ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: OCTOBER 17 – OCTOBER 24, 2019

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Key Takeaways:

  • Bina, KRG Defend A Beleaguered Abdul-Mahdi; New Protests Expected Oct 25; Iraq Says U.S. Forces Redeployed From Syria Must Leave; Investigation Of Violence Against Protesters Misses Key Questions – On October 20, the Bina coalition and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reaffirmed their support for PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who faces mounting pressure from popular protests, the Najaf clergy, and former political partners. Bina leader Hadi al-Ameri blamed Iraq’s problems on the previous government of former PM Abadi and on “plots” by the U.S. and Israel, while the Speaker of the KRG Parliament stated ousting Abdul-Mahdi was not in KRG interest. On October 20, Sadr encouraged his supporters to participate in new anti-government protests, expected to resume on October 25, while activists and protest organizers appeared wary of Sadr’s attempt to identify with their so far independent movement. On October 23, the U.S. Secretary of Defense met his Iraqi counterpart to discuss the redeployment of U.S. troops recently withdrawn from Syria into Iraq. The Iraqi minister said the force has four weeks to leave Iraq. On October 22, the committee investigating the recent deaths of demonstrators released its findings in a report that overlooked important questions about the root causes of the abuses. The report acknowledged the use of excessive force and recommended the sacking of several security officials, but failed to hold militias and senior political leaderships accountable for the violence. more…
  • Iraq Closes Border Crossings With Syria; Several IEDs Strike Kirkuk; Division Commander Killed in ISIS Attack; String Of Assassinations Strikes Diyala Town – On October 18, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration said that Baghdad has closed border crossings with Syria to prevent potential infiltration by ISIS militants. On October 19, an IED injured a civilian in Kirkuk’s Taza region. On October 19, an IED injured a policeman south of Kirkuk city. On October 21, an IED injured two civilians in central Kirkuk, and another IED exploded in Kirkuk city without causing injuries. On October 23, an IED killed three civilians and injured a fourth in Riyadh, west of Kirkuk. On October 24, an IED killed two civilians and injured two others in the Khazir area, northwest of Kirkuk. On October 22, ISIS militants killed the commander of the 4th division in the Iraqi federal police, another senior officer, and four members of their security detail while on a reconnaissance mission in Salah ad-Din. Also in Salah ad-Din, a complex ISIS attack near the Allas oil field killed at least two ISF members and injured three more. On October 24, over the course of several hours, unidentified gunmen assassinated three local officials and at least one other civilian in the Abu Saida subdistrict in Diyala. Earlier, on October 19, local sources in Diyala reported that 20 families from a village near Khanaqin have abandoned the area due to growing ISIS activity. more…
  • Amnesty Calls On Baghdad To Stop Abuses Against Activists; More than 7,100 Syrian Refugees Cross Into Iraq; UNAMI Report Says Government Forces Committed Serious Human Rights Violations – On October 18, Amnesty International called on Iraq’s government to end its series of violations against activists, particularly forced disappearances. On October 22, the UN High Commission for Refugees announced that over 7,100 Syrian refugees have arrived in Iraq since October 14 to escape the Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurds in northeast Syria. On October 22, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released a report covering the major human rights violations committed by ISF during the recent protests. UNAMI’s report argued that ISF had violated “the right to life, the right to liberty and security of persons, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” On October 23, the Ministry of Displacement said that 317 Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq from Turkey under the free return initiative sponsored by the International Organization for Migration. On October 23, the director of the KRG Joint Crisis Coordination Center (JCCC) said the KRG had requested financial and humanitarian aid from donor countries, UN agencies, and other humanitarian organizations to cope with the new influx of Syrian refugees. more…
  • Ministries Attempt To Create New Jobs; Iraq Extends Cooperation Agreement With Norway; Iraq And World Bank Sign Memorandum On Economic, Financial Reforms – On October 19, in an attempt to address demands for jobs, Iraqi officials said that the Ministry of Defense will hire 3,000-4,000 college graduates, while the Ministry of Oil said it will create 450 new positions for graduates of engineering and natural science colleges. On October 21, Iraq and Norway signed a three year extension of the Oil for Development program, which aims at creating a fair legal structure for crude oil production in Iraq and ensuring transparency in state-run oil projects. On October 22, Iraq’s Minister of Finance signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank to establish a framework for future long-term partnership focusing on financial sector reforms, better economic governance and attracting foreign investments. 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.


Bina, KRG Defend A Beleaguered Abdul-Mahdi; New Protests Expected Oct 25; Iraq Says U.S. Forces Redeployed From Syria Must Leave; Investigation Of Violence Against Protesters Misses Key Questions

On October 20, members of the Bina coalition, which comprises leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reaffirmed their support for Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who faces mounting pressure from popular protests, the Najaf clergy, and former political partners. On October 14, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, leader of the Victory Alliance (al-Nasr) and central member of the Islah coalition, called for early elections and hinted at other efforts to withdraw confidence from the current government. The government has also been under pressure from Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric who has sided with protesters and popular demands for reforms and accountability. Hadi al-Ameri, leader of the Fatah alliance, the core of Bina, blamed Iraq’s problems on the previous government of former Prime Minister Abadi and on “plots” by the U.S. and Israel. Members of the State of Law bloc, part of Bina, countered by saying that dismissing the current administration would further instability. Rewaz Fayeq, Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament, stated that ousting Abdul-Mahdi was not a path of interest to the KRG, emphasizing that the current prime minister is the “best option” for compromise between the KRG and Baghdad.

On October 20, Sadr encouraged his supporters to participate in new anti-government protests on October 25. In a letter addressed to protesters, Sadr wrote that the government, of which his Saeroun coalition was initially a main supporter, “has not and will not be able to” address their own corruption and accommodate the requests of demonstrators. Iraqi newspapers report that activists and protest organizers are wary of Sadr’s attempt to identify with their cause. At their root, these demonstrations are against the inefficacy and corruption of the federal government and have emerged independent of any one political movement. The impending resumption of protests has put security forces, specifically in Baghdad, Basra, and Kirkuk, on high alert. In response to widespread condemnation of the use of excessive force by security forces during the October 1-8 protests, government officials said that the newly established Law Keeping Forces will be prohibited from using live bullets against protesters. While Interior Minister Yassin al-Yasiri said the force will benefit from new training and methods Ali Jabir, a member of Parliament who sits on the Security and Defense Committee said the forces are new in name only and are comprised of the same riot control forces involved in the previous protests. On October 24, Sadr issued a list of instructions to participants in the protests set to resume on Friday, calling on  protesters to remain peaceful and encouraging affluent Iraqis to provide food and water. In a potentially risky move, Sadr said his Peace Brigades militia should intervene “without weapons” to protect protesters in case they are attacked.

On October 23, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad to discuss the redeployment of U.S. troops recently withdrawn from Syria into Iraq. After a meeting between Esper and his Iraqi counterpart, Najah al-Shammari, the two defense chiefs gave somewhat contradicting statements about the future of the 1,000 troops in question. Shammari said the force will have four weeks to leave Iraq and head to either Kuwait, Qatar, or the United States, while Esper indicated that the troops would temporarily continue the anti-ISIS mission from Iraq, without specifying a timeline for their departure. On October 18, Esper had announced that the U.S. would relocate its nearly 1,000 troops stationed in northern Syria into western Iraq in order to “help defend Iraq” against ISIS. These forces began crossing into Iraq on October 21. 

On October 22, the government committee tasked with investigating the deaths of demonstrators during the protests in early October released its findings in a report that failed to address important questions about the root causes of the abuses. The report found the security forces responsible for 149 civilian deaths and 4,207 civilian injuries, adding that the clashes killed eight and injured 1,287 members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF). The majority of the violence occurred in Baghdad, where 107 civilians died and 3,458 were wounded. The report said that 70% of the civilian deaths were caused by shots to the head or chest. It mentioned finding evidence of sniper fire, but shared no information on who was responsible for that. While the report asserted that high authorities, i.e., the Commander in Chief, did not issue orders to shoot protesters, it did not offer any explanation as to who gave these orders. Instead, the committee named poor training and communications, faulty rubber bullets, non-compliance with curfew, the failure of the government to punish media outlets that published reports “inciting violence,” and the protestors’ use of firebombs as key causes of the violence. The report recommended the dismissal of a few senior commanders and larger number of junior and mid-level security officials who “lost control” of their forces, but assigned no blame to the Defense or Interior Ministers, militia leaders, or other senior culpable officials. The report also fails to say who ordered the attacks on news media organizations even though it names the individual armed attackers who were involved. The only reference to party militias was in the form of recommending additional investigations into cases where the guards of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq offices in Maysan and Dhi-Qar opened fire on demonstrators. Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi is set to accept these recommendations and fire the two regional operations commanders, two division commanders, six police chiefs, and several military officials named in the report. 

On October 23, the office of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi released a five-point statement in a continued effort to meet the demands of anti-government protesters. The statement is a preview of a televised address Abdul-Mahdi will give on October 24 (not available as of writing). Most notably, the statement pledges to reduce the salaries of senior government officials including the prime minister, president, cabinet members, and Parliament members below ID10 million a month ($8,300) and use the resulting savings to fund a new social security program. The program will pay every Iraqi citizen without an income a minimum of ID130,000 a month ($108) to keep every Iraqi above the poverty line. Additionally, the prime minister promises to resume cabinet changes that shift away from the quota system and to establish a special court to prosecute corruption cases.


Iraq Closes Border Crossings With Syria; Several IEDs Strike Kirkuk; Division Commander Killed in ISIS Attack; String Of Assassinations Strikes Diyala Town

On October 18, sniper fire from an unknown source targeted an ISF post near Buhriz, south of Baquba in Diyala province, killing one Iraqi soldier and injuring another. 

On October 18, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement said that the Iraqi government has closed the border crossings with Syria that are close to the fighting between Turkish and Syrian Kurdish forces. The Minister, Nawfal Baha, said the decision aimed to protect Iraq from potential infiltration by ISIS militants. Anbar’s provincial council said on October 20 that the prime minister instructed security officials to send reinforcements to border points in western Anbar province to secure the area. Iraqi politicians have shown concern over the possibility of ISIS militants slipping into Iraq as the ongoing Turkish incursion in Syria jeopardized the security of Syrian camps holding detained ISIS members.

On October 19, an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion injured a farmer in an agricultural area in the village of Bashir, in the Taza subdistrict, in Kirkuk province.

On October 19, an IED exploded and injured a policeman near the Laylan bridge, south of Kirkuk city. 

On October 19, an unidentified gunman shot and killed a civilian using silenced weapons in the district of Taji, north of Baghdad. 

On October 19, Iraqi federal police forces in Kirkuk province killed two ISIS militants in what security forces described as an ambush in the Arisha area. Elsewhere in Kirkuk, attackers used indirect fire (rockets or mortars) to kill a member of the ISF in an area between the subdistricts of Rashad and Riyadh.

On October 19, local sources in Diyala reported that 20 families from the village of Ramadan, outside Khanaqin district, have abandoned the area due to growing activity of ISIS militants, including threats and attacks on the village. The source said that most families fled to the nearby Bahar Taza region, and that the Department of Migration in the district provided the families with emergency aid items and services.

On October 21, the Dutch government extended its mission to provide military training to the ISF as part of the campaign against ISIS until the end of 2021. Sixty Dutch military personnel will continue training the Iraqi forces, and the Netherlands will contribute an additional 20 military and civilian advisors to support the Iraqi government. The Netherlands’ foreign ministry stated that the extension aims to bring long-term stability to Iraq. The Netherlands is a member of the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, and has trained Iraqi, Peshmerga and Kurdish forces since the coalition commenced in 2014. 

On October 21, a complex ISIS attack on ISF units near the Allas oil field in Salah ad-Din killed two ISF members and injured three more (four killed and five injured in other reports). First, an IED targeting an ISF force vehicle exploded and killed two ISF members. ISIS militants then fired at troops that responded to the IED attack, injuring three additional ISF members.

On October 21, an IED exploded and injured two civilians near the local office of the Badr organization in the Rabrin neighborhood in central Kirkuk. On the same day, another IED exploded without causing any injuries in al Qadisiyah neighborhood of Kirkuk. A police officer successfully defused another IED also in al Qadisiyah neighborhood. 

On October 22, the ISF clashed with ISIS militants in the areas of Khalawiyah and east of Lake Himrin in Diyala province. During the operation, the ISF wounded three ISIS militants, destroyed seven ISIS hideouts, and confiscated or destroyed explosive devices, earthmoving machinery and motorcycles used by the militants. 

On October 22, ISIS militants shot and killed two Iraqi commanders as well as four members of their security detail who were on a reconnaissance mission in the Zor area north of Samara in Salah ad-Din province. The slain officers include the major general in command of the 4th division in the Iraqi federal police and one of his senior aides, as well as four officers from the Samara Operations Command. Although ISIS attacks in the area are frequent, the targeting and killing of senior commanders is not. In response, on October 23, the Salah ad-Din Operations Command launched a new military operation in an attempt to clear the Tigris valley near Samarra of remaining ISIS threats. On the same day, ISF also destroyed five ISIS hideouts in the Waqf basin in Diyala province, where they found and seized explosive devices as well as various materials to make explosives. 

On October 22, a Turkish drone killed two senior members of the Kurdistan Communities Group (KCK), a subset of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), on Mount Azmar, a popular tourist spot, near Sulaymaniyah. The Kurdish security organization, Asayish, said that the KCK members were in the KRI illegally, urging the fighting parties in northeastern Syria to avoid bringing the conflict to the KRI.

On October 23, an IED explosion killed three civilians and injured a fourth when their vehicle passed over the IED near the subdistrict of Riyadh, west of Kirkuk. 

On October 23, ISIS militants killed the Mukhtar of the village of Meriqa after storming his house in al-Hadhar district, south of Mosul in Ninewa province. 

On October 24, an IED explosion killed two civilians and injured two others when their vehicle passed in proximity to the IED in the Khazir area, northwest of Kirkuk. 

On October 24, over the course of several hours, unidentified gunmen assassinated three local officials and at least one other civilian in the Abu Saida subdistrict in Diyala province. The three officials targeted by the assassins were the subdistrict’s mayor, the director of the citizenship department, and the chairman of the local council. The gunmen also killed a relative of the latter who was traveling with him at the time of the attack. In response, the governor of Diyala issued a curfew in Muqtadiya, Abu Saida, and al-Wajiehiya. 


Amnesty Calls On Baghdad To Stop Abuses Against Activists; More than 7,100 Syrian Refugees Cross Into Iraq; UNAMI Report Says Government Forces  Committed Serious Human Rights Violations

On October 18, Amnesty International called on Iraq’s government to end its series of violations against activists, particularly forced disappearances. After interviewing activists, families of activists, and members of the media from various areas of major protests in Iraq, Amnesty International concluded that the ISF intentionally targeted civilians who criticized the security force’s use of excessive force during the recent protests. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, demanded that Iraqi authorities reveal the locations and conditions of Ali Jason al-Hattab and Maytham Mohammed Rahim al-Helo, two activists who were subjected to forced disappearances last week. According to the relatives of al-Hattab, armed PMF members seized him from his car and put him into their truck. The militiamen then threatened his family to discourage them from going to the police. Similarly, al-Helo has been missing since he left his clinic in Baghdad on October 7. Other activists told Amnesty International that men in civilian clothing claimed they were members of Iraqi intelligence and, without presenting a warrant,  intensely questioned activists about their involvement in the protests. This report follows an October 9 publication in which Amnesty International described the use of snipers by the ISF, and other forms of excessive force against protesters.

On October 22, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that over 7,100 Syrian refugees have arrived in Iraq since October 14. The new movement of Syrian refugees into Iraq was prompted by the Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurds in northeast Syria. Sporadic fighting continues despite an October 17 ceasefire agreement. Of the 7,100 refugees, UNHCR reported that three out of four refugees are women and children. On the same day, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reported that 1,736 refugees crossed into Iraq within 24 hours, which represents the highest figure in a single day since the beginning of Turkish military operations. UNHCR also reported that 6,951 refugees now reside at the Bardarash camp, 140 kilometers from the Iraqi-Syrian border, while 180 others are at the Domiz camp. UNHCR predicts that the Bardarash camp will reach capacity by October 27. Already, some refugees are forced to reside in a local mosque, while others stay in other temporary facilities. It also noted that refugees primarily enter Iraq with the help of smugglers at the Sahela and al-Walid crossings, where smugglers allegedly charge the lowest prices. According to NRC’s interviews with refugees, it can cost $500 per person to enter Iraq, which effectively traps poor families in Syria. The UN and other aid agencies say they are preparing for the arrival of nearly 50,000 Syrians into Iraq. Prior to this crisis, Iraq already hosted more than 228,00 Syrian refugees, primarily in the KRI. 

On October 22, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released a report covering the major human rights violations committed by ISF during the recent protests. UNAMI’s report argued that ISF had violated “the right to life, the right to liberty and security of persons, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” The report confirmed that security forces used excessive force and engaged in arbitrary arrests, and argued that the lack of training among security forces exacerbated these violations. UNAMI urged Iraq’s government to work to prevent similar abuses from occurring at future demonstrations, and to create a better system for holding wrongdoers responsible. The report offered recommendations on how Baghdad can achieve these goals. These included establishing guiding principles on the use of force, improving training for the ISF to better oversee future protests, and creating clear standards for arrest and guaranteeing basic legal rights (such as access to a lawyer, reasons for arrest, and a fair trial). The report also recommended that Iraqi authorities allow independent reporting during demonstrations, conduct unbiased and transparent investigations to hold those who committed violations responsible, and maintain the circulation of information, including via the internet and social media. 

On October 23, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced that 317 Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq from Turkey through the Ibrahim al-Khalil crossing in Dohuk province. The refugees’ return to Iraq was facilitated by the free return initiative sponsored by the International Organization for Migration, which recently helped another group of 154 Iraqi refugees return from Turkey.

On October 23, the KRG’s Director General of the Joint Crisis Coordination Center (JCCC) Hoshang Mohammed announced that the KRG had officially requested financial and humanitarian aid from donor countries, UN agencies, and other humanitarian organizations in response to the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in the KRI. Mohammed said that both France and Sweden already agreed to grant the KRG $11.1 million to support the protection and care of Syrian refugees fleeing to the KRI. On October 24, the KRG also asked Baghdad for financial assistance to accommodate the growing number of Syrian refugees in the KRI, without specifically mentioning where the funding should be allocated.

On October 23, a member of the Ninewa provincial council said the Iraqi government plans to relocate a large number of ISIS convicts from the province to facilities in Baghdad to address crowding in Ninewa’s detention facilities. According to the official, authorities will move 1,624 men, 118 teenagers, and nine women from the Tel Kaif detention center to facilities in either Abu Ghraib or Taji. The three functioning detention centers in Ninewa province, Tel Kaif, Faisaliyah, and Tasfirat, together have the capacity to hold 2,500 detainees. But according to a Human Rights Watch report, they currently contain closer to 4,500 people. 


Ministries Attempt To Create New Jobs; Iraq Extends Cooperation Agreement With Norway; Iraq And World Bank Sign Memorandum On Economic, Financial Reforms

On October 19, the head of the Parliamentary Finance Committee announced that the Ministry of Defense will hire 3,000-4,000 college graduates. The following day, the Ministry of Defense said it would also rehire 10,963 of its former personnel who had been previously dismissed from service. In a similar attempt to address public discontent with high unemployment, the Ministry of Oil announced the creation of 450 new positions for graduates of engineering and natural science colleges. On October 24, a spokesperson for the council of ministers announced another series of hires for college graduates. According to the statement, the Ministry of Education hired 935 graduates, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research hired 100, the Ministry of Housing and Construction hired 108, and the Ministry of Culture hired 291. The miniscule numbers highlight the impracticality of attempts to address national-level high unemployment levels through the public sector.  

On October 21, South Korean company Daewoo Engineering and Construction won an $86 million contract to establish a prefabrication yard as the first stage of an underwater  tunnel project in Basra province. The future tunnel would pass under the Khor al-Zubair channel, connecting Iraq’s main port at Um Qasr port with al-Faw peninsula, the site of Iraq’s future Grand al-Faw Port. According to al-Sumaria, this is the fourth construction project that Daewoo has won in Iraq since May of this year, for a total of $460 million.

On October 21, Iraq and Norway signed a three year extension of the Oil for Development (OfD) program during a meeting between their two prime ministers in Baghdad. The program, which started in 2005, is supported by the United Nations Development Program’s Funding Facility for Stabilization. The agreement signals a continuation of Norway’s contributions to creating a fair legal structure for crude oil production in Iraq and ensuring transparency in state-run oil projects. Their goal is to ensure that the income from crude oil benefits all Iraqis. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg arrived in Iraq on Monday and held meetings with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, President Barham Salih, and the Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi. The meetings focused on strengthening bilateral relations including talks on supporting Iraqi infrastructure development, opening a Norwegian embassy in Iraq, and joint efforts to fight extremism. 

On October 22, Iraq’s Minister of Finance, Fouad Hussein, signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank during a visit to Washington, D.C. The purpose of the memorandum is to establish a framework for future long-term partnership. According to al-Sabaah, this memorandum focuses on financial sector reforms, better economic governance and other reforms geared towards creating a more favorable business environment to attract foreign investments. The memorandum also addressed steps to develop agriculture and food industries by introducing new technologies and expand Iraq’s reach into global markets. The document also emphasized electricity tariff reform and developing the gas industry to make Iraq’s struggling electricity sector more sustainable.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from October 17-October 24, 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
10/24/19Khazir,
Kirkuk
22
10/23/19Hawija,
Kirkuk
31
10/21/19Kirkuk City,
Kirkuk
02
10/21/19Kirkuk City,
Kirkuk
00
10/21/19Baiji,
Salah ad-Din
20
10/19/19Kirkuk City,
Kirkuk
01
10/19/19Taza,
Kirkuk
01

 

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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