ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: JANUARY 9 – JANUARY 16, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • U.S. Refuses To Discuss Withdrawal; Coalition Resumes Anti-ISIS Operations; Iraqis Renew Pro-Reform Mass-Protests; Meetings To Contain Tensions Continue; Rumors Circulate Of A Deal To Reinstate Abdul-Mahdi – On January 9, Iraq’s caretaker PM asked the U.S. to send a delegation to establish a mechanism for U.S. withdrawal. Washington rejected the request. On January 15, U.S. military officials confirmed that Coalition operations against ISIS have resumed. On January 9, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires to register Baghdad’s condemnation of Iran’s bombardment of Iraqi military bases. On January 10, Iraqi protesters launched new mass demonstrations in Baghdad and southern provinces to renew pressure on the political class to enact political and economic reforms. Protesters in Dhi-Qar gave the government one week to elect a new prime minister. On January 11, KRG leaders met with PM Abdul-Mahdi in Erbil and stressed their interest in increased cooperation between federal and KRG security forces in coordination with the U.S.-led Coalition. On January 12-15, PM Abdul-Mahdi met with the British and French,Canadian, Russian, and Australian ambassadors and Qatar’s foreign minister to discuss measures to safeguard national and regional security and deescalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq. On January 13, Moqtada al-Sadr called from Iran for mass protest against American presence in Iraq. Hadi al-Amiri, now expected to become top commander of the popular mobilization forces (PMF), endorsed al-Sadr’s call. These anti-U.S. rallies are scheduled for Jan 24. On January 14, the Ataa bloc, part of al-Fatah coalition, appealed to the religious authority in Najaf to endorse Abdul-Mahdi’s return to the premiership with full powers. The appeal followed reports of a meeting between al-Fatah and Saeroun to discuss reinstating Abdul-Mahdi. Protesters responded angrily to the rumors. On January 15, President Salih, caretaker PM Abdul-Mahdi, and Speaker Halbousi met to discuss the election of a new PM and the formation of a new government, while parliamentary sources mentioned that several candidates could be presented next week for final negotiations. more…
  • Assassins Target Iraqi Journalists And Activists; New Rocket Attacks Strike Iraqi Bases; Turkey Resumes Airstrikes Near Sinjar – On January 10, gunmen assassinated Djilah TV reporter Ahmed Abdul-Samad and camera operator Safaa Ghali in Basra, and on January 13, gunmen assassinated activist Hassan Hadi Mhalhal in Dhi-Qar. On January 10, unidentified warplanes killed eight Iraqi militiamen near the Syrian border. On January 11, an IED attached to a motorcycle injured two civilians in Baghdad. On January 11, gunmen killed a PMF brigade commander in Baghdad. On January 12, eight rockets struck the Balad air base north of Baghdad, injuring four Iraqis. On January 14, eight more rockets struck Camp Taji, another major ISF base north of Baghdad, without causing casualties. On January 13, an IED explosion south of Mosul wounded two policemen. On January 13, ISIS militants attacked Iraqi border police patrols near the Jordanian border, killing one member of the border police and wounding three. On January 14, ISIS militants attacked the ISF in Dujail, north of Baghdad, killing two members of the ISF and wounded five. On January 15, Turkish airstrikes targeted the Sinjar resistance units (YBS) in northwestern Ninewa, killing five YBS members, including the militia’s commander. On January 16, a vehicle borne IED exploded on the highway between Nukhaib and Arar in southwest Iraq. The explosion wounded six members of the Iraqi border police. more…
  • Journalists Condemn The Assassination Of Abdul-Samad And Ghali; Korea And Denmark Support Demining, UNITAD And Services For IDPs; Militia Threats Force Closure Of News Channel Offices – On January 12, Iraqi journalists in Basra started the “I Am Next” social media campaign to protest the assassinations of journalists Ahmed Abdul-Samad and Safaa Ghali in Basra on January 10, and to call attention to the increasing security concerns for journalists in Iraq. On January 13, South Korea donated $2 million to the UNHCR to support IDPs, refugees and IDPs who have returned to their home districts with food, shelter, cash, and protection services. On January 13, Denmark gave $800,000 to the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD) to support efforts to train and mentor Iraqi investigative judges and forensic evidence experts. Denmark also granted over $4.4 million to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to support the removal of explosive hazards that impact the safety of Iraqi IDPs. On January 14, al-Hurra news channel said it will shut down its Baghdad offices in response to threats made against the channel by militias, reflecting the Iraqi government’s failure to provide a safe operating environment for journalists. more…
  • U.S. Threatens To Block Iraq’s Access To Oil Funds; Central Bank Stabilizes Exchange Rate; Baghdad Moves Forward With China Deal – On January 11, the U.S. State Department threatened Iraq with restricting its access to an important account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that holds $35 billion of Iraq’s oil revenue. On January 12, the Central Bank of Iraq said it has taken measures to prevent inflation and provide ample supply of hard currency to keep the exchange rates stable after threats of U.S. sanctions caused the Iraqi dinar to drop by more than 3% against the dollar. On January 14, the parliamentary services committee confirmed that Iraq and China will move forward with implementing the oil for construction agreement, first introduced during caretaker PM Abdul-Mahdi’s visit to China in September of 2019. Analysts are questioning the fairness of the agreement, while MPs pointed to a lack of legislative oversight and transparency concerning the agreement’s documents, which they claim were not seen by Parliament. On January 10, Reuters reported that two European airlines, Lufthansa and Austrian, have resumed flights to Erbil airport after a brief disruption due to heightened security risk arising from Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Iraqi military bases on January 7. 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.


U.S. Refuses To Discuss Withdrawal While Coalition Resumes Operations; Iraqis Renew Pro-Reform Mass-Protests; Meeting To Contain Tensions Continue; Rumors Circulate Of A Deal To Reinstate Abdul-Mahdi

On January 9, during a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi asked the United States to send a delegation to Iraq to begin establishing a mechanism for implementing the Iraqi Parliament’s recent resolution calling for “the safe withdrawal of [U.S.] forces.” The State Department disregarded the question of withdrawing the more than 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and stated that any delegation would instead engage in evaluating the “appropriate force posture” in the region. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad stressed that the purpose of the U.S. military mission in Iraq was to sustain the fight against ISIS. In a January 12 emergency session, the European Union also reaffirmed the need for maintaining the presence of the U.S.-led International Coalition in Iraq. On January 14 NATO’s Secretary General met with Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister to reassert NATO’s commitment to their capacity-building mission in Iraq, emphasizing the importance of NATO staff security. The U.S.-led Coalition had on January 5 suspended its anti-ISIS operations, citing the need to devote greater resources to protecting its personnel from Iranian and militia attacks. The January 5 Iraqi Parliament’s vote in favor of expelling U.S.-led force also faces domestic criticism. Ahead of the vote, Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi had advised caution in moving forward with a consequential vote while representatives of Sunni and Kurdish blocs were largely absent. Kurdish leadership in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) opposed the call  for the expulsion of U.S. and allied troops, citing the possible reemergence of ISIS. On January 15, U.S. military officials confirmed that joint operations against ISIS in Iraq have resumed. There was no comment from the Iraqi government as of publication.  

On January 9, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranain charge d’affaires in Baghdad to register Baghdad’s condemnation of Iran’s bombardment of Iraqi military bases hosting Iraqi and International Coalition forces. The Ministry, according to a statement on its website, considered the Iranian missile strikes violations of Iraqi sovereignty, and called on the U.S. and Iran to show restraint and respect for the independence and internal security of Iraq. The statement diverges from Baghdad’s January 5 condemnation of January 3 U.S. airstrikes in Iraqi territory in letters to the UN Security Council. On January 13, the Iraqi ambassador to Iran said that Tehran had not yet responded to Iraq’s complaint. 

On January 10, Iraqi protesters launched a new wave of mass demonstrations in Baghdad and several southern provinces to renew pressure on the political class to enact political and economic reforms they have been calling for since October 1. The protests spread to northern provinces too. On January 14, rare protests in Mosul called for the speedy assignment of a new prime minister, criticizing the overshadowing of Iraqis’ calls for reforms by U.S.-Iran tensions. The new protests weren’t without casualties. On January 12, clashes erupted between protesters and security forces outside the University of Wasit, leaving 11 protesters and 48 policemen injured, mostly by rocks thrown by protesters. On January 13, ten protesters were injured in clashes with security forces in Karbala after protesters reportedly torched a warehouse owned by the Badr Organization, an Iran-backed militia group. On January 12 protesters closed a major road between Hamza and Najaf. A video posted on January 13 showed  protesters in Nasriyah giving the government one week to elect a new prime minister, threatening to block a major road between Basra and Baghdad on January 20 if their demands were not met. In a similar gesture on the following day, protesters in Diwaniya blocked roads between Baghdad and the southern provinces. On January 15, protesters in the city of Samawah blocked a major bridge connecting Baghdad and Nasiriyah. 

On January 10, the head of the al-Wataniyah alliance and veteran politician, Iyad Allawi announced his resignation from Parliament, characterizing it as a response to its failure to fulfill oversight and legislative obligations. Al-Fatah coalition said Allawi’s resignation was an insult to the legislature, and called on Parliament to reject the resignation and instead dismiss Allawi from the body. On January 13, Allawi sought to dispel speculation that his resignation was a maneuver designed to position himself as an “independent” candidate for replacing caretaker Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi, asserting that he would not seek to be nominated for the position. Allawi is the fifth MP to resign since the beginning of anti-government protests in October. 

On January 11, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi visited Erbil and met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masroor Barzani, KRG President Nechirvan Barzani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani. The meetings covered outstanding issues between federal and regional authorities, concerns about ISIS resurgence, and the KRG’s interest in increased cooperation between federal and KRG security forces in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. According to a statement by Abdul-Mahdi’s office, the two sides emphasized the importance of preserving Iraq’s sovereignty and maintaining positive and balanced diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Iran. Abdul-Mahdi had similar meetings in Sulaymaniyah with the leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

On January 12, Secretary General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah urged the KRG to support the expulsion of U.S. influence in the region in response to the assassination of General Soleimani. In his speech, Nasrallah claimed the KRG owed a debt to Soleimani, crediting him with removing the ISIS threat from the Kurdistan region in 2014. The KRG responded strongly with a statement delivered by KRG spokesman Jotyar Adil dismissing Nasrallah as a coward who had no right to criticize the KRG, saying that the Peshmerga forces were the sole defenders of Kurdistan. KRG President Nechirvan Barzani also criticized Nasrallah’s statement as inappropriate, thanking friends of Kurdistan but crediting the Peshmerga with the defense of Kurdistan.

On January 12, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi met with the British and French ambassadors to discuss measures to safeguard national and regional security and de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq. On January 14, Abdul-Mahdi continued a series of bilateral meetings on de-escalation with the Canadian, Russian, and Australian ambassadors. The meetings came after European members of the U.S.-led Coalition, spurred by Iranian and militia rocket attacks in Iraq, shifted their attention and resources toward the security of their personnel in Iraq and away from building the capacity of Iraqi forces. This resulted in a ten day suspension of anti-ISIS operations in Iraq. 

On January 16, the Kurdistan Parliament approved a pension reform bill that would perpetuate the wide pension discrepancy between high-ranking government officials and average government employees, especially those with disabilities. Leading up to the vote, parliament members from various blocs opposing the legislation walked out, claiming the parliament speaker, deputy speaker, and secretary were not acting impartially. Remaining parliament members met quorum and voted to pass the bill. On January 12 the bill had been debated for several hours, leading to a second day of debate. On January 13, an altercation took place between members of the KDP, who are proponents of the bill, and the New Generation Movement, who are against paying pensions for high-ranking officials. Activists had been gathering in front of the Kurdistan Parliament to protest the bill since January 12. Public criticism of the bill has its roots in discontent dating back to the 2014 economic crisis when the regional government failed to pay civil servants their salaries, and the perception that pensions have been manipulated to build party patronage networks for reelection.

On January 13, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s security and defense committee said  Baghdad was reviving talks with Moscow to acquire the advanced Russian S-400 air defense system as an alternative to American suppliers. The MP confirmed that a September trip to Moscow by Falih al-Fayadh, national security adviser and chairman of the popular mobilization force (PMF) commission, included a request by Iraq to buy the system. The possibility of an S-400 deal with Russia was first raised in August by PMF leaders and affiliates in Parliament following suspected Israeli air strikes on militia targets in different parts of Iraq. The acquisition, which Washington is most likely to oppose, appears to have gained renewed urgency among militia affiliates in Parliament amid hostilities and prospects for military escalation between the U.S. and Iran and allied militias in Iraq.

On January 13, Saeroun alliance leader Moqtada al-Sadr met in the Iranian city of Qom with several commanders of Iran-backed PMF factions to discuss the future of American presence in Iraq. Militias attending the meeting included Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Harakat al-Nujaba. Sadr and other militia leaders have been leading the calls for the expulsion of U.S. forces from Iraq. On January 14, al-Sadr called for the people of Iraq to join in a mass unified peaceful protest against American presence in Iraq. Shortly after, Hadi al-Amiri endorsed al-Sadr’s call to action. Various members of Parliament declared January 24 as the start date of the protests. On January 13, reports from Qom also indicated that the militia leaders agreed, pending a Parliament vote, on the Badr organization and al-Fatah leader Hadi al-Amiri as the new leader of the PMF. Al-Amiri would succeed former leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed as a part of the January 3 U.S. drone strike that killed General Soleimani. 

On January 14, the Ataa bloc, part of al-Fatah coalition, headed by national security adviser and chairman of the popular mobilization force (PMF) Falih al-Fayadh, appealed to the Iraqi religious authority in Najaf to endorse Abdul-Mahdi’s return to the position of prime minister with full powers. The appeal followed reports of a January 12 meeting between al-Fatah and Saeroun alliances to discuss the possibility of reinstating Abdul-Mahdi, who has been caretaker prime minister since Parliament approved his resignation on December 1. Al-Fatah quickly denied the news. Protesters responded angrily to rumors of intentions to reinstate Abdul-Mahdi, hanging banners expressing their opposition to the move in Tahrir Square on January 11. On January 10, Iraq’s most senior cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on political parties to put the national interest ahead of partisan interests to advance reforms that provide an exit from the current crisis, steer Iraq away from regional conflict and give Iraqis control of their country’s affairs.  

On January 14, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Defense and State Departments were considering plans to withhold  $250 million in Congress-allotted military aid for Iraq in 2020. The newspaper said the aid reduction could also impact an additional $100 million for fiscal year 2021. The funds were intended to support Iraq’s purchase of U.S. weapons. The withholding plans remain preliminary and appear intended to add specific pressure on the Iraqi government following President Trump’s threat to impose sanctions on Iraq if U.S. troops were forced to leave Iraq. 

On January 15, President Salih, caretaker Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi, and Parliament Speaker Halbousi met to discuss the election of a new prime minister and the formation of a new government. According to al-Sabaah, a press release from speaker Halbousi’s office said the leaders agreed to pursue Iraq’s political and economic wellbeing through charting a balanced path for Iraq’s relations, disentanglement from regional conflicts, and avoiding further escalation. Meanwhile, parliamentary sources mentioned that several potential candidates that are said to be acceptable to the political powers and the public (out of 75 names raised so far) could be presented next week for a final round of negotiations that could lead to an agreement on the next prime minister. 

On January 15, Mohammed bin Abdul-Rahman al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar visited Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi and President Salih in Baghdad to address tensions in the region. The Qatari foreign minister also discussed trade, investment, and regional security with KRG President Nechivan Barzani in Erbil. Qatar, which enjoys good relations with the U.S. Iran and Iraq, has embarked on an effort to mediate regional tensions amid sharp escalation in hostilities between Iran and the U.S. in Iraq. Qatar’s Emir, Tamim al-Thani, had visited Tehran on January 12 for similar talks with Iranian leaders.


Assassins Target Iraqi Journalists And Activists; New Rocket Attacks Strike Iraqi Bases; Turkey Resumes Airstrikes Near Sinjar

On January 10, unidentified gunmen in a 4×4 vehicle targeted and assassinated Djilah TV reporter Ahmed Abdul-Samad and camera operator Safaa Ghali who were covering protests in the city of Basra. Abdul-Samad was known for his sympathetic coverage of the protests. Dijlah, whose office in Baghdad was ransacked on October 5 and shut down on government orders on November 12 along with a dozen other media organizations, has often been accused by the militias and government agencies of “inciting violence” through their coverage of government violence against protesters. On January 13, an unidentified armed group assassinated Iraqi activist Hassan Hadi Mhalhal in Sok al-Shoyokh district in Dhi-Qar. The deaths of reporters Abdul-Samad and Ghali, and the death of activist Mhalhal are the latest in a series of targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and threats on journalists and activists since the start of the protests on October 1st.  

On January 10, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in the Hay al-Amil neighborhood in western Baghdad. The explosion injured two civilians.

On January 10, unknown gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot and wounded a civilian in the Muqdadiyah district in Diyala.  

On January 10, unidentified warplanes targeted and killed eight Iraqi militia fighters associated with Iran-backed factions of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) in the Bukamal area of Syria, near the Iraq-Syria border. Iraqi security officials reported that the strikes were most likely executed by Israeli warplanes. Iraq has previously held Israel responsible for strikes on PMF basesand fighters, whom Israel accuses of moving and storing Iranian missiles. No entity has claimed responsibility for these strikes yet.

On January 11, an IED that was attached to a motorcycle exploded near a market in the Mashtal neighborhood of eastern Baghdad. The explosion critically injured two civilians. 

On January 11, unidentified gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot civilians inside the Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf. Two civilians were killed, and one was critically injured. The casualties were all members of the same family.  

On January 11, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a shop owner in the area of al-Qadisiyah, Karbala. 

On January 11, unidentified gunmen targeted and killed Taleb Abbas Ali al-Saedi, the commander of the “Karbala brigade” in the PMF in Baghdad’s Sadr city district. 

On January 12, a rocket attack targeted the Balad air base north of Baghdad. The attack, which involved at least eight Katyusha rockets, injured an Iraqi Air Force officer and three enlisted men. Though the base usually hosts U.S. military personnel assisting the Iraqi security forces (ISF) as part of the U.S.-led coalition, there have been no Americans at the base since January 4th following a previous strike on the Balad base on January 4th. The U.S. has blamed the attack on Iran-backed militia, but no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. On January 14, eight Katyusha rockets struck Camp Taji, another major ISF base north of Baghdad. The ISF did not report any casualties, and no groups have claimed responsibility for the incident. These attacks on ISF bases known to host U.S. personnel come amid exchanged hostilities between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq, most notably in the January 3rd airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani and PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near Baghdad airport, and in the January 7 Iranian missile strike on Ain al-Assad base in Anbar.    

On January 12, an IED exploded next to a school in the al-Rifai district of Dhi-Qar. There were no human casualties, but the explosion caused material damages to the school.

On January 13, unidentified gunmen used silenced weapons to kill a civilian in the Nahrawan neighborhood southeast of Baghdad. 

On January 13, an IED exploded near a local police patrol station in the town of Qayyara, south of Mosul in Ninewa province. The explosion critically wounded two policemen. 

On January 13, ISIS militants attacked Iraqi border police patrols near the Jordanian border, north of the al-Waleed border crossing. The attack killed one member of the border police and wounded three more. 

On January 14, unidentified gunmen riding on motorcycles shot and killed two civilians in central Basra. 

On January 14, three mortar shells, fired by unidentified militants, struck a village on the outskirts of Baquba in Diyala. There were no reports of human casualties or material damage. 

On January 14, ISIS militants attacked a local command center for the ISF in the Sheikh Ibrahim area in Dujail, north of Baghdad. The attack killed two members of the ISF and wounded five more. 

On January 15, Turkish airstrikes targeted the headquarters of the Sinjar resistance units (YBS) in the Hittin area of Sinjar district in northwestern Ninewa. Rudaw reported that at least five members of the YBS were killed in the bombardment, including Zardasht Shingali who was the commander-in-chief of YBS. Turkey’s military had previously attacked the YBS, which Ankara considers as affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), in and around Sinjar in late November 2019. 

On January 15, unidentified gunmen raided the house of a policeman who worked in the Ministry of Interior in the neighborhood of al-Ma’amil east of Baghdad. The attackers shot and killed the policeman.

On January 15, unidentified gunmen targeted, shot, and wounded Sheikh Muhammad Salem al-Zaidawi, the advisor for the governor of Basra for tribe affairs. 

On January 16, a vehicle borne IED exploded on the highway of Nukhaib and Arar in southwest Iraq. The explosion wounded two officers and four members of the Iraqi border police.


Journalists Condemn The Assassination Of Abdul-Samad And Ghali; Korea, Denmark Support Demining, UNITAD And Services For IDPs; Militia Threats Force Closure Of News Channel Offices

On January 12, Iraqi journalists in Basra started the “I Am Next” social media campaign to protest the assassinations of journalists Ahmed Abdul-Samad and Safaa Ghali in Basra on January 10, and to call attention to the increasing security concerns for journalists in Iraq, especially since the start of the pro-reform protests on October 1. The campaign additionally calls for all journalists to boycott government representatives and security officials until the assassinations of Abdul-Samad and Ghali are thoroughly investigated and results are revealed. On January 11, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) issued a statement condemning the murders of Abdul-Samad and Ghali. The IHCHR pointed out that several other members of the press were arrested by security forces during the January 10 protests in Basra. The list includes al-Ghadeer correspondent Fouad al-Halfi, Reuters photographer Mohamed al-Fartousi, and al-Sharqia photographers Ahmed Raed and Mamoun Muhammed. Along with these journalists, the IHCR identified 15 arrested demonstrators who were later released following successful intervention by the IHCHR. Additionally, on January 15, the IHCHR disclosed in a statement that 56 Iraqi activists remain missing after being kidnapped or forcibly disappeared. 

On January 13, South Korea donated $2 million of general funding to the United Nations High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR) to help support internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and IDPs who have returned to their home districts. These funds will help supply a range of life-saving provisions, including food, shelter, cash assistance, child protection, and general protection services. The statement points out that there are more than six million people in Iraq who continue to require humanitarian assistance, including 4.5 million returnees, 1.4 million current IDPs, and more than 280,000 refugees. 

On January 13, the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Denmark gave $800,000 to the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD) to support efforts to train and mentor Iraqi investigative judges and forensic evidence experts. UNITAD will implement this project in various courts across Iraq, with the goals of strengthening the Iraqi justice system and ensuring that ISIS militants are held accountable for their actions. In November 2019, UNITAD reported that its investigations identified 160 ISIS members that are accused of mass murder and other atrocities against Iraqi Yazidis for potential trials in Iraqi courts. Denmark also granted over $4.4 million to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to support the removal of explosive hazards that impact the safety of Iraqi IDPs. UNMAS works to locate and remove the threats posed by unexploded bombs, mines, and other remnants of war to allow the safe return of refugees and IDPs. UNMAS will use the funds to set up risk education initiatives to teach IDPs how to identify suspicious items. This donation brings Denmark’s contributions to UNMAS since 2016 to a total of $22 million. 

On January 14, al-Hurra news channel announced it will shut down its Baghdad offices in response to threats made against the channel by militias, reflecting the Iraqi government’s failure to provide a safe operating environment for journalists. The channel’s statement specifically mentioned threats by Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader, Qais al-Khazali. The U.S.-funded agency clarified that it would continue to report on Iraq, and that field offices in other parts of the country would remain open. The announcement was made in the wake of the assassinations of journalists Ahmed Abdul-Samad and Safaa Ghali in Basra on January 10.


U.S. Threatens To Block Iraq’s Access To Oil Funds; Central Bank Stabilizes Exchange Rate; Baghdad Moves Forward With China Deal

On January 11, the U.S. State Department threatened to restrict Iraq’s access to an important account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which Iraq uses to hold its oil exports revenue that fuels virtually all of the country’s economy. The threat escalated Washington’s pressure on Baghdad following President Trump’s threat to impose severe sanctions on Iraq in response to the Iraqi Parliament’s resolution to expel U.S.-led coalition troops. The threat stirred fear in Iraqi government circles, with some Iraqi officials warning that losing access to the account, which reportedly holds $35 billion, would precipitate economic “collapse”.   

On January 12, the Central Bank of Iraq warned against speculation regarding the Iraqi dinar’s exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. The bank said it has taken measures to prevent inflation and it continues to provide ample supply of hard currency to keep the exchange rates stable. Recent threats of U.S. sanctions against Iraq caused the Iraqi dinar to drop by more than 3% against the dollar. On January 16, local news sources announced the exchange rate had returned to near pre-crisis levels at ID 1,210 to $1, compared to last week’s ID1,240 to $1. 

On January 11, debate in Iraq resumed around the oil for construction agreement between Iraq and China, first introduced during caretaker Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi’s visit to China in September of 2019. The agreement would bring Iraq into China’s Belt and Road Initiative and involves a financing arrangement allowing Iraq to borrow up to $10 billion from China, backed by the revenue of 100,000 barrels per day of oil to finance significant infrastructure projects by Chinese companies in Iraq. On January 14, the Parliamentary services committee confirmed that Iraq and China will move forward with implementing the agreement, saying it would deliver major roads, railways and building projects in the coming years. Analysts have questioned the fairness of the agreement, while MPs from multiple blocs pointed to a complete lack of legislative oversight and transparency concerning the agreement’s documents, which they claim were not seen by Parliament. The deal, they say, could lead to a 50 year mortgaging of the oil industry to China and Chinese monopoly over Iraqi infrastructure, especially if oil prices were to drop over the 20 year lifetime of the deal. Analysts also cited concerns over the alleged 6% interest rate on loans in the deal, contrasting with the 1.5% interest they say Iraq pays on current loans from other lenders. A Central Bank document circulating in local press, and dated December 30, showed that Iraq’s oil marketing arm (SOMO) deposited $418 million from the revenue of oil sales in accounts designated for the China deal at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

On January 10, Reuters reported that two European airlines, Lufthansa and Austrian, have resumed flights to Erbil international airport. The resumption of flights followed a brief disruption due to heightened security risk arising from Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Iraqi military bases in Erbil and Anbar on January 7. European aviation authorities had on January 8 advised airlines against using Iraqi airspace, and most flights to and from Baghdad airport were reportedly suspended as a result. 


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from January 9 - January 16, 2020

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
01/10/20Al-Amil, west Baghdad02
01/11/20Mashtal, Baghdad02
01/12/20Al-Rifai, Dhi-Qar 00
01/13/20Qayyara, Ninewa02
01/16/20Nukhaib, Anbar06

 

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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