities and 60 wounded.
On November 22, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG) Ján Kubiš condemned the terrorist attack in Tuz Khurmatu. He gave his condolences to the families of the victims and said that the terrorists “know that they have been defeated on the battlefront and that is why they resort to these cowardly tactics against innocent civilians.”
On November 22, the United States (U.S.) embassy in Baghdad released a statement about the attack. It said, “As the end of the military campaign against the terrorists in Iraq approaches, it is regrettable that there are remaining groups who share their deviant ideology, they will continue to try and instill terror in the hearts of the Iraqi people.” The U.S. promised to continue to provide advice, training, and equipment to Iraq to combat the terrorist threat.
On November 16, The New York Times (NYT) published an article with the results of its investigation into civilian casualties from United States-led international coalition airstrikes. According to the NYT, one in five of the coalition airstrikes it investigated resulted in a civilian death, which was at a rate 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. According to the NYT, “It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.” When interviewing military officials, the NYT found that strikes were conducted after answering two basic questions: if the proposed target was actually the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and whether attacking the ISIS target would harm civilians in the vicinity. The NYT found that the coalition consistently failed to properly investigate before conducting a strike. “While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent.” The main organization that aims to combat this inaccurate reporting is Airwars, which collects data to grade reports by the coalition from “fair” to “disputed”. Airwars’s data found that six times as many civilians had been killed as the coalition had reported.
The NYT conducted its own, on-the-ground investigation of 103 strike sites and presented them to the coalition. The coalition then examined the coordinates to determine if an airstrike occurred within 50 meters of the location. If so, the coalition recorded it a “probable” airstrike. Of the 103 airstrikes submitted, the coalition admitted that 30 were probable coalition strikes. However, the NYT found that coalition figures were often inaccurate. In one instance, the coalition declared a strike to be “not credible” until Human Rights Watch discovered evidence to the contrary. The coalition then acknowledged the strike. The NYT declared that, “If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own.” The NYT investigation did not include reports of strikes after December 2016, when a rule change allowed field commanders to call in airstrikes (as previously reported in ISHM). The NYT alleged that this rule change was possibly contributing to an increase in civilian casualties.
The article also primarily followed the story of Basim Razzo, whose family, house, and belongings were lost during an airstrike in Mosul. According to the NYT investigation as well as Razzo’s own investigation, Razzo’s family were incorrectly targeted by the coalition who thought his house was an ISIS headquarters. The NYT and Razzo both alleged that the coalition’s information was too weak to have carried out a strike. Razzo attempted to receive documentation that he was not an ISIS affiliate as well as a condolence payment from the United States (U.S.) after having seen such payments be given after the 2003 invasion. Over the course of the NYT investigation, the NYT discovered that not a single person in Iraq or Syria had received a condolence payment since the campaign against ISIS began in 2014. Razzo was ultimately only offered $15,000 (which he did not accept), although he has now become a symbol in Iraq for those also seeking condolence payments.
On November 15, Iraqi Vice President and Head of the Islamic Dawa Party, Nouri al-Maliki, and head of the Islamic Supreme Council, Sheikh Hamam Hamoudi, warned of attempts to postpone the Iraqi parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 15, 2018. Postponing the elections would “put Iraq in a constitutional vacuum,” Hamoudi’s office stated. Maliki and Hamoudi gave this warning after meeting to discuss several domestic issues, including terrorism, the Erbil-Baghdad crisis, the Personal Status law, and the elections.
On November 16, Iraqi Members of Parliament (MPs) from Ninewa Province threatened to “work hard to postpone the elections” if internally displaced persons (IDPs) were not able to return by the time the elections are held. They proclaimed that “holding the elections next May will be unfair to the people of Ninewa province.” Ninewa Province is home to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the place Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) called their capital. The fighting in Ninewa ended in July, and Mosul is still far from being recovered. On October 30, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that about 22,000 IDPs in Ninewa have returned to their homes. However, according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report published on November 20, there are still nearly one million IDPs in Ninewa — more than any other province in Iraq.
On November 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with the Head of the Islamic Supreme Council, Sheikh Hamam Hamoudi, to discuss the security and political situation in Iraq. In response to Hamoudi’s concern, as his office stated two days prior, that the 2018 parliamentary elections would be postponed, Abadi reassured Hamoudi that the government is committed to holding the elections on time, “as a constitutional entitlement.”
On November 17, influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for a two-million-strong rally to support a “technocrat” government in the 2018 parliamentary elections. “I want to complete the project with you as we started in Tahrir Square, through a two million gathering in support of the election of an independent government of technocrats,” Sadr said during Friday prayers at the Kufa mosque in Najaf. He specifically emphasised the importance that the next government not be militant or partisan.
On November 18, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made a public appearance to show that he had received his voter registration card from one of the voting centers in Baghdad. He called on citizens to check-in with their voting centers to receive their voting registration cards and participate in the elections. “The elections will be held on their constitutional date,” Abadi reaffirmed, “unlike what a number of politicians are talking about.” He added that, after defeating ISIS, there would be another fight that would require everyone’s effort: defeating corruption.
On November 18, the Department of Political Parties and Organizations in the Electoral Commission announced that it had opened the registration for the Iraqi parliamentary elections. Coalitions and political parties would be able to apply to participate. The elections are scheduled to be held on May 15, 2018.
On November 19, the Iraqi Electoral Commission approved licenses to seven new political parties. Riad Badran, a representative of the Commission, stated that all seven parties completed the necessary procedures. With the addition of seven new political parties, there were a total 128 registered political parties in Iraq. The names of the new parties and their numbers are: All of Iraq 122, Salah ad-Din Union 123, The Arab Option 124, the al-Bashaer Arab Movement 125, the Iraq Loyalty Movement 126, the Dialogue and Change Party 127, and the National Majority Movement 128.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
|11/21/17||Rawa (20 km northwest of Ana), west Anbar Province||3||0|
|11/21/17||Tuz Khurmatu (65 km south of Kirkuk), Salah ad-Din Province||23||60|
|11/20/17||Rawa (20 km northwest of Ana), west Anbar Province||2||0|
|11/19/17||Rawa (20 km northwest of Ana), west Anbar Province||4||0|
|11/19/17||Madain (20km southeast of Baghdad), on the border between Diyala and Babil Provinces||0||3|
|11/19/17||Mahmudiyah (28 km south of Baghdad), Babil Province||0||5|
|11/19/17||Radwaniyah (located at the southwest outskirts of Baghdad), Anbar Province||0||3|
|11/18/17||Subaihat (12 km west of Fallujah), Anbar District||1||0|
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.