- Defense Minister Blames Violence On A “Third Party”; Iran Cables Leak Embarrasses Iraqi Politicians; U.S. Threatens Sanctions; Political Leaders Sign Reform Agreement; Death Toll Rises to 330 – On November 14, Iraq’s Minister of Defense blamed a “third party” for the deaths of protesters. On November 18, The New York Times and The Intercept published reports based on 700 pages worth of leaked Iranian intelligence cables detailing Iran’s deep infiltration of the Iraqi government. On November 18, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. will impose sanctions on “corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth” as well as “those killing and wounding peaceful protesters.” On November 18, leaders from twelve major political parties and coalitions signed a set of likely unattainable measures to address the political crisis, which they said the cabinet and Parliament must meet within 45 days or face a collective statement of no confidence and/or early elections. Several leaders distanced themselves from the document, which was met with widespread skepticism. On November 19, Iraq’s Parliament performed a first reading of new drafts for the parliamentary election law and election commission law, and approved a legislation to slash financial privileges for senior officials. On November 21, government forces shot and killed four protesters with live fire and military-grade tear gas canisters in Baghdad, bringing the death toll to at least 330 since October 1. more…
- Bombs Target Protesters In Baghdad And Nasiriya; Villagers Flee ISIS Violence in Diyala; Iraqi Commander Warns Of ISIS Jailbreak Plans; New Turkish Airstrikes In Sinjar – On November 15, an improvised explosive device (IED) killed three protesters and injured 18 in Baghdad. Another IED at a protest tent injured 18 people in Nassiriya. On November 17, local sources in Diyala said that 55 families have fled the Abu Karma village, northeast of Baqubah, due to increased ISIS activity. On November 18, the chief of Iraq’s military intelligence warned that ISIS leaders, who have escaped from Syria to Turkey, are organizing prison escapes to liberate fellow terrorists in Iraq and Syria. On November 19, Turkish airstrikes bombed a Sinjar Resistance Unit (YBS) base in the predominantly-Yazidi region of Khana Sor, northwest of Sinjar in Ninewa province. The airstrike injured at least five YBS fighters. more…
- Four Million Iraqis Still Need Humanitarian Aid; Flow Of Syrian Refugees Slows Down; 2.9 Million Iraqis Face Civil Documentation Challenges – On November 17, a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that 4.1 million people in Iraq are in need of some type of humanitarian aid, 1.77 million of whom are in acute need, or those whose needs “meet extreme and catastrophic thresholds.” On November 17, an update by UNHCR on the movement of Syrian refugees into Iraq indicates that fewer than 40 refugees arrived into Iraq between November 14-17, suggesting that the flow of refugees has nearly stopped. On November 20, a UNHCR assessment on civil documentation challenges in Iraq found that roughly 2.9 million individuals, many of whom are IDPs, were missing one or more of their civil documents. On November 21, Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council said the government has released 2,400 protesters from detention since protests started on October 1, without stating the number of protesters who remain in government custody. more…
- Iraq Reaches Self-Sufficiency In 22 Products; Protests Continue To Disrupt Ports, Other Facilities But Oil Exports Unaffected – On November 15, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that Iraq reached self-sufficiency in seventeen vegetable crops as well as wheat, barley, eggs, chicken, and fish. On November 15, protesters resumed their demonstrations at Umm Qasr port in Basra, reducing operations at the port by half. The Khor al-Zubair port was also inaccessible for at least two days. On November 20, S&P Global Platts said that Iraq’s total oil exports have not been impacted by the protests. On November 17, the Saudi Shura Council, approved multiple memorandums of understanding (MoU) regarding the supply of Saudi electricity to Iraq. On November 21, Rudaw reported that the ongoing protests are harming the automobile and real estate markets in the Kurdistan region. more…
Attention readers! ISHM will take a break for Thanksgiving, but it will be back the week after, with comprehensive coverage of the week we missed!
For more background on most of the institutions, key actors, political parties, and locations mentioned in our takeaways or in the stories that follow, see the ISHM Reference Guide.
On November 14, Iraq’s Minister of Defense, Najah al-Shammari, blamed a “third party” for the deaths of over 320 protesters during the demonstrations that started on October 1. He emphasized that Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has repeatedly issued orders to the Iraqi security forces (ISF) against using lethal force to suppress protests. Shammari went so far as to claim that all state security forces, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), have not used excessive force thus far. He emphasized that the military-grade tear gas canisters that killed and seriously injured many protesters, were not imported by the state, but by other parties he did not name. Al-Shammari’s statement, which seemed to imply that a foreign entity had taken over anti-riot duties, was ill-received by protesters and questioned by fellow officials. On November 15, the Ministry issued a followup statement walking back Shammari’s comments. It claimed that the “third parties” the minister referred to were not a foreign entity or undisciplined militias, but rather unaffiliated “gangs” who have committed deadly attacks against protesters and security forces alike.
On November 15, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reaffirmed his support for peaceful protests in Iraq, condemning all forms of violence against protesters, the ISF, or private and public property. Sistani’s statement emphasized that the government must derive its legitimacy from the people and that the new election law must call for genuine change that restores the people’s confidence in the political process. The senior cleric attacked the political class for failing to execute tangible reforms, particularly prosecuting powerful corrupt politicians. Sistani pushed for immediate results to rectify the “unbearable” corruption and decay, warning politicians against stalling, saying that things will not go back to what they used to be before protests started.
On November 18, the New York Times and The Intercept published reports based on 700 pages worth of leaked Iranian intelligence cables detailing the Islamic Republic’s deep influence in the Iraqi government. The majority of the cables were generated in 2014 and 2015 by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (M.O.I.S) who were located in Iraq. In one stark example, the cables show that the former chief of Iraq’s military intelligence, Hatim al-Maksusi, promised Iran full access into the Iraqi military’s intelligence, as well as information on the U.S. military’s anti-ISIS plans and movements inside Iraq. Iran’s position on the transition of power from former Prime Minister Maliki to former Prime Minister Abadi was carefully detailed in the cables. While Abadi was a decidedly “western” candidate, the Iranian ambassador to Iraq was quoted as saying that Iran had enough “special relationships” with high ranking members of Abadi’s cabinet to maintain influence. This included Ibrahim al-Jafari, a former prime minister who served as foreign minister in Abadi’s cabinet, as well as former ministers of municipalities, communications, human rights, education, and transportation. The cables also talk about Iran’s successes in planting informants within the office of the former speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jubouri, as well as a campaign to turn former Iraqi CIA informants into Iranian agents. Most notably, the cables cited a “special relationship” between then Iraq’s Oil Minister, now Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the Iranians. Several of the senior figures mentioned in the leaked cables sought to defend themselves and played down their contacts with Iran, with some of them calling the timing and claims “suspicious.” Anti-Iranian sentiments among Iraqis are running high, particularly over the role of Qassem Soleimani, the commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, in the cultivation of pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia militias–another key aspect of Iran’s effort to maximize influence in Iraq that was cited multiple times in the leak.
On November 18, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. will impose sanctions on “corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth” as well as “those killing and wounding peaceful protesters.” Pompeo affirmed that the potential sanctions would target anyone who “does wrong” regardless of religion or ethnicity. He coupled the threat with a reminder that the U.S. remains the largest financial contributor to humanitarian and development efforts in Iraq. This is the most forceful statement by the U.S. against the Iraqi political class and Baghdad’s violent response to the protests since their start on October 1.
Throughout the week, the Iraqi Integrity Commission summoned a large number of low-mid ranking current and former politicians for investigations and/or banned them from travel on charges of corruption. This development reflects a desire to demonstrate an effort to hold corrupt officials accountable. It will likely fall short of meeting popular demands for accountability and fighting corruption given the failure to include any prominent names, such as heads of parties or powerful militia commanders, so far. The list includes the current Minister of Culture, a former governor of Dhi-Qar, a former Minister of Telecommunication, chairman of the Kirkuk provincial council, the Babylon governor, a current member of Parliament, former Salah ad-Din governor, and former Minister of Science and Technology. The prosecutions are also targeting 350 members of the provincial government in Diyala.
On November 18, leaders from twelve major political parties and coalitions signed a set of measures to address the political crisis, which they said the cabinet and Parliament must meet within 45 days or face a collective statement of no confidence and/or early elections. The demands called for the prime minister, as commander-in-chief, and the security forces to identify and hold responsible those liable for the killing and kidnapping of protesters. This is a rather ironic demand, since the Bina coalition, which represents the major militia groups believed to be culpable in violence against protesters, was a key signatory to the document. The political leaders also demanded the passage of a new election law, new election commission law, the federal court law, federation council law, and an oil and gas law. The latter three were required in the 2005 constitution but remain deadlocked due to their complexity and impact on the interests of various stakeholders, especially the relations between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Despite progress on the election and election commission laws, it is all but guaranteed that the cabinet and Parliament will not be able to prepare and pass the laws concerning the federal court, federation council, and oil in just six weeks. Obstacles were apparent right away. Although Kurdish parties signed the document, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Qubad Talabani, said the following day that constitutional changes were not the right way to meet the protesters’ demands. Talabani’s remarks echo those by KRG President Nechirvan Barzani, who had cautioned against radical constitutional amendments that could impinge on the interests of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Though some of the reforms outlined in the document align with the protester’s demands, demonstrators widely viewed this statement with cynicism since it originated with leaders entrenched in the corrupt political apparatus. Protesters in Tahrir Square burned prints of the statement, while others called the document an agreement of “dishonor”. Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Hikma Movement, hosted the meeting which was attended by the Bina coalition, Nasr Coalition, State of Law Bloc, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Wataniya coalition, and several other groups more at his residence. Leadership from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Saeroun bloc was notably absent. On November 19, Haider al-Abadi, Osama al-Najaifi, and Ayad Allawi walked back their initial support for the document. They claimed to want these changes under a new government, a point that directly contradicts the timeline laid out in the document.
On November 19, Iraq’s Parliament performed a first reading of new drafts for the parliamentary election law and election commission law. The new election law draft, which the cabinet submitted to the Parliament on November 13, appears to be somewhat different from an earlier draft that was made public on November 11. The new draft sets the number of seats in Parliament to 251 (compared with 213 in the earlier draft, and down from the current 329 seats). It also includes a provision to block senior members of the current government from running for office and places a 2-year moratorium on other public servants. Parliament also voted on a proposal to amend the pension law. Baghdad hopes that this law, which lowers the retirement age, will generate savings sufficient to finance create 202,000 government jobs in 2020 and 51,000 in 2021. Finally, Parliament approved a legislation to eliminate financial privileges for elected officials. Several representatives rejected the law because they believe it does not go far enough to address excessive financial benefits enjoyed by top officials.
On November 21, the ISF shot and killed four protesters with live fire and military-grade tear gas canisters in Baghdad, bringing the death toll to at least 330 since October 1. The clashes also left 50 demonstrators injured. The protests in Baghdad remain focused on the bridges that cross the Tigris river and lead to the Green zone. The Thursday deaths followed several days of sporadic violence. On November 17, the ISF killed one protester and injured 32 more as demonstrators confronted them on Ahrar bridge. On November 16, demonstrators regained control of Khilani Square and part of Sinak bridge as security forces retreated. Early that morning, unknown gunmen killed an activist who worked for the Ministry of Education. Previously, on November 15, ISF members killed three protesters near Tahrir Square, the central hub for the anti-government movement. In the south, protesters continued to force strikes by blocking major roads amid calls for a national strike from school and work. This week, work was interrupted in Basra, Kut, Najaf, Diwaniya, Hilla, and Nasiriyah. The Ministry of Education, which was cited as supporting said strike, released a statement denying their involvement. On November 21, security forces surrounded schools throughout Baghdad in an effort to restrict students from leaving to join the protests.
On November 14, the ISF killed five ISIS militants and destroyed six hideouts in an airstrike in the Qazlaq hills in the Hamrin area, northeast of Baqubah. On the following day, the ISF killed another ISIS fighter, who was described as a local leader, in the same area.
On November 15, an IED explosion injured 18 people in Nassiriya. The bomb was reportedly placed inside a tent used by protesters in the city’s Haboubi square.
On November 15, a landmine explosion killed a civilian in the Mount Bamo area in the town of Darbandikhan, Sulaymaniyah province. The landmine is thought to be a remnant of the Iraq-Iran War from the 1980s.
On November 16, Iraq blocked Iraqi and Iranian travelers from crossing through its Shalamcheh border crossing with Iran as a result of anti-government protests in both countries. Security sources told Reuters that the closure of the southern border crossing point in Basra would only impact civilians and not trade. The sources did not say when the border crossing would re-open.
On November 16, the ISF killed two local ISIS commanders leaders in the Riyadh sub-district in Kirkuk.
On November 17, a Katyusha rocket targeting a media production company killed one person and injured a second in the Karrada district of Baghdad. According to a security source, the company provides broadcasting and studio services for satellite channels such as BBC, NRT, and al-Arabiya, among others. The rocket was allegedly launched from an area near Camp Sarah in Baghdad.
On November 17, an IED exploded in front of a house of a police officer in al-Nasr neighborhood, east of Kirkuk. No casualties were reported.
On November 17, local sources in Diyala said that 55 families have fled the Abu Karma village, northeast of Baqubah, due to increased ISIS activity. The village mukhtar added that 30 families are still awaiting vehicles to transfer them to safer areas. There have been other reports of displacement due to rising ISIS activity affecting parts of Diyala, particularly in villages near Khanaqin.
On November 18, the chief of Iraq’s military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Saad al-Allaq, told CNN that ISIS leaders, who have escaped from Syria and smuggled their way into Gazientep in southeastern Turkey, are organizing prison escapes in both Iraq and Syria. He added that a new ISIS operation entitled “Break Down the Fences” would work to free their followers from prisons in an effort to rebuild its membership. Roughly 10,000 alleged ISIS fighters are held in prisons run by the mainly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, while a nearby al-Hol camp holds nearly 70,000 women and children allegedly related to ISIS fighters. In 2013, ISIS executed a series of jailbreaks in Iraq to free hundreds of its incarcerated fighters, allowing the terror group to build up its ranks ahead of its main assaults and expansion in 2014.
On November 18, Iraq’s Counterterrorism Services (CTS) killed six ISIS militants in the Makhoul mountains between Baiji and Shirqat in Salah ad-Din province.
On November 19, unknown attackers planted an IED in front of the house of the manager of a state-owned fertilizer company in al-Hakimiya area in central Basra. The bomb exploded causing material damage, but did not cause any casualties.
On November 19, Turkish airstrikes bombed a Sinjar Resistance Unit (YBS) base in the predominantly Yazidi region of Khana Sor, northwest of Sinjar in Ninewa province. The airstrike injured five YBS fighters (other sources said there were 20 casualties among YBS fighters). YBS bases in Sinjar have recently been a frequent target of Turkish military operations given the group’s alleged affiliation with the PKK. On November 20, Turkish airstrikes killed ten PKK gunmen in the Hakurk area in the KRI. Turkish aircraft also bombed areas around Haj Omran, the Smelan subdistrct, and the Halgurd Mountains in the Balakyati district near Erbil. No casualties were reported. These attacks are part of the Turkish military’s ongoing “Operation Claw” against PKK presence in northern Iraq.
On November 20, ISIS militants killed three police officers and injured another in an attack on a federal police patrol in the subdistrict of Rashad, south of Kirkuk.
On November 20, unknown gunmen assassinated a former member of the Babylon provincial council outside his house in Abi Gharq district, west of al-Hilla in Babylon province.
On November 20, the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s Falcons Intelligence Cell stated that its team, in coordination with the International Coalition, killed six ISIS militants in the Badush Mountains northwest of Mosul in Ninewa province. The cell said that the militants were planning an attack in Mosul, and that its units seized guns, explosive belts, and other explosive devices during the operation.
On November 20, an IED exploded near a cafe frequented by youths located on the outskirts of Qara Tappah, northeast of Baqubah in Diyala province. No casualties were reported.
On November 20, an IED explosion killed a senior military intelligence officer in Salah ad-Din province during an ISF raid of a booby-trapped house belonging to ISIS militants in the province.
On November 17, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released an updated review of Iraq’s humanitarian needs. The report showed that 4.1 million people in Iraq are in need of some type of humanitarian aid, 1.77 million of whom are in acute need, or those whose needs “meet extreme and catastrophic thresholds.” More than a quarter of those in need are women, while 46% are children. OCHA explains that the majority of the most vulnerable people have been directly impacted by the conflict with ISIS starting in 2014. The report also highlighted how the government’s closure and consolidation of several IDP camps since August has forced IDPs to return to their original districts or other non-camp locations, both of which typically lack basic services and protection. From August through September, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement closed twelve IDP camps across Ninewa, Anbar, Kirkuk, and Salah ad-Din provinces, forcing several thousand IDPs to return to their home districts, potentially exposing them to dangerous conditions. On November 18, OCHA’s Iraqi Humanitarian Fund (IHF) published its Humanitarian Fund Dashboard for the period between January-October 31 of 2019. During this time frame, the IHF received $23.6 million in new donations. During the same period, $72 million has been put towards renovating tents in refugee camps, while another $27.2 million was delegated to 78 humanitarian partners and NGOs working with OCHA. As of November 3, OCHA found that overall, Iraq requires $94.4 million to fill a 13.5% funding gap that primarily impacts food security, cash assistance, protection, shelter, and sanitation programs.
On November 17, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published an updated overview of the flow of Syrian refugees to Iraq, which shows that 15,759 refugees have entered the KRI since October 14. Taking into account earlier figures, this indicates that fewer than 40 refugees moved into Iraq between November 14-17, suggesting that the flow of refugees has nearly stopped. According to the report, 3,751 refugees have left camps, after receiving approval to unite with family members in the KRI, obtaining permission to live outside the camps, or choosing to return voluntarily to Syria. However, UNHCR notes that the Bardarash camps and Gawilan camps remain at near maximum capacity. In addition, the report reveals a $193.5 million funding gap for Iraq’s Regional Refugee Resilience Program (3RP), explaining that only $71.5 million of the $265 million requested funds have been received. The report also outlines some of the challenges the camps face, such as the need for winter clothes, the lack of communal cooking areas and schools, and the complex, lengthy processes for families to reunite with family members outside of camps.
On November 18, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) allocated $24 million to improve health services in seven Iraqi provinces heavily impacted by the war with ISIS. With this contribution, the WHO plans to establish medical centers in IDP and refugee camps, renovate medical centers in areas of return, fund mental health and gender-based violence programs, and cover the cost of prosthetics and rehabilitation for amputees. The WHO expects that 3.5 million people will be able to benefit from these services.
On November 18, journalist Mohammed al-Shammari was released after disappearing in Diwaniya, Qadisiyah province, earlier that day. Members of the media have been targets of forced disappearances throughout anti-government protests spanning the past two months. A day later, al-Arabiya confirmed the release of activist Mary Mohammed who had been kidnapped by an unidentified group on November 7. On November 21, Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council announced that the government has released 2,400 protesters from detention since protests started on October 1. The announcement did not mention the number of protesters who remain in government custody.
On November 19, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that it took back 32 children of ISIS fighters of Russian origin from Iraqi prisons. This is the fourth wave of ISIS repatriation from Iraq on behalf of the Russian government, and increases the total number of repatriated ISIS-affiliated children from Iraq and Syria to 122 returnees.
On November 20, UNHCR published the results of an assessment on civil documentation challenges in Iraq, which found that roughly 2.9 million individuals, many of whom are IDPs, were missing one or more of their civil documents. The report highlights that this denies many IDPs freedom of movement, complicates their ability to receive health or educational services, and impedes registering the births of their children. IDPs without proper civil documentation also face a greater chance of detention as well as difficulty getting to and obtaining necessary documentation at government offices. To address this problem, UNHCR, in partnership with the Iraqi government and the KRG, has launched a civil documentation project that helps IDPs obtain documentation and seek legal assistance at registration centers organized inside IDP camps. The program has so far helped 18,755 individuals receive civil documentation.
On November 21, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement announced that 78 Iraqi refugees in Turkey returned to Iraq through the Ibrahim al-Khalil border crossing in Dohuk. The free return initiative sponsored by the International Organization for Migration facilitated the refugees’ return. The initiative has facilitated the return of over 500 Iraqi refugees since October.
On November 15, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture announced that Iraq reached self-sufficiency in seventeen vegetable crops as well as wheat, barley, eggs, chicken, and fish. The ministry called on Iraq’s border authorities to strictly enforce an import ban on these crops to further stimulate the domestic market.
On November 15, protesters resumed their demonstrations at Umm Qasr port in Basra province, reducing operations at the port by half. The presence of protesters at the entrance of the port has stopped employees and tanker trucks from entering the facility following about a week of normal operations that started on November 9. The majority of the nearby Khor al-Zubair port was also inaccessible for at least two days. An oil official told Reuters that the terminal used to export gas form Khor al-Zubair was not affected nor was the import of refined oil products. On November 18, demonstrators lit tires on fire to block the roads leading to five oil fields in Basra. Also on November 18, more than a dozen farmers blocked construction companies from accessing Karbala International Airport, which is currently under construction. On November 20, S&P Global Platts said that Iraq’s total oil exports have not been impacted by the protests.
On November 17, the Saudi monarchy’s advisory body, the Shura Council approved multiple memorandums of understanding (MoU) regarding the supply of Saudi electricity to Iraq. In September, Iraq signed a deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council to import 500 megawatts of electricity by 2020 in an effort to decrease Iraq’s dependency on Iranian energy.
On November 21, Rudaw reported that the ongoing protests are harming the automobile and real estate markets in the KRI. The manager of one car dealership claimed that vehicle supply in the KRI has dropped by 60% since the protests started, largely due to the closures at Umm Qasr port in Basra. Property values have also decreased due to the impact of protests on the already fragile Iraqi economy.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from November 14-November 21, 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.
|11/20/19||Salah ad-Din province||1||0|
|11/20/19||Qara Tappah district,|
Central Basra province
|11/17/19||Kirkuk City, |
Central Dhi-Qar province
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.