ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: DECEMBER 12 – DECEMBER 19, 2019

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Key Takeaways:

  • Deadline For Selecting New PM Extended As Deadlock Continues; U.S. Issues Warning To Iran, Plans To Reduce Diplomatic Staff In Iraq; Parliament Fails To Pass Election Law – On December 13, Iraq’s most senior cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, pressed the government to crack down on illegal armed groups and ensure that all weapons and armed forces are under the complete control of the state. On December 13, former minister Mohammed Shya al-Sudani emerged as the relative front-runner, among many candidates, in the still deadlocked negotiations for replacing resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Strong opposition by Moqtada al-Sadr and protesters precluded a deal, forcing an extension of the deadline to select a new PM until December 22. On December 13, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued a stern warning to Iran, following rocket attacks on Iraqi military bases that also house American personnel, promising “decisive” action if Tehran harmed America’s interests. Meanwhile, the State Department plans to reduce U.S. diplomatic presence in Baghdad and Erbil by 137 people, representing a 28% reduction in an already stretched presence. On December 18, Iraq’s Parliament failed to agree on an intensely debated new election law that would govern future parliamentary elections. The key obstacle is Article 15, which deals with key electoral mechanisms, including size and distribution of electoral districts, how to allocate seats, and whether candidates can run individually or as party lists. more…
  • Twin Suicide Bombings Strike Samarra; ISIS Attacks, Tribal Clashes Hit Diyala; Activists Targeted In Baghdad And The South – On December 12, two suicide bombers attacked security forces near Samarra, killing 11 people. On December 12, an IED killed one civilian and wounded four in Diyala. On December 12, an attack with two IEDs injured two civilians in Baghdad. On December 15, unidentified attackers detonated a bomb under the vehicle of two activists in Diwaniya, injuring both. On December 15, ISIS militants attacked security forces in two locations in Diyala, killing five people and wounding four. On December 15, an IED killed two civilians west of Mosul. On December 15, gunmen killed a local businessman known for supporting protesters in east Baghdad. On December 15, security forces killed eight ISIS militants and destroyed two of their vehicles west of Samarra. On December 17, attackers stabbed and killed a shop owner in west Baghdad who had provided material support for protesters. On December 17, an IED in Diyala killed one person and injured another. On December 17, gunmen attacked truck drivers on the highway near Baiji, killing three and wounding another. On December 17, gunmen killed one person and wounded another in Diyala. On December 19, tribal clashes killed four people, including two soldiers, and injured four more in Diyala. On December 19, two rocket strikes by security forces killed eight ISIS militants in the Qara Chogh mountain area, northwest of Salah ad-Din. more…
  • Rights Agencies Find Government Complicit In Violence Against Protesters; New Wave Of Assassinations Target Activists; Mass Grave Uncovered In Anbar – On December 13, Amnesty International urged Baghdad to put an end to “a growing lethal campaign” targeting activists and protesters, adding that the government may have aided the culprits in their recent attacks. A report by Human Rights Watch also found evidence that government forces may have helped the perpetrators of a deadly December 6 attack that killed at least 29 protesters. On December 15, Iraqi’s High Commission for Human Rights warned of a dangerous escalation in assassinations and kidnappings targeting activists and protesters. Several Iraqi activists were attacked in Baghdad and other provinces this week, including by IEDs and gunmen wielding silenced weapons. On December 15, authorities discovered a mass grave in Anbar province containing the remains of about 100 civilians. Local officials believe the remains belonged to victims of an alleged 2016 forced disappearance and mass killing campaign of locals by militias. On December 17, the Norwegian Refugee Council said that most of the 17,000 Syrian refugees who recently fled to Iraq were not interested in returning to Syria. On December 18, Iraq’s Higher Judiciary Council said authorities have released a total of 2,700 protesters from detention while another 107 remain under investigation. more…
  • Iraqi Factories See Signs Of Recovery As Iranian Imports Drop; Protesters Blockade Oil Fields, Power Stations; Iraqi Bank To Finance Nasiriyah Oil Field Development – On December 16, the Ministry of Transportation reported a significant increase in international overflights following the opening of a third overflight line through Iraq’s airspace. On December 16, Iranian trade officials said the value of Iraq’s monthly imports of Iranian goods has dropped by more than $200 million. The decline coincided with rising anti-Iran sentiment and boycotts of Iranian goods that also allowed Iraqi factories to hire more employees and increase output to meet to rising demand for domestic products. On December 17, protesters in Basra blocked roads leading to the north Rumaila oil field while protesters in Wasit blocked the entrance to the Zubaidiyah power plant, one of Iraq’s largest. The Ministry of Electricity warned that a continuation of the blockade could force a shutdown, costing the grid 2,450 megawatts. On December 17, Iraq’s council of ministers approved a plan for financing a project to expand oil production at the Nasiriyah oil field by an additional 100,000 barrels per day through a $265 million loan from the Trade Bank of Iraq.
    more…

Attention readers! ISHM will take a break for the Christmas holiday, 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.


Deadline For Selecting New PM Extended As Deadlock Continues; U.S. Issues Warning To Iran, Plans To Reduce Diplomatic Staff In Iraq; Parliament Fails To Pass Election Law

On December 13, Iraq’s most senior cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, pressed the Iraqi government to crack down on illegal armed groups and ensure that all weapons and armed forces are under the complete control of the state. Sistani reaffirmed his support for the state armed forces by releasing photos of himself hosting wounded Iraqi army veterans, a rare event that reportedly took place months ago. In his speech, Sistani also strongly condemned the killing, kidnapping and other forms of violence against protesters, stressing that the government must investigate these crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable. Sistani also denounced the lynching incident that took place at Wathba square last week, reproaching the crowds that gathered at the site. 

On December 13, former minister Mohammed Shya al-Sudani emerged as the relative front-runner in the still deadlocked negotiations for replacing resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Sudani, who was nominated by the State of Law bloc (led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) two weeks ago, announced his resignation from the bloc and the Dawa Party, a move intended to appear as an independent candidate, a key condition of protesters demanding government overhaul. Protesters in Baghdad and other southern provinces rejected Sudani’s nomination, using the slogan “independent, not resigned”, suggesting that they view Sudani’s resignation as a ploy to prolong the ruling parties’ grip on power. Sadr also renewed his opposition for Sudani’s nomination, calling him “the candidate of the party of thieves”. Although Sudani appears to be in the lead, several other individuals are competing for the premiership. The list initially included former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Basra governor Asaad al-Idani, and judge Raed Johi. The list expanded later with the addition of former general Tawfiq al-Yasiri, former minister Ali Allawi, and independent lawmaker Faiq al-Shaikh Ali. Former ministers Qusay al-Suheil, Mohammed Allawi and Abdul-Hussein Abtan have also been mentioned. Political sources began speculating that President Barham Salih may have to assume the premiership in addition to his role as president should continuing differences among major blocs preclude consensus on a candidate. The absence of a clear “largest bloc” in Parliament that should, in theory, have the right to nominate the next head of government complicates the process. President Salih asked Parliament to name the largest bloc, to which the deputy speaker responded with a letter saying that the largest bloc comprises all the groups that in October 2018 asked Salih to task Abdul-Mahdi with forming a government. UNAMI urged Iraqi leaders in a message on December 18 to agree on a candidate before the constitutional deadline expires at midnight on the following day. However, on December 19, a parliamentary source said the deadline would be extended to December 22 by discounting the weekend from the 15 day time-frame. 

On December 13, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued a stern warning to Iran, promising “decisive” action against Tehran if it harmed America’s interests. The warning followed a series of rocket attacks on Iraqi military bases that also house American military personnel, which Washington thinks were carried out by Iran-backed Iraqi militias. Pompeo’s message suggested an expansion of the list of offenses that could trigger an American response, and sought to “remind Iran’s leaders that any attacks by them, or their proxies of any identity, that harm Americans, our allies or our interests will be answered with a decisive US response.” Pompeo also demanded that Iran “immediately cease its provision of lethal aid and support to third parties in Iraq and throughout the region.” Later, U.S. Defense Secretary, Mike Esper, said he raised U.S. concerns with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Esper urged the Iraqi government to take steps to stabilize the worsening security situation and prevent future attacks on U.S. interests. The outgoing Iraqi premier cautioned against unilateral measures, which he warned would violate Baghdad’s sovereignty and could lead to unpredictable escalation.  

On December 14, followers of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia flocked to Baghdad to protest recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury against its leader, Qais al-Khazali. The militia supporters burned American flags and effigies of Donald Trump during their demonstration, which took place at Baghdad’s Firdous square. Last week, Washington sanctioned four Iraqis, including Qais and his brother Laith, citing gross human rights violations against Iraqi protesters and other abuses. Washington also accuses the powerful Iraqi militia of doing Iran’s bidding in Iraq, including carrying out attacks on facilities hosting American personnel. Khazali denied any role in violence against protesters in an interview with the BBC. He claimed, instead, that some of his militia members have fallen victim to violence at the hands of protesters. Meanwhile, al-Hurra published a report detailing the financial empire that Qais al-Khazali and his associates have built in recent years. According to the report, Khazali has three senior financial aides (Haider al-Saidi and Amir and Wahab al-Taie) who serve as fronts facilitating money transfers to banks in Europe and illicit enterprises, including the 2015 sale of stolen parts of Iraq’s Baiji refinery, oil smuggling and racketeering. For his part, outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi defended Khazali and others affected by the new American sanctions, saying that he condemns the targeting of “prominent Iraqi individuals who have a record and political role in the fight against ISIS”.

On December 17, CNN reported that the U.S. State Department sent a memorandum to Congress with its plans to reduce U.S. diplomatic presence in Baghdad and Erbil by 137 people by May 2020. This would represent a 28% reduction in the size of diplomatic staff. The new reduction comes amid rising tensions with Iran and its allied militias in Iraq accompanied by fears of attacks in U.S. interests in the country. The draw-down also comes on top of previous closure of the Basra consulate in 2018, and the withdrawal of all non-essential staff in May of this year. A U.S. diplomat confirmed the new draw-down plans on December 18, saying they were made in response to serious threats to American personnel coming from Qassim Soleimani, the Quds force commander in Iran’s revolutionary guard corps. 

On December 18, a group of hackers said they managed to take down the websites of several Iraqi government entities, including the ministries of defense, oil, health, education and trade. These websites were indeed offline on Wednesday. The hackers posted on Twitter that they have obtained gigabytes worth of documents  from the hacked websites, pledging to expose contracts and correspondences concerning alleged corruption deals. The websites remained unreachable as of writing.

On december 18, Iraq’s parliament failed to agree on an intensely debated new election law that would govern future parliamentary elections. The session assigned to passing the bill ended abruptly when it was time to deal with Article 15, the section which deals with key electoral mechanisms, including size and distribution of electoral districts, how to allocate seats, and whether candidates can run individually or as party lists. Parts of the discussed draft circulating in local media show that at least seven different proposals (nine in other reports) exist for Article 15, reflecting the divergent preferences of the major blocs. Seventy members of parliament, out of 207 attending the session, demanded postponing the vote on articles 15 and 16. After the call for postponement failed, a walkout ensued and quorum was lost. Reports also indicate that objections by Kurdish members to an article banning dual citizens from running for office contributed to the walkout. Parliament is set to meet again on December 23.


Twin Suicide Bombings Strike Samarra; ISIS Attacks, Tribal Clashes Hit Diyala; Activists Targeted In Baghdad And The South

On December 12, an improvised explosive device (IED) attached to a motorcycle exploded in the 7 Neesan neighborhood in the subdistrict of Buhruz in Diyala. The explosion killed one civilian and wounded four others.

On December 12, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle borne IED (SVBIED) into a checkpoint in Samarra city in Salah ad-Din province. The explosion killed seven members of the popular mobilization force (PMF) units that was manning the checkpoint. A second SVBIED attack killed four other PMF fighters in the Samarra region.

On December 12, an attack with two IEDs took place in the Baladiyat neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The explosions injured two civilians. 

On December 13, an unidentified attacker lobbed two grenades at a coffee shop in al-Kut in Wasit province. Four people were wounded in the attack. 

On December 15, unidentified attackers detonated a sticky IED that was attached to the vehicle of two Iraqi activists in Diwaniya. The activists were both injured but survived the explosion.

On December 15, an airstrike killed three ISIS militants near the Abu Jumaa village in a region between Salah ad-Din and Diyala provinces. It wasn’t clear whether the strike was conducted by Iraqi aircraft or those of the International Coalition. 

On December 15, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a local businessman known for supporting the protest movement while he was driving in the Zayouna neighborhood in east Baghdad. 

On December 15, ISIS militants attacked a supply vehicle for the Iraqi federal police in the Riyadh neighborhood in Kirkuk city. Two members of the federal police were killed in the attack. 

On December 15, Iraqi security forces (ISF) killed eight ISIS militants and destroyed two of their vehicles in an operation west of Samarra in Salah ad-Din province. Two members of the ISF were wounded in the clashes.

On December 15, ISIS militants attacked an ISF checkpoint in the Abaiji are north of Tarmiyah in Salah ad-Din province. Five people were wounded in the attack. 

On December 15, an IED thought to be leftover from the period of the ISIS occupation exploded in the Ayadhiya subdistrict west of Mosul. Two civilians were killed in the incident. 

On December 15, ISIS militants attacked ISF units in two locations in Diyala province, taking advantage of heavy fog and inflicting several casualties. The first attack targeted a tank unit belonging to the army’s 5th division in the Nawfal village in the Muqdadiya district, killing two members of the ISF and wounding a third. The second attack occurred later and targeted another unit of the same division near Balad Ruz in eastern Diyala, killing three members of the ISF and wounding three more. 

On December 15, local police in east Mosul found the bodies of two young men who were shot in the head and chest area. 

On December 15, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a mosque preacher in the Shaab neighborhood in northeast Baghdad. 

On December 17, unidentified attackers stabbed and killed a shop owner in the Amiriyah neighborhood of west Baghdad. The victim was described as an activist who had provided material support for protesters. 

On December 17, an IED placed next to a house in the Abu Saida subdistrict in Diyala province exploded killing one of the house residents and injuring another.  

On December 17, a security source said that gunmen attacked truck drivers on the main highway near Baiji in Salah ad-Din province, killing three and wounding another. The source added that all four drivers are from Anbar province. 

On December 17, unidentified gunmen killed a man and wounded a woman in an attack in the Abu Saida subdistrict in Diyala. 

On December 17, one member of the PMF was killed in an attack in the Jisr Diyala area southeast of Baghdad. 

On December 18, unidentified gunmen killed a civilian using silenced weapons in the Hussainiyah district north of Baghdad.

On December 19, two rocket strikes by the ISF killed a total of eight ISIS militants in the Qara Chogh mountain area within the Salah ad-Din area of operations. The first strike was directed at a group of five militants on motorcycles after they were observed entering a tunnel. The second strike targeted three more militants who responded to the first strike.

On December 19, tribal clashes killed four people, including two soldiers, and injured four more in the Abu Saida subdistrict in Diyala. Local sources said mortars and rocket propelled grenades were used in the clashes, which caused damage to public buildings in the area.


Rights Agencies Find Government Complicit In Violence Against Protesters; New Wave Of Assassinations Target Activists; Mass Grave Uncovered In Anbar

On December 13, Amnesty International published a report urging the Iraqi government to put an end to “a growing lethal campaign of harassment, intimidation, abductions and deliberate killings of activists and protesters in Baghdad and other cities”. The report and findings were based on input from several Iraqis from multiple provinces who were involved in the ongoing anti-government protests or have relatives who were victims of abuses because of their activism. Their stories described an environment of tremendous fear in the aftermath of numerous kidnappings, forced disappearances or assassination attempts made against activists in December. Some of the recent killings and failed attempts, like those against activists Fahim al-Taie and Ali al-Lami and Ehab al-Wazni, involved IEDs and assassins equipped with silenced weapons. Amnesty’s report attacked the Iraqi government’s failure to respond to these attacks and intimidation tactics, adding that the government may have even aided the abusers in their efforts to silence dissent. A report published by Human Rights Watch, and based on interviews with protesters who witnessed the December 6 militia attacks that killed dozens of protesters, also found evidence that government forces may have helped the attackers.

On December 15, Iraqi’s High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) warned of a dangerous escalation in assassinations and kidnappings targeting activists and protesters in recent days. IHCHR called on the Iraqi caretaker government and the intelligence and security organizations to take “daring and reposnsible decisions” to activate the anti-kidnapping and organized crime fighting units to protect activists and protesters. Several Iraqi activists were attacked by unidentified assailants this week. On December 14, gunmen shot activist Mohamed al-Dijaili in Baghdad’s Palestine street area. He died in the hospital a day later. On December 15, unidentified attackers detonated a sticky IED that was attached to the vehicle of two Iraqi activists in Diwaniya. The activists were both injured but survived the explosion. On the same day, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Haqqi Ismael, a local businessman known for supporting the protest movement, while he was driving in east Baghdad. On December 17, unidentified attackers stabbed and killed a shop owner in the Amiriyah neighborhood of west Baghdad. The victim was described as an activist who had provided material support for protesters. 

On December 15, authorities discovered a mass grave in Anbar province containing the remains of about 100 civilians. Local officials believe the remains belonged to members of one local tribe called al-Muhamdah.They also think the remains belong to some of the 643 victims of an alleged 2016 forced disappearance and mass killing campaign of locals by the popular mobilization forces that controlled the area after displacing ISIS. 

On December 17, Iraq’s Ministry of Migration said that 91 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their districts of origin in various parts of Kirkuk province from IDP camps in the same province. The ministry said the IDPs return was supported by the ISF and Transportation Ministry, which provided protection, buses to move the IDPs and trucks to move their belongings. 

On December 17, the Norweigian Refugee Council (NRC) said that most Syrian refugees who recently fled to Iraq were not interested in returning to Syria. The findings were based on a survey that NRC performed in the Bardarash camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where many of these refugees are staying. The survey found that 69% didn’t want to return to Syria because of uncertain prospects for stability amid ongoing fighting between Turkish forces and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). For another 17%, the main reason for preferring to stay in Iraq was the destruction of their homes in Syria. More than 17,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Iraq since the beginning of hostilities between Turkey and the SDF in early October. 

On December 18, Iraq’s Higher Judiciary Council said authorities have released a total of 2,700 protesters who had been arrested during protests since October 1. The Council’s statement added that authorities continue to hold another 107 protesters whose cases remain under investigation. The figures suggest that a total of 74 protesters were released from custody in the ten day period since the judiciary published their previous figures on detentions.


Iraqi Factories See Signs Of Recovery As Iranian Imports Drop; Protesters Blockade Oil Fields, Power Stations; Iraqi Bank To Finance Nasiriyah Oil Field Development

On December 16, the Ministry of Transportation reported an increase in the number of overflights crossing Iraq’s airspace to 600 flights per day. The ministry’s air navigation services company explained that the increase was the result of an agreement with other countries during an aviation conference in Paris to open a third overflight line through Iraq’s airspace. The company said only 50 flights used to pass over Iraq’s airspace each day in recent years.  

On December 16, Iranian trade officials mentioned that the value of Iraq’s monthly imports of Iranian goods has dropped by more than $200 million due to ongoing protests in Iraq. Hamid al-Hosseini, who chairs the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce explained that imports during the last Iranian calendar month stood at $540 million, representing a 28% drop from their usual monthly averages of some $750 million. In addition to recent disruptions to traffic through border crossings between the two countries, many Iraqis have been boycotting Iranian products to express their discontent with Iran’s interference in Iraq’s affairs. At least one Iranian manufacturer closed its Najaf branch this week due to flagging demand for its food products. The popular campaign to boycott foriegn products and support local goods appears to be generating marked growth among local businesses. Many Iraqi factories, especially in light and food industries, are reportedly hiring more employees and doubling their output in response to rising demand. 

On December 17, protesters in Basra blocked the roads leading to the strategic north Rumaila oil field west of Basra and prevented oil workers from reaching their work sites. The ISF worked to disperse the protesters, and arrested 11 of them. Protesters renewed the blockade on December 18. To the north of Basra, protesters in Wasit province also blocked the entrance to the Zubaidiyah power plant, one of Iraq’s largest, and prevented the plant workers from entering or leaving the facility. The Ministry of Electricity warned that a continuation of the blockade, which prevents fuel deliveries to the power plant, could force a shutdown, costing the grid 2,450 megawatts and risks total blackout. Last week the ministry reported that the grid had lost another 2,400 megawatts due to interruptions of gas supplies from Iran, which feed several Iraqi power plants.

On December 17, Iraq’s council of ministers approved a plan for financing a project to expand oil production at the Nasiriyah oil field by an additional 100,000 barrels per day (bpd).  According to a statement from the prime minister’s office, the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) would provide a loan of $265 million needed for the project. The Dhi-Qar Oil Co. which operates the field would repay the loan in the form of oil to be marketed on behalf of TBI by the state owned oil marketing arm. Nasiriyah is one of several oil fields that Iraq seeks to develop directly through local effort instead of technical service contracts with foreign oil companies.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from December 12 - December 19, 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
12/12/19Buhruz subdistrict, Diyala14
12/12/19Samarra, Salah ad-Din70
12/12/19Samarra, Salah ad-Din40
12/12/19Baladiyat, Baghdad02
12/15/19Diwaniyah02
12/15/19Ayadhiya subdistrict, Ninewa20
12/17/19Abu Saida subdistrict, Diyala11

 

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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