- New Election Law Remains Deadlocked; Gunmen Attacks On Protesters Push Death Toll Past 510; U.S. Sanctions Iraqi Militia Leaders, Politician; No Agreement On New PM As Deadline Approaches – On December 5, Iraq’s Parliament approved a new law for the country’s Independent High Election Commission, but disagreements continue over a new election law, especially on issues of district size, proportional representation, and whether the law should allow party lists. On December 6, unidentified gunmen attacked protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square using live bullets, killing 25 and wounding at least 130 more. The identity of the attackers remains unconfirmed, amid conflicting accounts and recriminations between militias suspected of being behind the violence. The death toll from the protests had reached 511 by December 11, according to Iraq’s Health Ministry. On December 6, the U.S. imposed sanctions on four Iraqis accused of extensive human rights violations, bribes and corruption. The list includes Qais and Laith al-Khazali of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Hussein Falih Aziz al-Lami of Kata’ib Hezbollah, and political financier Khamis al-Khanjar. On December 9, President Barham Salih said after meetings with political leaders that there is an agreement to nominate a new prime minister to replace the outgoing Adil Abdul-Mahdi before the December 15 deadline. No strong candidates have emerged yet, though. On December 12, an announcement attributed to the protesters listed seven qualities sought in a new prime minister. These included that he must be independent of political parties and be an Iraqi with no dual citizenship or foreign loyalties, has held no prior high position, known for his integrity, under the age of 55, committed to meeting protesters demands, and that he must not run for office in future elections. more…
- ISIS Attacks Continue To Focus On Diyala; Security Forces Conduct New Major Operation; More Rocket Attacks On Military Bases Threaten Escalation Between U.S. And Iraqi Militias – On December 5, an IED killed a civilian and injured another in Mosul. On December 5, militants killed a policeman in Diyala. On December 6, an IED killed one policeman and wounded two in Kirkuk. On December 7, a drone reportedly dropped an explosive device on the Najaf residence of Moqtada al-Sadr. On December 7, ISIS militants killed a farmer in Diyala. On December 7, an IED exploded near a shrine in Diyala. On December 7, an IED killed two popular mobilization fighters and wounded two more southwest of Baghdad. On December 8, Iraq’s Defense Ministry retired 58 senior officers, including the commander of the air force. On December 8, a college professor was severely injured in an IED explosion in Karbala. Iraqi security forces (ISF) concluded the 7th stage of operation “Will of Victory,” which covered 3,257 sq km across the provinces of Salah ad-Din, Diyala and Kirkuk. On December 9, six members of the ISF were wounded in a rocket attack on their base near Baghdad’s airport. This was followed by another attack on the airport involving two large caliber rockets on December 11. An earlier attack with two rockets had hit the Balad air base on December 5. A U.S. official warned that violence between the U.S. and militias behind the attacks could “escalate unintentionally.” On December 10, two IED explosions wounded one civilian in Diyala. On December 12, three children were killed and two more were injured when an unexploded shell detonated in Salah ad-Din. more…
- Assassinations, Kidnappings Of Iraqi Activists Increase; UNAMI Report Finds Evidence Of Deliberate Killings, Says Government Is Restricting Its Access to Data, Hospitals – On December 8, Iraqi judicial authorities said that 2,626 protesters arrested since October 1 have been released, while 181 protesters remain in custody. On December 8, unknown gunmen assassinated activists Fahim al-Taie in central Karbala. Activists Ehab al-Wazni and Muhannad al-Ka’bi both survived attempts on their lives in Karbala, in which militants used silenced weapons and a sticky IED, respectively. Another activist, Basim al-Zubeidi also survived an attack by gunmen in Maysan province. On December 10, activist Ali al-Lami was found dead with bullet wounds to his head after he went missing in Baghdad. On December 9, a report by the office of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission in Dhi-Qar found that 88 of the 94 protesters who died in the province were killed by live bullets. On December 11, the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) published a new report on Iraq’s ongoing demonstration covering the period from November 5 to December 8. The report says that “UNAMI continued to receive credible allegations of deliberate killings, abduction and arbitrary detention carried out by unknown armed men described as: ‘militia’, ‘unknown third parties’, ‘armed entities’, ‘outlaws’ and ‘spoilers’.” more…
- Iraq Eyes 3.88 Million bpd Exports In 2020; Rice Production Improved In 2019; Iranian Gas Problems Cost Iraq 2,400 MW In Electricity; KRG Will Use 200,000 bpd To Pay Down Debt – On December 6, Iraq’s Oil Minister said Iraq will cap its oil production and exports at 4.513 and 3.88 million barrels per day (bpd), respectively, including oil contributed by the Kurdistan region. On December 6, Iraq’s Trade Minister said the country’s farmers have marketed more than 105,000 tons of rice so far in 2019, a major increase compared to last year’s 18,000 tons, but still below 2017 figures. On December 10, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry said that pipeline maintenance and rising demand for Iranian gas inside Iran reduced Iraq’s gas imports from its neighbor and the fuel available to Iraqi power plants. On December 12, Iraq’s Oil Minister said that starting in 2020, the KRG would deliver 250,000 bpd of its production to federal authorities and use the remaining 200,000 bpd it produces to pay the international oil companies operating its fields and pay down its debt. 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.
On December 5, Iraq’s Parliament approved a new law for the country’s Independent High Election Commission (IHEC). Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi said the electoral authority to be formed under the new law would be comprised of judges selected by lot. Halbousi said he expected Parliament to reach an initial agreement next (this) week on a new law governing parliamentary elections. One of the main points of dispute between political blocs appears to be whether candidates are to run as individuals or as part of party lists, as they currently do. Parliamentary sources say that the Saeroun bloc of Moqtada al-Sadr supports a law that requires all candidates to run as individuals, where was the Kurdish parties and Fatah coalition favor a formula that reserves 25% of slots for candidates running on party lists. A readout of Parliament’s session on December 11 also shows that the major blocs don’t agree on the size and distribution of electoral districts. The Fatah coalition and the main Kurdish parties (PUK and KDP) support the status quo of treating provinces as individual electoral districts, while the Saeroun, Nasr and Hikma blocs support smaller districts (at the qadha level). The blocs also remain divided over whether winners are to be decided by proportional representation or by plurality.
On December 6, unidentified gunmen attacked protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square using live bullets. Initial reports indicate that 15 people were killed, including two police officers, and dozens more were injured. Overnight, the casualties had increased to 25 killed and at least 130 more wounded. Confusion at the scene was exacerbated by an electricity blackout that coincided with the arrival of the attackers, whose identity remains debated. The deliberate murders did not seem to dissuade protesters from returning to Tahrir Square, who showed up again by the thousands to mourn those killed in the previous day. The blackout led many to accuse state authorities of aiding powerful militias in the assault on protesters. The Ministry of Electricity denied any wrongdoing, and said power was cut incidentally when gunfire severed the cables powering the square’s light posts. By Sunday, Iraqi security forces (ISF) belatedly responded by establishing new checkpoints in the area around Tahrir Square to prevent further attacks by gunmen. Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades), the militia answering to Moqtada al-Sadr sought to play the protector’s role during and after the attacks. The militia deployed its members, many of whom reportedly unarmed, to stop the attack on Friday, and later joined the ISF in beefing up security around Tahrir Square. The popular mobilization forces (PMF) issued a confused statement (later retracted due to an alleged hacking of the PMF website) describing the paramilitary organization’s version of events. The statement alleged that PMF fighters entered were sent to protect protesters following stabbing incidents last Thursday and reports of assailants kidnapping protesters. The statement then claims that lack of coordination with Sadr’s militia and the presence of infiltrators lead to “everyone opening fire, complicating the situation and causing casualties on both sides.” Videos circulating on social media showed ISF members freeing a group of protesters, handcuffed and blindfolded in a building near Tahrir. In it, an ISF member reassures the men, who appeared to have been beaten, and tells them their captors belong to Kata’ib Hezbollah, the PMF faction led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The commander of Baghdad operations, who assumed his position in late October, was sacked in the aftermath of the Dec 6 attacks. Despite the violence, protest organizers were urging people at Tahrir to remain peaceful, and on December 10 were issuing strict instructions against marching on the Green Zone, the seat of government, to avoid provoking friction with government forces or allied militias. On December 12, a crowd lynched a young man accused of killing several protesters and hung his body from a light post in Wathba square, not far from Tahrir. There was widespread condemnation of the gruesome incident from politicians and protesters alike, amid conflicting accounts of the circumstances and identities of the victim and perpetrators. Footage circulating on social media claimed to show government security forces involved in capturing the young man. Not counting Thursday’s violence, the death toll from the protests, which started on October 1, had reached 511, according to sources in Iraq’s Health Ministry.
On December 6, the United States imposed sanctions on four Iraqis accused of extensive human rights violations and financial crimes. The list includes three prominent figures in the Iran-backed Iraqi militias, namely Qais and Laith al-Khazali of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Hussein Falih Aziz al-Lami, a senior member of Kata’ib Hezbollah who also leads the internal security directorate within the popular mobilization forces (PMF). The Asai’b leaders and Lami are believed to be responsible in the use of excessive violence against peaceful Iraqi protesters, including the use of snipers to murder protesters. Qais al-Khazali has also been leading a vocal campaign of defamation against protesters, accusing them of using violence at the behest of foreign powers. The U.S. Treasury Department’s statement announcing the sanctions also cites AAH’s involvement in murders and forced disappearances in Diyala in 2015, as well as a 2007 attack in Karbala in which five American soldiers were killed. The fourth person is Khamis al-Khanjar, an influential Sunni Arab political financier who joined the Asa’b and Badr organization in forming the Binaa Coalition. The U.S. accuses him of engaging in corruption “including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.”
On December 8, the ambassadors of Germany, France and the UK urged Baghdad denounced in a joint statement the use of excessive violence against protesters in Iraq that has killed nearly 500 people since October 1. The envoys pressed Baghdad to provide protection to peaceful protesters, deal with the problem of armed militias operating outside state authority, and prosecute those who have been involved in murdering protesters. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors to condemn their statement, which the ministry described as interference in Iraq’s internal affairs and a violation of diplomatic norms.
On December 9, President Barham Salih said in a statement after meetings with political leaders that there is an agreement to nominate a new prime minister to replace the resigned Adil Abdul-Mahdi within the constitutional timeframe. Iraq’s Parliament had on December 1 accepted Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation, which gives the president 15 days to task a successor with putting together a new cabinet. Recently Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for selecting a new prime minister within the constitutionally set timeframe, insisting that the process must be free of foreign interference. Sistani also stressed that he and the clergy were not involved in the discussions in way manner. No strong candidates have emerged yet from the political negotiations, which must take into consideration the popular rejection for candidates who are linked to the current political class and thus tainted by their legacy. Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been trying to appear on the protesters’ side, including by deploying his militia to protect them, says that the new prime minister must represent the choice of the protesters. These conditions present a dilemma for Sadr’s rivals in the Fatah coalition. The Badr-led group aspire to have a prime minister answerable to them and are fearful of letting Sadr exploit his growing influence on protests to hijack their voice to promote one of his followers to the premiership. President Salih also reportedly held meetings with activists, protesters and academics to hear their views and brief them on the progress of his discussions with political leaders over the past few days. On December 12, an announcement made from the Turkish Restaurant building, a major protesters encampment, listed seven qualities sought in a new prime minister. These included that he must be independent of political parties and be an Iraqi with no dual citizenship or foriegn loyalties, has held no prior high position, known for his integrity, under the age of 55, committed to meeting protesters demands, and that he must not run for office in future elections.
On December 5, an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion killed a civilian and severely injured his sibling in east Mosul. The IED, thought to be leftover from the period of ISIS occupation of the city, exploded while the victims were attempting to dig a water well.
On December 5, militants killed a policeman in an attack on a security checkpoint in the Gatoun area, west of Baqubah in Diyala province. The next day, ISIS militants wounded two policemen in an attack on another security checkpoint near Jalawla, northeast of Baqubah.
On December 6, an IED exploded targeting a police patrol in the Panja Ali area in east Kirkuk. The attack killed one police officer and wounded two more.
On December 7, an unmanned aerial vehicle reportedly dropped an explosive device on the Najaf residence of Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Saeroun alliance. The attack caused material damage but there were no casualties. Al-Sadr himself is said to be currently in Iran. The attack nonetheless could have more serious implications against the backdrop of competition between the various political parties to shape the next government that will succeed the resigned government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
On December 7, local sources said that ISIS militants attacked and killed a farmer in the Udhaim subdistrict in Diyala province.
On December 7, an IED exploded near a religious shrine in the Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province. The attack did not cause any casualties.
On December 7, ISIS militants attacked a security checkpoint manned by the popular mobilization forces (PMF) in the Danadish region of Hawija, in Kirkuk province. The attack killed two PMF members and wounded three more.
On December 7, an IED exploded near a security checkpoint manned by PMF fighters near Jurf al-Sakhar, southwest of Baghdad. Two PMF fighters were wounded in the attack.
On December 8, Iraq’s Defense Ministry retired 58 senior officers, including the long-time commander of the air force, Lt. Gen. Anwar Hama Amin. A ministry document said the officers were being retired for reaching the official retirement age.
On December 8, a college professor was severely injured when a sticky IED exploded under his vehicle in Karbala.
On December 9, the Security Media Cell released a statement about the results of the 7th stage of operation “Will of Victory”, which Iraqi security forces conducted from December 7 – 9. According to the statement, the operation involved units from the Iraqi army, federal police, special police forces, PMF and tribal PMF forces, with aerial support from the Iraqi air force, army aviation and International Coalition. The operation covered 3,257 sq km across the provinces of Salah ad-Din, Diyala and Kirkuk and resulted in the destruction of 38 tunnels and positions, the discovery or destruction of 218 IEDs and other munitions, and the arrest of 21 wanted militants. The 6th stage of “Will of Victory” targeted parts of the same three provinces in early October.
On December 9, six members of the ISF were wounded in a rocket attack on their base near Baghdad’s airport. Four katyusha rockets managed to strike the base, while the ISF subsequently recovered a launcher and several other rockets that failed to launch in a nearby location. This was followed by another attack on the airport involving two rockets on December 11. There were no reports of casualties. An earlier attack with two rockets had hit the Balad air base on December 5 but did not cause any casualties. Three more attacks were reported last week against the Green Zone and Balad air base. A U.S. official said on December 11 that Washington was concerned by the increasing pace and changing nature of attacks on bases hosting Iraqi troops and U.S. military advisers. The official warned that this trend could potentially cause violence between the U.S. and Iran-backed militias suspected of carrying out these attacks, to “escalate unintentionally.” The latest attack may have significant implications because the attackers employed a 240mm rocket instead of the commonly used 107mm or 122mm rockets. Last week U.S. officials claimed that Iran was sending more advanced rockets to its allied militias in Iraq.
On December 10, two IEDs exploded near a gas station in al-Abbara subdistrict in Diyala province. One civilian was wounded in the attack.
On December 9, ISIS militants attacked a village inhabited by members of the Kaka’ie religious minority with three mortar rounds. No casualties were reported in the attack, which took place in the Daquq district south of Kirkuk.
On December 12, three school children were killed and two more were injured when an unexploded shell from the conflict with ISIS detonated in a village northwest of Shirqat in Salah ad-Din province.
On December 12, an IED explosion targeted a liquor store in the Baladiyat neighborhood in east Baghdad. The explosion caused material damage but there were no reports of casualties.
On December 8, Iraqi judicial authorities said that 2,626 protesters who had been arrested during protests since October 1 have been released through December 8. The statement added that 181 protesters remain in custody pending the conclusion of investigations into their respective charges.
On December 8, unknown gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated activists Fahim al-Taie in central Karbala. Assassins have targeted a number of other activists in recent days. Activists Ehab al-Wazni and Muhannad al-Ka’bi both survived attempts on their lives in Karbala in which militants used silenced weapons and a sticky IED, respectively. Another activist, Basim al-Zubeidi also survived an attack by gunmen in Maysan province. On December 10, activist Ali al-Lami was found dead with bullet wounds to his head about 12 hours after he went missing in Baghdad. Activists and protesters are also facing threats of kidnappings and forced disappearances. On December 11, social media posts said that two young Iraqi activists, Omar al-Amiri and Salman al-Mansouri, went missing that day while on their way to purchase new tents for the protest site near Tahrir Square. On December 11, AFP published a report describing the kidnapping and beating ordeals that to which several protesters were subjected last week as part of what appears to be a systematic campaign of intimidation. Some of these activists were later released alive, while at least one activist was killed by her captors.
On December 9, the office of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission in Dhi-Qar released statistics on the deaths and injuries among protesters in the province between October 1 and December 3. The report found that 88 of the 94 protesters who died in the province were killed by live bullets. The report also found that 71 of those killed were between 16 and 29 years old. In addition to the deaths, there were 1,648 recorded injuries and 600 detentions among protesters during the same period.
On December 11, the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) published a new report on Iraq’s ongoing demonstration covering the period from November 5 to December 8. The report shows that at least 170 people were killed and 2,264 more were injured during that period. The document says that “UNAMI continued to receive credible allegations of deliberate killings, abduction and arbitrary detention carried out by unknown armed men described as: ‘militia’, ‘unknown third parties’, ‘armed entities’, ‘outlaws’ and ‘spoilers’.” The report also highlights the fact that the Iraqi government is refusing to allow UNAMI to access hospitals that are receiving demonstrations casualties whether to review their data on casualties or to speak with admitted patients.
On December 12, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration reported that it has assisted 65 Iraqi refugees in returning home from Turkey. The ministry routinely helps Iraqi refugees return home through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program, which had supported the return of at least 232 refugees in October and November.
On December 6, Iraq’s Oil Minister announced that Iraq will cap its total crude oil output at 4.513 million barrels per day (bpd), including output from the Kurdistan region. The decision follows a December 5 agreement by OPEC and other oil producers to 500,000 bpd in new supply cuts on top of the limitations previously set in place in 2017. The minister explained at a later statement that Iraq plans to cap exports at 3.88 million bpd, including 250,000 bpd contributed by the Kurdistan region.
On December 6, Iraq’s Trade Minister said the country’s farmers have marketed more than 105,000 tons of rice so far in 2019. The ministry figures show that Najaf took the lead among the eight producing provinces, with over 53,000 tons. This year’s crop represents a massive increase compared to the drought-stricken 2018, when Iraqi farmers marketed a mere 18,000 tons. Despite this increase, the 2019 harvest remains much lower than in 2017, when the total amount marketed exceeded 265,000 tons.
On December 10, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry attributed a recent decline in power supplies through the grid to problems with Iranian natural gas supplies. The ministry said that power plants in the central region have lost a combined 2,400 megawatts of their output because of the interruption in Iranian gas supplies. According to the ministry, the pipeline carrying Iranian gas to Iraq first went offline between November 18 – 25 for maintenance works, adding that gas flow rates never recovered since due to rising domestic demand inside Iran amid winter conditions. The ministry said it was working with the Oil Ministry to identify and secure alternative fuel supplies to plug the gap.
On December 10, protesters in Diwaniyah province blocked the entrance to the Shanafiyah refinery. The protesters held signs demanding jobs, including employment at the 20,000 bpd facility. Protesters in Baghdad have also been gathering around the headquarters of the Oil Ministry. The Oil Ministry threatened legal action against anyone who threatens its employees or prevents them from entering or leaving the building, while at the same time pledging to create more jobs in its 2020 plans.
On December 12, Iraq’s Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban outlined the preliminary agreements reached recently between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) regarding the latter’s oil exports. Ghadban explained that starting in 2020, the KRG would deliver 250,000 bpd of its production to federal authorities. The KRG would be allowed to use the remaining 200,000 bpd it produces to pay the international oil companies operating its fields and pay down its debt. The KRG is believed to have borrowed billions of dollars (figures vary widely, with the highest being around $18 billion) since 2014 to compensate for lost income as a result of several years of budgetary disagreements with federal authorities.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from December 5 - December 12, 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.
|East Mosul, Ninewa
|Kirkuk City, Kirkuk
|Jurf al-Sakhar, Babylon
|Shirqat, Salah ad-Din
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.