ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM 224: September 26 – October 3, 2019

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iraq’s Top Counter-Terrorism Commander Sacked; Iraq Officially Blames Airstrikes On Israel; Government Uses Force To Suppress Widespread Demonstrations, Killing 21, Injuring Hundreds – On September 27, PM Abdul-Mahdi removed Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi from his position as commander of the Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) amid wide expressions of solidarity with the general and speculations of militia pressure and corruption within the CTS. On September 30, PM Abdul-Mahdi said investigations proved Israel was responsible for several airstrikes on PMF bases in July and August. Senior members of PMF factions close to Iran called the announcement a “green light” to retaliate against Israel. On October 1, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in Baghdad and several other provinces to protest government corruption, unemployment and to demand basic services. Government forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire to disperse protesters, killing more than 21 and wounding over 800 nationwide. more…
  • Seven IEDs Strike In Ninewa, Diyala And Babylon; ISF, Coalition Airstrikes Kill At Least 35 ISIS Militants; Turkey Resumes Anti-PKK Operations – On September 27, an IED wounded two civilians in Hamam al-Alil in Ninewa. On September 28, an IED injured two farmers near Jalawla in Diyala. On September 29, an IED wounded two members of the tribal mobilization forces in al-Shoura subdistrict in Ninewa. On September 30, an IED injured two PMF members in Jurf al-Sakhar subdistrict in Babylon. On October 2, an IED killed one member of the tribal mobilization forces in al-Shoura subdistrict in Ninewa. On September 28, ISF troops and air power killed 12 ISIS members in the desert between Anbar and Salah ad-Din. On September 28, coalition airstrikes killed eight ISIS members and destroyed four weapons caches west of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din. On October 2, a coalition airstrike killed ten ISIS members in Kirkuk’s Hawija district. On October 2, ISF troops and air power killed five ISIS members in the Himrin mountains in Salah ad-Din. On October 1-2, Turkish airstrikes killed at least nine PKK members in the KRI. more…
  • HRW Report Documents Torture In Iraqi Trials; Calls For More Funds To Relieve Crowding In Prisons; Lawmakers Demand Access To Jurf Al-Sakhar To Investigate Illegal Prisons – On September 25, HRW published a report detailing 24 alleged cases where Iraqi judges failed to investigate the use of torture to extract forced confessions from defendants. On September 20, the parliamentary Human Rights Committee asked the government to allocate more funds in the federal budget to build new prisons and relieve overcrowding in existing facilities. On September 30, representatives from several groups in Parliament collected signatures to pass a resolution to allow parliamentarians and journalists to enter the Jurf al-Sakhar subdistrict in Babylon province. The representatives want to investigate reports of illegal detention centers, holding an estimated 3,000 prisoners, run by militias in the area. On October 3, the KRG Minister of Labor and Social Affairs announced plans to build a new center for people with disabilities to allow them to register to receive disability benefits. more…
  • Iranian Banks To Open Seven New Branches In Iraq; Oil Ministry Says New Karbala Refinery Is 76% Complete; Iraq To Cultivate 4 Million Additional Dunams – On September 30, a private Iranian bank issued licenses to open seven new branches throughout Iraq to support Iranian exports to and finance projects by Iranian engineering and construction companies. On September 30, Iraq’s Ministry of Oil announced that construction of the Karbala refinery is 76% complete and expected facility to become fully functional in 2022. On October 2, Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture said it plans to add four million dunams of cultivable farmland across Iraq to plant a total of 16 million dunams (approximately 4 million acres) with strategic crops. 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.


Iraq’s Top Counter-Terrorism Commander Sacked; Iraq Officially Blames Airstrikes on Israel; Government Uses Force To Suppress Widespread Demonstrations, Killing 21, Injuring Hundreds

On September 27, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi removed Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi from his position as commander of the Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) and transferred him to the Defense Ministry. Abdul-Mahdi did not provide an explanation as to why he decided to dismiss al-Saadi, a revered military commander who led the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. Responding to the orders, Saadi stated that his removal from CTS was a “humiliation to my military career,” and that he would rather retire than be sent to a non-combat assignment. Unidentified Iraqi officials claimed that powerful militia leaders within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), particularly the Iran-backed factions who viewed Saadi as an obstacle to their ambitions, pushed for Saadi’s dismissal. Other analysts attributed Saadi’s removal to his clashing with corruption rings involving other senior commanders within the CTS. Despite widespread expressions of solidarity with Saadi, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi said Saadi’s transfer was irreversible. The government also angered the public by removing a statue depicting Saadi from its location in Mosul, triggering protests in Mosul and demands by members of Iraq’s Parliament to remove portraits of Iranian leaders from Mosul and other Iraqi cities to “preserve the sovereignty and dignity of Iraq.”

On September 29, the head of al-Hikma movement, Ammar al-Hakim, said he supported giving the Yazidi community their fair share of government representation, commensurate with their demographic weight. Al-Hakim, who met with a Yazidi delegation from Sinjar, called for compensating the victimized community for the damages and atrocities it suffered from ISIS attacks in Ninewa province in 2014. He also argued for insulating Sinjar and Yazidis from political wranglings and power struggles, as well as focusing on supporting the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and reconstruction efforts.

On September 29, the parliamentary oil and energy committee is making a new effort to  present a revised draft of an oil and gas law that has failed to pass since the first draft was presented to parliament in 2007. Committee member Haibat al-Halbousi said the committee asked the prime minister to direct the cabinet to present the draft law to the parliament for a vote within a month. Should the cabinet fail to do so, the committee would move forward with drafting its own version. According to Halbousi, the committee has held four rounds of discussions with federal and Iraqi Kurdish officials in an attempt to reconcile the differences between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) over oil and gas policy. These chronic differences primarily revolve around the authority and right to develop, export and manage the revenue of these natural resources. In the absence of a law, Baghdad and Erbil made an ad-hoc agreements under which the KRG would deliver 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) of the oil it produces to federal authorities, who in turn would issue payments from the federal budget to cover KRG financial needs. So far, the KRG has failed to deliver the oil to Baghdad. KRG officials have argued that Baghdad should pay an additional $3 billion to cover debts owed by the KRG to oil companies in the KRI, which accumulated as a result of previous budget cuts imposed by Baghdad between 2014 and 2018. However, some members of parliament argue that Baghdad should not allocate any money to the KRG in the 2020 budget until the KRG meets its side of the bargain.

On September 30, Iraq and Syria re-opened the border crossing at the Iraqi town of Qaim. The border had been closed for eight years amidst the Syrian civil war and the ISIS insurgency that plagued both countries. The opening seeks to improve trade and travel between the two countries. The opening also raises concerns, especially among countries hostile to Iran, that it could allow Iran to boost its influence in the region, as an open border would allow Iran-backed militias in Iraq better access to eastern Syria and on to Lebanon. 

On September 30, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced that investigations proved Israel was responsible for several airstrikes on PMF bases in July and August. On October 1, senior members of the Abdal Movement and Kata’ib Sayyed al-Shuhada Brigade, both PMF factions close to Iran, said that Abdul-Mahdi’s confirmation of Israel’s involvement legitimized acts of revenge against Israel. Qais al-Khazali, the leader of another powerful PMF faction, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said that Iraqis must address Israeli airstrikes with the UN Security Council but added that militias “reserve the right to respond to this aggression.” A member of the parliamentary foreign relations committee urged the government to act to prevent militias from taking unilateral actions on behalf of the country. 

On October 1, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry suspended operations at the Iraqi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashhad after Iranian authorities assaulted and arrested two members of the Iraqi diplomatic staff on September 29. A spokesperson for Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said that Baghdad is still waiting for an explanation from Tehran. 

On October 1, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to protest government corruption, high unemployment and to demand basic public services. Protesters appear to have no common political or organizational affiliation, but instead have been brought together by their similar grievances. Demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square became violent when security forces used water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disperse protesters. As of writing, the violence has killed 21 civilians (other sources reported numbers as high as 27 deaths) and wounded over 800 nationwide. The protests started in Baghdad, but soon spread to Dhi-Qar, Basra, Maysan, Qadisiyah, Wasit, Muthanna, Babylon, and Karbala. In response to the escalating protests, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has announced initiatives to provide more government jobs to the growing number of young graduates and requiring foreign companies operating in Iraq to hire half of their staff locally. On October 2, local media reported that the government had shut down social networking sites like Facebook and WhatsApp, likely as a measure to disrupt the organization of more protests. On October 3, protests resumed in several provinces across Iraq’s center and south, and Iraq’s security forces again responded tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds. The Iraqi government also imposed a curfew in Baghdad, Nasiriyah, Amarah and Hilla, while internet access remained suspended across Iraqi provinces outside the KRI. Most government offices have also been closed. For weeks, Iraqis, especially young graduates, have increasingly turned out to protest unemployment and poor services. Videos of security forces using water cannons to disperse young protesters flooded Iraqi social media last week and, along with resentment toward the dismissal of Gen. Saadi, may have contributed to sparking this week’s broader movement. Here are some additional developments from affected provinces:  

In Baghdad, on October 1, one protester was killed. Later, on October 2, security forces opened fire in Tahrir Square and cut off roads leading to key government buildings. Protesters also blocked the highway leading to Baghdad International Airport, which on October 3 was reported to be empty. On October 3, security forces opened fire when demonstrators reached a bridge that led to the Green Zone in Baghdad. Security forces later blocked off the Green Zone. 

In Najaf, on October 2, protesters in Najaf stormed the provincial council building. Protesters later set fire to the offices of the Dawaa and Hikma parties. On October 3, security forces shot at protesters who attempted to storm the Iranian consulate in Najaf.

In Dhi-Qar, on October 1, one protester was killed. By October 2, four protesters and one police officer were killed. The next day, protesters in Dhi-Qar burned the office of the Fatah coalition. On October 3, security forces shot and killed a protester. By October 3, eight protesters and one police officer were killed in the province.

In Maysan, on October 2, protesters burned the headquarters of the Islamic Supreme Council. On the same day, four civilians and one police officer were killed, and 45 people were wounded.

In Basra, on the morning of October 3, unknown assailants shot and killed popular activist Hussein Adel Madani and his wife after breaking into their home. The couple had been participating in the protests the previous night. 

In Wasit, on October 2, protesters demonstrated peacefully outside the Wasit council building. Later, protesters attempted to break into the municipal building on Kut, the provincial capital. 

In Babylon, on October 2, demonstrators stormed the the Babylon provincial council building and clashed with its guards. 

In Diyala, on October 2, demonstrators peacefully protested outside the Diyala Council.  

In Muthanna, on October 2, demonstrators protested peacefully in solidarity with demonstrations in Baghdad. 

In Kirkuk, on October 2, small-scale and peaceful protests took place but there were no reports of clashes. 

In Salah ad-Din, on October 2, protesters held small and peaceful demonstrations and there were no reports of clashes.


Seven IEDs Strike In Ninewa, Diyala And Babylon; ISF, Coalition Airstrikes Kill At Least 35 ISIS Militants; Turkey Resumes Anti-PKK Operations

On September 27, an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion wounded two civilians in Salahiya village, in the Hamam al-Alil subdistrict, south of Mosul.

On September 28, ISIS militants attacked a military outpost for Iraqi security forces (ISF) near Khanaqin in Diyala province. The attack resulted in the deaths of three civilians who happened to be near the targeted ISF position.

On September 28, a joint force of the ISF Jazira operations command and allied tribal fighters, supported by Iraqi army aviation killed 12 ISIS members and destroyed three vehicles belonging to the militants that contained weapons and explosives. The operation took place in al-Shamiya desert, between Anbar and Salah ad-Din. 

On September 28, an IED explosion injured two farmers in the village of Islah, near Jalawla subdistrict in Diyala province. 

On September 28, an airstrike by the U.S.-led International Coalition killed eight ISIS terrorists and destroyed four weapons caches in al-Siniya desert, west of Tikrit in Salah ad-Din province. 

On September 28, an unidentified gunman shot and killed the son of former member of parliament, Kamel al-Ghureiry outside his house in Baghdad. On September 29, an unknown gunman shot and killed another civilian in eastern Baghdad. 

On September 29, an IED struck a vehicle carrying two members of the tribal mobilization forces between the villages of Najma and Tasah in al-Shoura subdistrict south of Mosul, inuring both fighters. A second bomb exploded when police arrived at the scene but caused no injuries. 

On September 30, an IED explosion injured two PMF members near a checkpoint in Jurf al-Sakhar subdistrict in Babylon province. 

On October 1, an ISIS sniper shot and wounded a PMF member manning a checkpoint northeast of Baqubah in Diyala province.

On October 1, a Turkish warplane attacked a vehicle used by five members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Ozaman village, north of Duhok. The airstrike killed three of the vehicle’s occupants and wounded two. On October 2, Turkish airstrikes killed seven other PKK members in the Avasin region in the KRI. The airstrikes are part of Turkey’s “Operation Claw 3”, an ongoing mission against the PKK. 

On October 2, an airstrike by the U.S.-led Coalition killed ten ISIS members in Hawija district, Kirkuk province. 

On October 2, ISF Intelligence working with the 88th Brigade of the PMF, and supported by the Iraqi Air Force killed five ISIS members, including an individual named Talib Garw al-Azzawy, who was described as a senior local leader in the Himrin mountains in Salah ad-Din province. 

On October 2, an IED killed one member of the tribal mobilization forces in al-Shoura subdistrict south of Mosul. On the same day, another IED exploded in Hamam al-Alil, also south of Mosul, but caused no deaths or injuries.


HRW Report Documents Torture In Iraqi Trials; Calls For More Funds To Relieve Crowding In Prisons; Lawmakers Demand Access To Jurf Al-Sakhar To Investigate Illegal Prisons

On September 25, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report detailing alleged injustices in Iraq’s court system. HRW found 24 cases within an 18 month period where the appeals court found the defendant guilty after failing to recognize that authorities used torture to extract forced confesssions from the defendant. The report also points out that although international law and Iraq’s own criminal codes require judges to investigate possible cases of torture, Iraqi judges repeatedly ignored complaints about mistreatment. HRW urges all countries to refrain from transferring any detainees who might face prosecution because of suspected ties to ISIS to Iraq until the Iraqi judicial system addresses this problem. 

On September 26, 50 Iraqi citizens flying from Istanbul to Sarajevo on tourist visas were turned away by the border police in Bosnia. The Bosnian officers believed that the Iraqis planned to migrate illegally to countries in Western Europe and were flown back to Turkey. 

On September 29, the Iraqi Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF began a five day polio immunization campaign in Karbala. This work is part of a wider effort by these agencies to vaccinate at least 2.6 million children under the age of five throughout ten Iraqi provinces.  

On September 20, the parliamentary Martyrs and Human Rights Committee asked the government to allocate more funds in the federal budget to build new prisons and relieve overcrowding in existing facilities. A committee member explained that at least three major federal prisons have gone out of service, including Badush in Ninewa and Abu Ghraib near Baghdad. The closure of these facilities, which used to house thousands of inmates each, increased pressure on remaining prisons and contributed to the degrading conditions Human Rights Watch highlighted in a recent report, particularly in Ninewa. 

On September 30, parliamentary sources said that representatives from several groups in Parliament collected signatures to pass a resolution to allow parliamentarians and journalists to enter the Jurf al-Sakhar subdistrict in Babylon province. The representatives want to investigate reports of illegal detention centers run by militias in the area. Various reports point to an estimated 3,000 prisoners being held in Jurf al-Sakhar, inaccessible to the Iraqi government and human rights groups. Jurf al-Sakhar subdistrict is south of Baghdad and was predominantly Sunni-inhabited. The district was a stronghold for insurgents for many years after 2003 and was briefly occupied by ISIS after 2014. After Shia paramilitary groups reclaimed the town from ISIS in 2014, the 90,000 Sunni residents who had fled were prohibited from returning, leaving the town depopulated. According to a report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Jurf al-Sakhar residents have been prevented from returning due to political and ideological reasons. 

On October 3, the KRG Minister of Labor and Social Affairs announced government plans to build a new center for people with disabilities in the KRI. The center will allow people with disabilities to register to receive disability benefits. There are reportedly 125,000 people who live with disabilities in the KRI, only 81,000 of whom have undergone the process that entitles them to receive government benefits.


Iranian Banks To Open Seven New Branches In Iraq; Oil Ministry Says New Karbala Refinery Is 76% Complete; Iraq To Cultivate 4 Million Additional Dunams

On September 30, the head of the Iranina private banks association said that a private Iranian bank issued licenses to open seven new branches throughout Iraq. the official didn’t name the bank, but said that these branches, with a starting capital of $50 million each, will help support Iranian exports to Iraq and finance projects by Iranian engineering and construction companies.

On September 30, Iraq’s Ministry of Oil announced that construction of the Karbala refinery is 76% complete. The Ministry expects the new refinery’s associated power plant to be operational in April 2020 and the whole facility to become fully functional in 2022. Iraq launched the 140,000 barrels per day (bpd) Karbala refinery project in 2014 as part of the country’s measures to address its growing fuel needs. 

On October 1, Iraq’s oil exports for the month of September dropped slightly to 3.575 million bpd from 3.603 million bpd in August. Exports from Iraq’s southern oil fields stood at 3.434 million bpd, while the country shipped approximately 106,000 bpd from the Kirkuk oil fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Iraq also exported about 7,000 bpd by truck to Jordan — a transaction that Iraq and Jordan resumed on September 1. The slight decrease in exports in September followed an announcement by Iraq’s Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban earlier in September that the country would reduce its oil production by as much as 175,000 bpd by October in accordance with the agreed OPEC supply cuts. 

On October 2, Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture released its plan for the upcoming winter agricultural season. The plan will add a total of 16 million dunams of farmland (approximately 4 million acres) across Iraq, which will be planted with strategic crops, such as wheat, barley, corn, and various vegetables. A ministry official said that the ministry will also introduce new agricultural technologies to support the expanded cultivation plan without providing specific details. Abundant rain in 2019 recently allowed Iraq to achieve record wheat production of approxiamtely 5 million tons.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from September 26-October 3, 2019

The following table includes both civilian and security forces who were either injured or killed due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), or suicide attacks.
DateLocationDeathsInjuries
10/02/19Hamam al-Alil, Ninewa province00
10/02/19Al-Shoura, Ninewa province1 0
09/30/19Jurf al-Sakhar, Babylon province02
09/29/19Al-Shoura, Ninewa province02
09/29/19Al-Shoura, Ninewa province00
09/28/19Jalawla, Diyala province02
09/27/19Hamam al-Alil, Ninewa province02

 

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 Enabling Peace in Iraq Center.


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