ISHM: February 16 – 22, 2018


Key Takeaways:

    • Popular Mobilization Units Attacked Near Hawija – On February 18, 27 members of an Iranian-backed Shia Popular Mobilization Unit were captured and killed by ISIS militants in an ambush attack in Sadouniyah, in the Hawija District of Kirkuk Province. The PMU members and police units were conducting clearing operations in the village when they were ambushed amid heavy rain. A committee formed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the area several days later to investigate the sufficiency of security forces in the region and make recommendations. more…
    • Russian Tanks Delivered to Iraq While the U.S. Wants Theirs out of the Hands of Militias – A report to Congress by the US Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations indicated that as many as nine M-1 Abrams tanks sold to the Iraqi Army by the United States “had fallen into the hands of Iranian-backed [PMUs]…” The US State Department and the Pentagon are pressing the Iraqi government to regain control of the equipment, a condition of their initial sale. Speaking at a security conference in Munich this week, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster warned against Iranian influence in Iraq and US military installations are reportedly ramping up security in light of threats by some Iran-backed PMUs over continued US presence. The Inspector General’s report was released shortly before the February 16 delivery of 36 Russian T-90 tanks ordered by the Iraqi government last year. more…
    • Flooding in Diyala Raises Concern of Water-Borne Illness – Heavy rains and flooding have left thousands without electricity in Diyala Province and have raised concerns of water-borne illness from polluted civil water purification facilities. On February 20, the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster published a report on the impact of the flooding on IDPs in Diyala and Baghdad Provinces, and security officials discussed the possibility of accelerating returns of IDPs from these areas. more…
    • UNOCHA Releases 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan; Kubis Addresses UN Security Council – The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan which seeks to assist 3.4 million individuals (out of 8.7 million who are officially “in need”) and requests US$ 569 million from the international community for the fiscal year. The HRP for 2018 is a significant reduction over the previous year, which sought to assist 6.2 million individuals with US$ 985 million in funding. The precipitous drop in targets and funding levels is attributed in the report to the end of combat missions against ISIS and an expectation that the majority of internally displaced persons will return to their communities by the end of the year. Also this week, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Jan Kubis, addressed that UN Security Council and delivered prepared remarks on the UN Assistance Mission’s efforts to convene reconstruction assistance, seek resolutions to internal political disputes between the federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government, and aid preparations for national elections in May. more…
    • Fewer Candidates Campaigning Than in 2014 – On February 20, the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission reported that 6,904 candidates were registered for national elections to be held in May, nearly 1,100 fewer than the 2014 elections. IHEC has registered 88 lists, 205 political parties, and 27 coalitions. 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.

Popular Mobilization Units Attacked Near Hawija

On February 18, U.S. National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats said during the Munich Security Conference that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) remains a threat despite the recent defeats in Iraq and Syria. He added that ISIS is “more than a terrorist organization, it is an ideology and perhaps a [religious] belief, a mix of ideology and [religious] belief which lasts even after the defeat on the battlefield.” He also said that it was too soon to determine whether enough had been done to prevent ISIS from re-establishing or if this is just a pause in activity before the group reorganizes itself.

On February 18, a security source reported that more than 20 members of an Iran-backed Shia Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU), were abducted during an armed confrontation with ISIS militants in the village of Sadouniyah, in Hawija District, southern Kirkuk Province. The source said that it looked like the terrorists had ambushed PMU forces, but did not give any further details.

On February 19, the PMU Directorate announced that 27 of its members were killed after ISIS militants ambushed them in the village of Sadouniyah, in Riyadh district. The Directorate’s statement read that the PMU forces had been ambushed by ISIS militants disguised in military uniforms and “due to the large number of attackers and the difficult weather conditions 27 members of the special forces were besieged and martyred.” The PMUs were conducting a clearing operation in cooperation with the Federal Police when they were ambushed by the terrorists.

On February 19, Ali al-Husseini, spokesman for the PMU Northern Axis, said that because of the difficult weather conditions it would take several more hours to determine whether there were any survivors after the ambush that hit the PMU special forces on February 18. He added that there were signs, although not certain, that there could be some PMU members still hiding, who were not captured by ISIS, saying that “so far ISIS has not announced that it has prisoners.”

On February 19, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement condemning the ambush on PMU special forces that killed 27. The statement read that the U.S. Embassy “strongly condemns the ambush and brutal murder of [PMU] members, carried out yesterday by ISIS near Hawija in Kirkuk Province.”

On February 19, witnesses said that Iran-backed Shia PMU forces razed houses belonging to Sunnis in the district of Riyadh, southern Kirkuk Province, where ISIS militants had ambush its members the day before. Witnesses and residents said that in retaliation for what happened the day before, 10 bulldozers belonging to PMUs began demolishing houses close to where the ambush took place. They added that the razing operation are currently on going.

On February 20, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of an investigation into who gave the order to withdraw a limited number of PMU forces in Hawija. He added that “Iraq is leading a campaign to fight terrorism.” The Prime Minister’s Media Office issued a statement on February 19 saying that the government would prosecute the perpetrators of the Sadouniyah ambush, while emphasising its intention of eliminating terrorist sleeper cells and pockets.

On February 21, PMUs foiled the infiltration of a group of ISIS suicide bombers from Syria. The PMUs official website said that the Seventh Brigade of the PMUs stationed west of Mosul, on the Syrian-Iraqi border, was able to prevent the criminals from infiltrating Iraqi territory. The website added that all the suicide bombers were killed.

On February 22, the spokesman for the northern axis of the PMUs, Ali al-Husseini, revealed that a committee formed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the village where the ISIS militants ambushed and killed 27 PMU members on February 18. Husseini said that they discussed the need for the area to be cleared and for intensifying security measures to protect the returning internally displaced persons (IDPs). He added that the clearing operations were ruled out for the moment, due to the difficult weather conditions and the lack of sufficient security forces in the region.

Russian Tanks Delivered to Iraq While the U.S. Wants Theirs out of the Hands of Militias

On February 16, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO was planning on staying “more broadly” in Iraq. Stoltenberg’s comment came at the opening session of the Munich Security Conference, an annual conference in Munich focused on international security that first began in 1963. The conference is the biggest of its kind and brings together about 350 senior figures from over 70 countries. Both Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani were in attendance. In his remarks, Stoltenberg said, “…the main message is that we are more safe when our neighbours are more secure and Iraq is a neighbor of NATO…so NATO feels a responsibility to try to…help…stabilise our neighborhood. We do that of course in close cooperation with the Iraqi government. NATO has the structures, the experience, the knowledge, of how to train forces…So, to enable the Iraqi forces to avoid [ISIS] or Al-Qaeda, or anything like that, to come back, we have to help them build their military institutions, train their officers.”

On February 16, according to media sources based at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, a shipment of Russian T-90 tanks arrived in Iraq. The tanks reached the port of Umm Qasr on the Persian Gulf in Basra Province, on February 15 and were later transported to Baghdad; however, the sources did not mention how many tanks were included in this first lot. The delivery comes as part of a purchase agreement signed last year between Russia and Iraq for a total of 73 T-90 tanks.

On February 16, the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council Masrour Barzani wrote on social media that the talks held by the Kurdish delegation at the Munich Security Conference were fruitful. He posted on his Twitter account “productive talks during Munich Security Conference alongside intelligence and security officials about global challenges and opportunities; enduring threats and a roadmap for the region’s next chapter.” The Kurdish delegation participating in the conference include Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council Masrour Barzani, the Chief of the KRG Presidency Fuad Hussein, and the head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa.

On February 17, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met in Munich during the Munich Security Conference. Stoltenberg congratulated Abadi on the Iraqi victory against ISIS. The two also discussed NATO training of Iraqi police.

On February 17, U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said at the Munich Security Conference that Iran is building and arming an increasingly strong network of agents in countries like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. He added that these agents are gaining power as Iran builds more destructive weapons and that “it is now time to act against Iran.”

On February 19, Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Osman al-Ghanmi announced that Iraq received 36 Russian T-90 tanks. He added that the brigade would be completed next April, increasing the ability of the Armed Forces.

On February 19, Brigadier General Andrew Croft, Deputy Commanding General for the Air Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJFLCC-OIR) released a statement saying that a new lot of F-16 fighters jets would be arriving to Iraq probably next year. He did not specify whether they would be arriving all at once or separately. Iraq signed an agreement with U.S. in 2011 to buy 36 F-16 fighter jets, of which the first lot had reached Iraq in 2015.

On February 20, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expressed his government’s opposition to the launch of a military operation against Iran from Iraqi territory. Abadi said that “we will not allow the exploitation of Iraqi territory against Iran by NATO and others,” adding that Iraq is seeking qualitative training for its security forces, as well as logistical support and intelligence cooperation.

On February 20, Shafaaq News quoted an article form the online newspaper Daily Beast according to which the Pentagon would be pressing the Iraqi government to recover the M1A1 Abrams tanks that were seized by Iranian-backed militias. According to this article, Iraq had bought 140 of these tanks since 2008, each one worth USD $4.3 million. In 2014, ISIS militants destroyed 5 of those, damaged dozens and were able to capture several intact, which were seized by PMUs. A video recorded in 2015 shows an M-1 tank flying a Hezbollah flag. The U.S. Department of State confirmed the PMUs possession of M-1 tanks in a report issued at the beginning of February by the Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations. The report stated that “this quarter, the [Department of State] acknowledged that some U.S.-provided military equipment sent to support the mission, including as many as nine M-1 Abrams tanks, had fallen into the hands of Iranian-backed militias that fought against ISIS in Iraq.” The Pentagon added that “as recipients of U.S.-origin defense equipment, Iraqi authorities have an obligation to adhere to end-use requirements as outlined in agreements concluded with the United States government.”

On February 21, the website Al-Arab Al-Jadeed reported that the U.S. had taken strict security measures around its bases and camps in Iraq, in light of the escalating PMUs threats concerning American presence in Iraq. The PMUs have demanded that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi set a timeline for the U.S. troops’ complete withdrawal from Iraq because the PMUs believe that the U.S. presence is no longer required after the defeat of ISIS. The U.S. has taken the threats very seriously and has tightened its security measures, including preventing PMU forces presence in its vicinity for at least 20 kilometers.

Flooding in Diyala Raises Concern of Water-Borne Illness

On February 16, Governor of Diyala Province Muthanna al-Tamimi, decided to exempt the mayor of the municipality of Baqubah for not being in the process of withdrawing rainwater from the streets and alleys. Al-Tamimi added that this decision aimed to set up full alertness for all service districts in Baquba and the rest of the cities of Diyala in order to prevent any case of sinking of the alleys and residential neighborhoods and the immediate response to the emergency.

On February 16, member of the Service Committee in Diyala Council Njat al-Tai confirmed that five residential neighborhoods in south and west Baqubah almost sank because of the heavy rain. He added that the rain this day is the heaviest in three years. But the intervention of the crisis department and the other service departments supporting the Sewage Department was using the water pumps in the withdrawal of rainwater to prevent the situations getting worse.

On February 18, the Director of Gazzanah in Diyala Province, Mazen al-Khuzai, said in an interview that seven large valleys in Diyala Province near the Iraqi-Iranian border were completely filled with water due to the heavy rain. He added that, “Large wadis are scattered near the Iraqi-Iranian border can turn into reservoirs in the winter season to collect rain and flood water for the farmers.”

On February 18, the Directorate of Water Resources in Diyala Province warned that the reservoir of Lake Hamrin is too high because of the abundance of rain during the past 24 hours. Diyala Governor Muthanna al-Tamimi said in an interview that “the reservoir of Hamrin Lake increased 20 million cubic meters during the past 24 hours due to the heavy rains. Currently, the reservoir of Lake Hamrin is 760 million cubic meters (approximately 760 billion liters).” That day, a local official announced the first case of houses collapsing due to the heavy rain. In the village of Nuweileh, 63 kilometers north of Baquba in Diyala Province, seven houses collapsed due to the heavy rain, but there were no casualties. Diyala witnessed heavy rain that lasted for hours in most cities of the province, resulting in the flooding in the valleys and lakes. However, an anonymous source told Alsumaria that two people in one family were killed because of a house collapsing in the heavy rain.

On February 18, the Governor of Diyala Province Muthanna al-Tamimi said that the wave of heavy rain caused a malfunction of 60 electric transformers, which has created an energy crisis in large areas. He appealed to the Prime Minister to provide urgent support for the province. Also, the local official in Diyala Province announced the disruption of roads linking Diyala and Wasit Province because of the floods coming from the Iraqi-Iranian border.

On February 18, the president of the Bani Saad Council in Diyala Province, Rasul al-Husseini, announced that more than 70 cases of diarrhea were recorded in three villages south-west of Diyala, 20 kilometers away from Baqubah, calling on the issuance of an urgent decision to shut down civil water purification in the region. Husseini added that “preliminary investigations indicate that the cause of diarrhea is the poor quality of water produced by private water purification plants in the region,” pointing to “the issuance of an urgent decision to close it and open an expanded investigation in the presence of information that these stations did not comply with instructions on the amount of chlorine in water treatment.”

On February 19, more than 400 cases of diarrhea in two days were registered in the villages south-west of Diyala. A Provincial Council Member of Diyala Province, Raad al-Masoudi, called on the Ministry of Health to open an urgent investigation stressing that “the need to disclose the results of what is happening is a great concern to the public opinion at the moment.” He said in an interview that “villages in the area of ​​Bani Saad (20 km southwest of Baqubah) have experienced a strange and mysterious cases of diarrhea and strong colic during the past two days,” pointing out that “more than 400 cases have been recorded and the numbers are increasing steadily.”

On February 19, the heavy rain in Diyala Province posed a threat on the internal displaced persons (IDPs), as the rain besieged dozens of families at Saad camp near Diyala Province. It was difficult to maintain the passages as the IDP camps has turned into a big lake. The IDPs in the camp said that a little overflow of the rain can be a problem, because there is no sewage in the camps. The Council of Diyala Province was accused of inability to confront the problem and only demanded the intervention of the central government. The security authorities were talking about efforts to accelerate the file of the return of displaced persons to their liberated areas.

On February 20, the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM Cluster) published a report of impact of the February heavy rain storms on IDP camps. On this map, it indicated that the most affected area was Baghdad.

On February 20, the President of the Diyala Provincial Council, Ali Al-Dani confirmed that five thousand residential house within the province were without electricity for the third consecutive day because of a “crisis of transformers.” Dani said that the heavy rains led to serious damage to transformers service in electricity systems in densely populated areas. He called on the Ministry of Electricity to respond to the urgency in Diyala Province including Baqubah.

On February 20, social workers on site in Camp Saad internal displaced persons (IDP) camp showed the picture of tents floating over pools of rainwater. The torrential rain that has hit most parts of Iraq turned the IDP camps into “lakes,” which hampered the movement of IDPs.

On February 21, the Municipal Council in the Jalawla District of Diyala Province reopened the Wadi al-Ousaj road after it was closed for three days due to floods. The process of opening the road came after dealing with the damage caused by the floods, and the road is vital in relieving the traffic and commercial convoys.

On February 22, the President of the Diyala Council Ali al-Daini pointed out that the cost of repairing the damage of 104 electric transformers damaged by the recent rains in various areas exceeds 300 million Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 255,000). The Diyala Council has decided to allocate 100 million Iraqi dinars (approximately US$ 85,000) urgently to the Electricity Department to start repairing damaged transformers and allocate the rest of the money next week to buy electric transformers to meet the shortage in several areas under current framework.

UNOCHA Releases 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan; Kubis Addresses UN Security Council

On February 14, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The plan is the general overview of all the humanitarian need in Iraq anticipated for the fiscal year. It was emphasised in this report that the combat mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has ended, and that the majority of displaced people and families were expected to return to their communities by the end of 2018, of which there are still approximately two million. The reconstruction mission is expected to begin with the clearance of unexploded ordnance. Compared with the 6.2 million people targeted (out of 11 million in need) by the HRP in 2017, there will be 3.4 million people targeted (out of 8.7 million in need) in 2018. Accordingly, the required funds for 2018 are US$ 569 million, a decrease of about 42% compared with the US$ 984.6 million requested in 2017. The 2018 HRP assesses that the number of people in need of emergency humanitarian assistance continues to decline. Of the 8.7 million people who require humanitarian assistance, there are only 1.5 million IDPs, compared with 4.2 million individuals in 2017. In late December 2017, for the first time since the Iraq displacement crisis began in December 2013, the International Organization for Migration recorded more returnees (3.2 million) than people displaced (2.6 million) in Iraq.

On February 15, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Mosul, where the most violent battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) took place. On the east side of a newly built bridge in Mosul, the post-war recovery was encouraging, while the west side is still reduced to rubble. This report portrayed the hardships facing families who had recently returned to their homes.

On February 16, Audrey Azoulay, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced an initiative to revive the city of Mosul. According to Azoulay, the initiative aims to promote peaceful coexistence through participation in the social, economic, and cultural revitalization of Iraq.

On February 19, Executive Director of Siemens, Joy Keizer, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi handed over a road map in which they outlined the investments and development projects that the company will implement in the country in the short, medium, and long term. Kaiser said, “We are honored to be a close partner of Iraq and will work in coordination with the Federal Ministry of Development and Economic Cooperation of Germany to support Iraq’s reconstruction and development efforts in areas such as education, training and combating corruption.” The company’s plan also aimed to ensure uninterruptible power supplies up to 16 gigawatts by 2025 to feed all Iraqi cities and will be implemented in short and long-term phases.

On February 20, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and the Central Bank of Iraq launched a series of specialized workshops to raise corporate governance standards in Iraqi banks and strengthen the country’s banking sector. For these workshops IFC will initially train all key managers in the Central Bank and then roll out workshops to board members from all the country’s banks. Governor of the Central Bank, Aly Al Alaq said: “Helping banks implement sound corporate governance practices will increase the sector’s resilience and sustainability and make them more investment-friendly, enabling banks to not only boost efficiency, but also increase profit.”

On February 20, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq Mr. Ján Kubiš briefed the 8184th meeting of the United Nations Security Council held in New York. Kubis addressed the results of the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, the Security Forces fighting against ISIS remnants, cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic cooperation, and systemic preparations for the coming elections in May.

Fewer Candidates Campaigning Than in 2014

On February 17, Al Sumaria reported that, despite the closure of registrations by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), Iraqi coalitions were not completely set. According to the newspaper, many of the coalitions had not submitted complete lists or regulations, leading to the possibility of postponement.

On February 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met in Munich during the Munich Security Conference. The two discussed the latest political developments. This was the third meeting between the two since the September referendum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

On February 17, the Iraqi Decision Alliance, led by Iraqi Vice President Osama Nujaifi, denied reports that there had been withdrawals from his coalition. Zafer al-Ani, a spokesman for the alliance, said, “We deny these rumors completely and we confirm that the list of the resolution is coherent and cautious and is keen among all its partners to go together for effective participation in the current elections.”

On February 17, Iraqi Vice President Osama Nujaifi denied reports that he had asked the United States (U.S.) to postpone elections in Iraq. Nujaifi stated that “We are with the elections and not against them, but in normal circumstances.” He also asserted that he supported the U.S. presence in Iraq for training Iraqi troops, but only with the permission of the Iraqi government.

On February 18, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announced that the ongoing conflict between Baghdad and Erbil must be resolved in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution. He also said, “The meeting with Mr. [Haider al] Abadi was good, and we have other meetings to reach results.”

On February 20, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised to lift the ban on international flights from airports in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). At his weekly press conference, Abadi said that the airports would reopen after the implementation of all demands and that “All over the world the border crossings are in the hands of the federal government.” However, Abadi noted that there were “unnamed” parties attempting to keep the airports closed.

On February 20, an anonymous source at IHEC reported that 6,904 candidates were registered compared to 2014 when the number exceeded 9,000. IHEC has registered 88 lists, 205 political parties, and 27 coalitions as well. Later that day, IHEC suspended list registration after an error. However, the registration list was corrected and released.

IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

02/22/2018Mushada, 42 kilometers north of Baghdad03
02/22/2018Bayaa, 7 kilometers southwest of Baghdad02
02/21/2018Taji, 33 kilometers north of Baghdad03
02/20/2018Karada, 10 kilometers south of Baghdad05
02/19/2018Taji, 33 kilometers north of Baghdad13
02/18/2018Tarmiya, 36 kilometers north of Baghdad03
02/17/2018Al-Furat, 18 kilometers southwest of Baghdad10
02/17/2018Yusufiya, 38 kilometers southwest of Baghdad04
02/16/2018Mushada, 42 kilometers north of Baghdad03


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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