- Government Crackdown Kills At Least 110, Injures Thousands; Prime Minister Offers Reform And Aid Packages To Contain Crisis; Parliament To Suspend Provincial Councils; Two New Ministers Confirmed In Cabinet Reshuffle – Anti-government protests in central and southern Iraq, which started on October 1, escalated through October 8, amid an intense security crackdown. The use of excessive force by government forces, including live bullets, left at least 110 protesters dead and 6,000 injured. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for an end to violence and blamed the crisis on the failure of the political class and previous governments to enact political and economic reforms. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi launched a series of aid and reform packages in an attempt to contain widespread protests and assuage public discontent. These included housing initiatives, new welfare programs (including stipends fro students and the unemployed), small business programs, agricultural land redistribution, and more government jobs and contracts. On October 8, Parliament voted to initiate a motion to amend existing laws and enable the legislature to suspend the work of provincial councils across Iraq. On October 10, Parliament voted to approve new ministers of health and education. Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi intends to change at least other members of his cabinet. more…
- ISIS Briefly Cuts Major Highway; Turkish Offensive In Syria Raises Raises Risks For Iraq; Iran To Send “Special Police” Into Iraq; ISIS Activity Displaces 140 Families In Diyala – On October 3, ISIS militants briefly cut off the Baghdad-Samarra highway. Security forces rushed to the area and re-opened the road after fighting off the ISIS militants. On October 8, the KRG urged Turkey, which launched a military operation into Syria, to avoid any action against Syrian Kurds that would compromise the ongoing efforts against ISIS. The incursion raises concerns about a new wave of displaement, the safety of 80,000 already displaced people in camps, and the presence of thousands of ISIS suspects in Syrian-Kurdish custody. On October 8, a senior Iranian police commander announced that 24 “battalions” comprised of 7,500 special police officers will accompany over 3 million Iranians arriving in Iraq’s Karbala province to participate in the Arbaeen pilgrimage. On October 10, local officials in Diyala reported that an increase in ISIS threats and activity near the villages of Waqf basin, northeast of Baqubah, has displaced 140 families over the past two weeks. more…
- Mental Health Crisis Overwhelms Sinjar Hospitals; Human Rights Organizations Document Government Abuses Against Protesters And Journalists; 4,000 Displaced Families To Return To Diyala; Aid Agencies Warn Of New Humanitarian Crisis – On October 5, Doctors Without Borders issued a report on the mental health crisis affecting the Yazidi community in Sinjar, where data showed that 100% of the interviewed families had members who suffered from some type of mental illness. On October 7, Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights condemned the use of excessive violence by Iraqi security forces against protesters, including tear gas, live bullets and arbitrary arrests. On October 9, Amnesty International published a report including eyewitness accounts describing the use of sniper fire by security forces to kill demonstrators. On October 10, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing attacks and acts of intimidation by government forces against journalists and news networks covering the protests. On October 9, security authorities in Diyala allowed the return of 4,000 displaced families back to their homes in areas northeast of Baqubah. On October 10, fifteen aid agencies warned of an impending humanitarian crisis after Turkey launched a new military operation in northeastern Syria. more…
- Unrest Impacts Iraq’s Dollar Bonds; Protests Briefly Disrupted Oil Trucking To Jordan; Weatherford Wins Oil Drilling Contracts – On October 4, Iraq’s dollar bond dropped more than 2 cents as widespread protests cast doubt on stability. On October 6, Jordan’s Energy Minister said that the protests in Iraq disrupted oil shipments from Iraq, which started in September at a rate of 10,000 barrels per day, for two days. On October 9, the Iraqi government awarded three contracts to oil services company Weatherford International. The deals involve two years of drilling services to add new development wells, along with five years of related in-country support services. On October 8, the Iraqi government replaced the head of the state grain agency, a move industry sources say may be part of measures to address widespread public discontent with corruption. 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.
Government Crackdown Kills At Least 110, Injures Thousands; Prime Minister Offers Reform And Aid Packages To Contain Crisis; Parliament To Suspend Provincial Councils; Two New Ministers Confirmed In Cabinet Reshuffle
Anti-government protests in central and southern Iraq, which started on October 1, escalated this week, amid an intense security crackdown and a rapid succession of political reactions by Iraqi and foreign stakeholders. The protests appeared to decline in activity around October 8, and there were no reports of major incidents on October 10. At the time of publishing, violent confrontations between security forces and civilian protesters have left more than 110 dead and over 6,000 injured. The Iraqi Security Force (ISF) announced that at least eight of the dead and over 1,000 of the injured were security personnel. On October 5, armed men, thought to be members of Iranian backed militias, stormed and ransacked the offices of multiple news networks in Baghdad, including NRT, TRT, Dijla and al-Arabiya. In addition, Amnesty International reported the targeted intimidation and unjustified arrests of journalists throughout the week. The government virtually shut down internet access for most of the week, in an apparent effort to disrupt the flow of information and the organization of further protest activities. Through October 9, the internet was inaccessible to most Iraqis. The same day, after protests had subsided, the Ministry of Communications said internet connectivity would be restored during business hours, while maintaining a night time “internet curfew”. On October 7, ISF commanders admitted to using excessive force against protesters after footage of brutal crackdowns circulated online. Numerous videos showed security forces deliberately shooting at unarmed demonstrators, while other videos appeared to document cases of torture against detained protestors. The government crackdown was particularly intense in Sadr City where, on October 6, security forces killed 15 civilians. Following this violence, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi replaced army units with federal police in Sadr City. Although the majority of the protests waned by October 7 and the government reopened the Green Zone for traffic on October 8, Sadr City remained a volatile area until October 9.
On October 4, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for an end to violence and blamed the crisis on lawmakers’ inaction and failure by previous governments to enact political and economic reforms. Muqtada al-Sadr, who leads the Saeroun coalition in Parliament, called for Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation and for early elections under United Nations supervision. Sadr also instructed his followers in Parliament to suspend their participation in the legislature until the government offered tangible answers to protesters demands. Other political figures took a more aggressive stance against the protest movement. National Security Adviser and chairman of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) committee, Faleh al-Fayyad, threatened to use the PMF to thwart conspiracies, coup attempts, and infiltrators who want to “bring down the Iraqi state.” He also alluded to foreign influence in the protests but named no specific actors. On October 6, Iranian leader Ali Khamenei referred to the protests as an “enemy plot” intended to cause conflict between Iran and Iraq.
On October 6, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi began to announce a series of reform and aid packages in an attempt to contain widespread protests and assuage public discontent. On that day he issued a seventeen-point plan that included housing initiatives, more welfare programs (including monthly unemployment stipends), small business programs, forgiving debt on agricultural land, and more jobs in the security ministries. Then, on October 8, he released a second plan including stipends for students, vocational training for the unemployed, and programs to distribute agricultural land and channel jobs and small contracts from government projects to unemployed youth and youth-owned businesses. This package also called for the establishment of provincial committees to monitor the implementation of these reforms and report to the prime minister within three months. Finally, on October 9, he promised transparent investigations into officers who used live ammunition against protesters, material compensation for the families of fallen demonstrators and security forces, and the immediate release of civilians wrongfully detained during the protests. Abdul-Mahdi also called for a three day mourning period to be held from October 10 to October 13 to honor the fallen protesters and security personnel. On October 7, President Barham Salih released his own roadmap for addressing the crisis in an address to the nation. He urged all sides to end the violence and called for an investigation to hold offenders accountable. Salih’s message also recommended several measures to contain the crisis, including calls for a cabinet reshuffle, steps to revamp anti-corruption bodies, and suggestions for restoring confidence in the election system.
On October 6, the Baghdad provincial council accepted the resignation of Governor Falah al-Jazairy. The governor reportedly submitted his resignation at an earlier date, citing personal health reasons. The deputy chairman of the provincial council, Mohammed al-Robeiyi, suggested that al-Jazairy, who is affiliated with the political group led by former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, stepped down because he failed to improve basic services in Baghdad.
On October 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavror arrived in Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations and joint efforts to combat terrorism and religious extremism, according to a Russian diplomat. In a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim, Lavrov promised his Iraqi counterpart that Russia, a major weapons supplier to Iraq, would deliver all of the previously agreed upon military supplies to Baghdad. After their meeting, Lavrov said that both sides were committed to reducing tensions in the Gulf region. Later in the day, Lavrov met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to discuss the growth of the KRG’s political and economic relationship with Russia. Barzani called on Russia to support the Kurdish people in Syria who are threatened by the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the northeastern region. The Russian delegation was scheduled to remain in Iraq for a number of days but left after the meeting in Erbil due to security concerns.
On October 8, Iraq’s Parliament voted to initiate a motion to amend existing laws in order to enable the legislature to suspend the work of provincial councils across Iraq. The following day, the heads of the provincial councils met in Baghdad and issued a statement in which they rejected the suspension of their work “regardless of its legality.” The council members claimed that a suspension of their councils would disrupt service provision in the provinces and create a “financial gap” that could lead to an administrative crisis in the provinces. On October 10, lawmaker Uday Awad of the Sadiqoun bloc collected more than 50 signatures to include the motion to dissolve the provincial councils on Parliament’s agenda, signaling that this is an ongoing issue.
On October 10, Iraq’s Parliament voted to approve new ministers of health and education. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi had announced a plan to change several members of his cabinet in an apparent attempt to address public discontent with poor government performance and rampant corruption. The changes referred to Parliament for review on October 10 included new ministers for the health, education, communications, industry and immigration portfolios. Lawmakers postponed a vote on the other three candidates because of political disagreements.
On October 3, Iraq’s Joint Operation Command stated that ISIS militants briefly cut off the Baghdad-Samarra highway. This occurred while security forces were dealing with demonstrations in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. According to the Security Media Cell, ISF rushed to the breached area and re-opened the road after engaging and “destroying” a group of ISIS fighters.
On October 6, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command launched the sixth phase of operation “Will of Victory,” a joint mission to destroy remaining ISIS hideouts in Iraq. This specific phase will target ISIS militants in Salah ad-Din, Anbar, Kirkuk, and the Jazira desert area. By October 10, ISF reported that they had searched and cleared over 8,000 square kilometers between the provinces of Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Anbar.
On October 6, unknown gunmen assassinated the head of the municipal council and a local mukhtar in the Bahar area, south of Basra.
On October 6, Turkish forces bombed agricultural lands in the Naheli area of the Amedi district in Dohuk province, presumably targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI) border areas. The strikes damaged farmland, but no casualties were reported.
On October 8, Iraq’s Counterterrorism Services (CTS), supported by the U.S.-led International Coalition, killed seven ISIS militants and destroyed multiple hideouts, tunnels, and explosive devices in Daquq, Kirkuk province.
On October 8, a Turkish airstrike killed nine PKK fighters in the Hakurk and Haftanin regions in northern Iraq.
On October 8, the KRG expressed its concern about the U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria. In the statement, the KRG urged Turkey to avoid any action against Syrian Kurds that would compromise the ongoing efforts of the U.S.-led International Coalition against ISIS. Kurdish forces in Syria have warned that a full-fledged conflict in Turkey would distract the international community from the risks associated with detention centers in northern Syria, where more than 80,000 families with alleged ties to ISIS are held. The Turkish military, however, launched a military operation into Syria on October 8. The incursion, which is now in its second day, also raises concerns about the fate of thousands of ISIS suspects in Syrian-Kurdish custody. The Syrian Democratic Forces hold about 12,000 suspected ISIS members in seven detention facilities. Turkish military intervention in northeastern Syria also raises the risk of mass displacement of civilians from Syria into Iraq. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 60,000 civilians have already left their homes to escape the fighting, and aid officials estimate that as many as 300,000 civilians could be displaced. The KRG continues to host more than 228,000 refugees from Syria who have been displaced by the civil war since 2011.
On October 8, a senior Iranian police commander announced that 24 “battalions” comprised of 7,500 special police officers will accompany over 3 million Iranians arriving in Karbala to participate in the Arbaeen pilgrimage. The commander, Brigadier General Hassan Karami added that 30,000 police officers will “attend” the Arbaeen, without explaining whether these officers are going merely as pilgrims or in an official capacity as security personnel. Karami also said that 3,000 of his troops would remain on stand-by until the end of the ceremony. Earlier this week, in response to the violent demonstrations, Iran briefly closed the Khasrawi border crossing with Iraq’s Diyala province and urged its citizens to postpone travel to Iraq. Due to the Iraqi government’s crackdown on widespread protests in Iraq, in which Iranian agents have reportedly been involved, Iraqi demonstrators worry that Iranian security forces will play a role in further suppressing their activism.
On October 8, Turkey’s military launched airstrikes over the northern sector of the Iraqi-Syrian border in an effort to cut off the transit route between Iraq and Syria, which is frequently traversed by Syrian-Kurdish groups. It’s unclear the level of damage caused by the strike, or whether or not it caused casualties. The airstrike followed the U.S. military withdrawal from northeastern Syria and the subsequent decision by Turkey to launch military operations into the area.
On October 8, ISIS militants blew up the house of a police officer near the sub-district of Qaraj in the Makhmour district, southwest of Erbil. No casualties were reported.
On October 9, ISIS militants killed five buffalo herders in Yaichi district, west of Kirkuk. According to local security forces, the militants “slaughtered” their victims.
On October 9, security sources reported that airstrikes killed two ISIS militants in a region between Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces. It was unclear whether the airstrikes were launched by the Iraqi Air Force or the International Coalition.
On October 9, an improvised explosive device (IED) injured two Iraqi soldiers conducting an operation in a booby-trapped house on the outskirts of Muqdadiya district in Diyala province.
On October 10, joint Iraqi security forces killed ten terrorists in Smailat village in Salah ad-Din province. Security forces also seized four explosive belts and other weapons.
On October 10, a landmine exploded and injured three PMF members while they attempted to defuse it in Jurf al-Sakhar sub-district, northwest of al-Hilla in Babylon province.
On October 10, local officials in Diyala reported that an increase in ISIS threats and activity near the villages of Waqf basin, northeast of Baqubah, has caused many families to leave the area. The mukhtar of one of the villages said that 140 families, mainly from the Mukhaisah and Abu Karma villages, have been displaced over the past two weeks, and that ISIS militants have shut down a school and a clinic.
Mental Health Crisis Overwhelms Sinjar Hospitals; Human Rights Organizations Document Government Abuses Against Protesters And Journalists; 4,000 Displaced Families To Return To Diyala; Aid Agencies Warn Of New Humanitarian Crisis
On October 3, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) announced the launch of a campaign in coordination with Facebook and the U.S. government to advise Iraqis on how to avoid fatal accidents from landmines and unexploded bombs remaining in Ninewa province. The project has produced info-graphics to help vulnerable Iraqis recognize unexploded material and avoid injury from inadvertently setting them off. Facebook aims to reach at least 85% of its users (roughly 1.4 million people) in Ninewa province and connect them with MAG teams working on the ground. This specific project works to teach Ninewa civilians how to protect themselves from the over 125,000 kilometers of land covered in landmines and other explosive devices.
On October 4, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for talks between the Iraqi government and the protesters in an effort to curtail violence. Guterres highlighted the rights of expression and assembly, and expressed his sadness due to the loss of life.
On October 5, Doctors Without Borders issued a report on the mental health crisis affecting the Yazidi community in Ninewa’s Sinjar district. The report detailed the mental health impacts endured by Yazidis as a result of sustained, severe, and violent ISIS atrocities between 2014 and 2015. It also argued that many Yazidis have yet to return to their villages not only because of the destruction to their homes, but because of the trauma they now associate with these areas. The organization’s first mental health survey in 2018 conducted at the hospital in Sinuni, north of Sinjar, showed that 100% of the Yazidi families interviewed for the survey had members who suffered from some type of mental illness. Dr. Kate Goulding, a doctor working with Doctors Without Borders in Sinuni, said the situation in Sinjar is urgent amid a shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, funds and medication. The hospital in Sinuni currently treats nearly 200 people suffering from a variety of mental health issues related to trauma, but the facility is overwhelmed by a rising need for services. As a result, many patients are kept on a waitlist until the hospital can receive them.
On October 7, the Office of the Human Rights Commission in Basra announced the release of 72 protesters who were arrested by security forces during demonstrations in the province. Only two other protesters remain in custody facing criminal charges brought against them. On October 9, Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) announced that roughly 500 protesters have been released nationwide out of the 800 detained during several days of protests.
On October 7, the IHCHR condemned the killing of Iraqi protesters and use of excessive violence by government security forces, including tear gas, live bullets and arbitrary arrests. The IHCHR argued that security forces violated the rules of security engagement as well as the Civil and Political Convention. The IHCHR reported that as of October 4, 40% of the 37 fatalities and 3,129 injuries documented up until that point had resulted from live fires and rubber bullets, while stone-throwing accounted for 20% and tear gas caused 15%. In addition, the commission documented cases in which security forces harassed hospitals tending to protesters and arrested injured protesters despite their need for timely medical treatment. The commission said the curfew imposed by the government made it difficult to investigate violations, but pledged that it would take cases of excessive violence against protesters to court.
On October 8, Iraqi security forces discovered a mass grave in Sitak district in Sulaymaniyah province. A police spokesperson in Sulaymaniyah said that the grave contained the bodies of three people, and that forensic teams will conduct DNA tests to identify the victims.
On October 9, Turkey’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that 154 Iraqi refugees from Turkey have returned to Iraq through the Ibrahim al-Khalil border crossing in Dohuk. Turkish officials handled the move through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program, a free return initiative sponsored by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.
On October 9, security authorities in Diyala province allowed the return of 4,000 displaced families back to their homes in areas that were once occupied by ISIS, northeast of Baqubah. The first group of returnees will include 800 families who will be allowed entry back into the sub-district of Saadiya.
On October 9, Amnesty International published a report that included interviews with nine activists present at protests in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Babylon, and Diyala, who witnessed the use of sniper fire by security forces to kill demonstrators. A protester in Baghdad noted that when demonstrators went to help an individual injured by sniper fire, security forces started shooting at them as well. Although Iraqi authorities have blamed the sniper fire on “anonymous shooters,” witnesses said that sniper bullets came from behind the line of security forces, who did not try to protect protesters from the shots. In addition to snipers, nearly a dozen activists interviewed in an October 3 report confirmed that security forces also used stun grenades, live ammunition, tear gas, and extremely hot water to disperse protesters. A first-aid worker interviewed by Amnesty International added that injured protesters had shrapnel in their bodies and burned skin. In Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf security forces have also engaged in hundreds of arbitrary arrests, often chasing and threatening protesters. Security forces have also arrested injured protesters in hospitals, denying them access to necessary medical treatment.
On October 10, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report detailing the human rights violations committed by security forces during the latest protests in Iraq, especially attacks on the press. Staff at Dijlah and NRT told HRW that once they started broadcasting the protests, government officials ordered them to stop airing the footage. Later, masked gunmen destroyed both offices, confiscated equipment, and beat employees. A journalist in Baghdad described how while he was filming security forces firing at protesters, a policeman approached him and deleted the contents off of his camera. The policeman told the journalist he was not allowed to document the protests, threatening to arrest him if he did not leave the area.
On October 10, fifteen aid agencies warned of an impending humanitarian crisis after Turkey launched a new military operation in northeastern Syria. The organizations warned that civilians of northeastern Syria are at risk of being cut off from necessary aid, pointing out that humanitarian workers on the ground have already witnessed disruptions of medical services and water supplies. They also noted that civilians, fearing further escalation of violence, are already moving out of the area. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 1.5 million people in northeastern Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. The agencies worry that growing instability and violence will force them to suspend or relocate their staff, ultimately delaying life-saving assistance, as well as cause a massive refugee crisis. The proximity of the fighting zone to Iraq’s Ninewa province raises concerns about the potential impact on Iraq, which already hosts 228,573 Syrian refugees and is struggling to meet the needs of nearly 1.6 million Iraqi IDPs as well.
On October 4, Iraq’s dollar bond dropped more than 2 cents lower than it was at the start of the week. The issue hit 95.14 cents, a four month low, on the fourth day of the violent protests that overtook Iraq.
On October 6, Jordan’s Energy Minister Hala Zawati announced that Jordan imported a total of 204,000 barrels of Iraqi oil during the month of September. The minister also added that the protests in Iraq disrupted shipments for two days, October 3-5, but that trucking operations resumed on October 6. This deal is a part of an agreement signed by Iraq and Jordan in February of 2019, under which Iraq will export 10,000 barrels per day from its oil field in Kirkuk to Jordan at discounted prices in exchange for reductions on tariffs imported into Iraq via Jordanian ports.
On October 8, the Iraqi government replaced the head of Iraq’s state grain agency, Naeem al-Maksousi, with Hassanein Mahdi Elwan. The Iraqi government offered no explanation for the replacement, but industry sources told Reuters that the move may be part of government measures to address widespread public discontent with corruption and government services. The state grain agency works with the Ministry of Trade to manage billions of dollars worth of wheat and rice purchases to supply the country’s food rationing program, among other responsibilities.
On October 9, the Iraqi government awarded three contracts to oil services company Weatherford International. The deal is comprised of two drilling rig contracts and one well services contract, all of which, according to a Weatherford statement, will be performed in “one of Iraq’s most productive oil fields,” without giving further details. The contracts involve two years of drilling services to add new development wells, along with five years of related in-country assistance and services.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from October 3-October 10, 2019The 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.
|10/10/19||Jurf al-Sakhar, |
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.