ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: JANUARY 16 – JANUARY 23, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • Protests Intensify And Government Forces Respond With Excessive Force; Debate Heats Up Over U.S. Forces Presence With Militias Planning Anti-U.S. Rallies On Friday; Two New Candidates Take The Lead In The Race For The Premiership –  On January 17, Iraqi protesters intensified their activity in several provinces as the January 20 deadline they set last week for Parliament to end political deadlock and select a new and independent prime minister approached and passed. Government forces responded to road closures by protesters with excessive force, including live bullets and tear gas, killing at least ten protesters in several provinces. On January 16, a spokesman for care-taker PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi denied that Iraq and the U.S.-led Coalition had resumed joint anti-ISIS operations. Meanwhile, militias increased their pressure for the expulsion of U.S. forces and are planning mass anti-U.S. protests on Friday (January 24). On January 22, 62 members of Parliament endorsed a draft bill to repeal immunity from prosecution that Baghdad had granted to U.S. forces in June 2014, ahead of their arrival to support the Iraqi military against ISIS. President Salih, however, spoke in favor of continued cooperation with the U.S. during discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump, to which militia leaders responded by calling for Salih to “be banished from Baghdad.” On January 20, political sources reported that negotiations among political parties to select a new prime minister were converging on two candidates, former minister Mohammad Tawfiq Allawi and former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kazemi. more…
  • IEDs And Assassinations Hit Several Provinces; U.S. Embassy Attacked With Rockets Again; U.S. Considers Deploying Anti-Missile Defenses To Protect Personnel In Iraq – On January 16, ISIS militants attacked a village between Diyala and Salah ad-Din with eight mortar rounds, without causing casualties. On January 17, gunmen killed a member of the oil protection police in Mahmudiya south of Baghdad. On January 17, Iraqi security forces (ISF) killed several ISIS militants during a four-hour firefight in the Tarmiyah district, north of Baghdad. On January 18, ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army post in Tel al-Theib area in Kirkuk, killing one soldier. On January 18, gunmen used silenced weapons to kill a civilian in al-Husayniyah, north of Baghdad. On January 19, two IEDs injured four civilians in eastern Baghdad. On January 19, an IED exploded in the Rifai district in Dhi-Qar without causing casualties. On January 20, an IED injured two civilians in Badush, northwest of Mosul. On January 20, an IED exploded in the Shatra district in Dhi-Qar province without causing casualties. On January 20, three rockets fell near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. On January 21, an IED exploded on a minibus in the eastern Mosul, injuring two civilians. On January 22, gunmen killed a civilian in the Kamaliya area of eastern Baghdad and a member of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) in Nasiriyah. On January 23, gunmen killed a civilian near the protest site in central Basra, while ISIS militants kidnapped and killed a citizen in al-Hadar district, south of Mosul. On January 23, American officials told Fox News that the Pentagon is considering the possibility of deploying anti-missile defense systems in Iraq to protect U.S. personnel stationed in the country. more…
  • UN OCHA Says Access Restrictions Since December Disrupted Assistance To 2.4 Million In Need; Amnesty International Condemns Violence Against Protesters As Security Forces Kill More Activists And Journalists – On January 16, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the Iraqi government has failed to renew the permits that allow humanitarian organizations to deliver aid and services to populations in need. OCHA warned that without access permits, the operations of humanitarian organizations would “come to a complete halt” in a few weeks. Since December, these access restrictions have already impacted close to 2.4 million people who require assistance, including internally displaced persons and refugees, and disrupted more than 2,450 humanitarian activities. On January 20, Amnesty International urged the Iraqi government to respect the right of Iraqi civilians to protest, calling on the Iraqi security forces to defend that right instead of using violence to suppress it. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, at least ten demonstrators have died from live bullets and tear gas canisters in the latest wave of protests. Casualties included photojournalist and volunteer paramedic Yousuf Sattar. more…
  • IEA Says Iraq’s Oil Supplies “Vulnerable”; Dates Production Declined Further In 2019; Government Expands Temporary Unemployment Benefits; Sanctions Could Disrupt Gas And Electricity Imports From Iran – On January 16, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that Iraq was a “potentially vulnerable” oil source in light of military hostilities between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq and economically disruptive Iraqi protest activity. On January 20, Iraq’s Central Bureau of Statistics said Iraq produced 639,000 tons of dates in 2019, representing a 1.1% decline from 2018 figures. On January 21, the Iraqi government expanded a program to pay temporary stipends to unemployed Iraqis. The program will give 900,000 unemployed Iraqis (instead of 150,000 prior to the expansion) a monthly grant of ID 175,000 (approximately $145) per person for three months. On January 21, The Trade Bank of Iraq, which handles payments for Iraq’s purchases of gas and electricity with Iran, announced that it would have to cease issuing such payments should the U.S. refuse to extend a waiver program that exempts Baghdad from American sanctions against Iran. 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.


Protests Intensify And Government Forces Respond With Excessive Force; Debate Heats Up Over U.S. Forces Presence With Militias Planning Anti-U.S. Rallies On Friday; Two New Candidates Take The Lead In The Race For The Premiership

On January 17, Iraqi protesters began to intensify their activity in several provinces as the January 20 deadline they set last week for Parliament to end political deadlock and select a new prime minister approached. Iraqi protesters insist that the next prime minister must be a true independent, and have repeatedly rejected candidates who are affiliated with the political parties or have held senior government positions in the past. Government forces used excessive force, including live bullets and tear gas, to suppress the new protests. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) documented that, between January 17 and publication, ten protesters were killed, 135 injured, and 88 arrested in Baghdad, Karbala and Basra, Diyala and Dhi-Qar. The first casualties were recorded on January 17 when security forces killed two protesters who were part of a group that attempted to seize the Sinak bridge near Tahrir Square. Clashes continued as protesters blocked off major roads and bridges between Baghdad and southern provinces. In Baghdad, the epicenter of activity has been at the Mohammad al-Qasim highway along the city’s eastern half, which protesters closed off on January 19. On January 20, the National Security Council responded to widespread road closures by authorizing police to arrest protesters who attempted to close any roads. Four protesters were killed in Baghdad clashes that day, while the Baghdad Operations Command reported that 14 officers were injured outside of Tahrir Square by rocks thrown by protesters. At a main overpass on the highway, 113 cases of suffocation and other injuries were reported on January 19 and 66 were recorded on January 20. At least 16 more injuries were recorded on January 22-23. On January 23, the Security Media Cell reported that a “hand grenade” thrown by an unknown person at Mohammad al-Qasim highway injured a member of the security forces. On January 23, protesters blocked al-Nahda street of central Baghdad in solidarity with protesters on Mohammad al-Qasim highway. In Najaf protesters on January 18 set fire to the offices of the Kataib Hezbollah militia and closed off major roads leading to the airport and Karbala. On January 20 in Karbala, police forces fired live ammunition into a student sit-in, killing two and injuring 50. On January 20, three protesters were injured and one was killed in a clash with riot police over a bridge closure in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province. On January 20, protesters in Basra cut off a road leading north to Dhi-Qar, and police forces responded by firing into the crowd and deploying more riot police forces. On January 21, protests and clashes in Basra continued at close range between protesters who hurled stones at riot police, and the latter who responded by firing live ammunition above protesters’ heads. On January 23, there were reports of gunmen firing at protesters from civilian vehicles, killing one protester and injuring seven. Activists in Basra accused the riot police of killing six protesters in the past week, three more than IHCHR’s January 22 count. In Dhi-Qar, protesters on January 20 cut off the road between Nasiriyah and Kut, while protesters said an attack by masked gunmen in Nasiriyah wounded one activist with no intervention from government forces. In Diwaniyah, road closures starting on January 20 isolated the province from neighboring provinces. These closures continued through January 23.  

On January 16, a spokesman for care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told AFP that joint anti-ISIS operations between Iraq and the U.S.-led International Coalition had not resumed from their suspension on January 5. The statement contradicted a January 15 statement by U.S. military officials claiming that joint operations had indeed resumed. The pressure by militias and political affiliates inside Iraq for the expulsion of U.S. and other Coalition presence has intensified following the January 5 parliament resolution urging Baghdad to expel the forces. On January 22, the leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, Qais al-Khazali called on the people of Iraq to “reject occupation” by American forces and organize mass protests on Friday (January 24) to launch what he called  “a second revolution of 1920” in reference to the 1920 armed rebellion against British occupation. In a sign that this call is part of a broader effort, sources close to Saeroun alliance leader, Moqtada al-Sadr confirmed that Friday would be the start date for the mass protest that Sadr initially called for on January 14, and was endorsed by al-Fatah leader Hadi al-Amiri. On January 22, 62 members of parliament endorsed a draft bill to repeal immunity from prosecution that Baghdad had granted to U.S. forces in June 2014, ahead of their arrival to support the Iraqi military against ISIS. Conversely, international actors continued to lobby support for continuing the Coalition’s mission this week. On January 18, Jordan’s Foreign Minister visited Iraq and met with his Iraqi counterpart, President Salih, and care-taker Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi to discuss safeguarding Iraqi sovereignty, reducing regional tension, and the importance of continued joint efforts in fighting ISIS. According to Jordan’s news agency, minister Safadi stressed that “the international collective effort must be preserved within the framework of the coalition in order to ensure the defeat of this scourge.” According to a statement by his office, President Salih, who is in favor of retaining U.S. security support, spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and agreed on January 19 to continue “joint cooperation and coordination to tackle terrorism to prevent the resurgence of ISIS.” On January 21, the Italian Minister of Defense met with Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations and security cooperation. A statement by Abdul-Mahdi’s office said the care-taker prime minister explained the Iraqi government’s views of the withdrawal of foreign forces, emphasizing the “training” of Iraqi forces as the main element in ongoing cooperation with Coalition members. On January 21, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the European Parliament Foreign Affairs committee, stressing the importance of continued military training programs to prevent a renewed need for NATO involvement in combating ISIS. On January 22, President Salih and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg discussed Iraqi sovereignty and continuing the fight against terrorism. On January 22, President Salih met President Trump at the World Economic Forum at Davos and stressed that “this mission needs to be accomplished,” in reference to the war against ISIS and restoration of stability to Iraq. Militia leaders responded angrily to Salihs’ meeting with Trump, accusing the Iraqi president of treason, with some going as far as saying that Salih “must step down and be banished from Baghdad.” 

On January 20, political sources reported that negotiations among political parties to select a new prime minister were converging on two candidates, former minister Mohammad Tawfiq Allawi and former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kazemi. Protesters in Tahrir Square were quick to reject Allawi’s candidacy, hanging portraits of him with the caption “Does not meet requirements”. According to al-Mada, the political blocs have cast aside 15 independent candidates for the premiership who had submitted their candidacy directly to President Salih, in favor of candidates affiliated with the blocs. Two former candidates, former presidential adviser Ali Shukri and General Abdul-Ghani al-Assadi, who was ostensibly supported by Moqtada al-Sadr, were also dropped from the competition because the blocs couldn’t agree on them. The developments coincided with rumors on January 20 about an imminent agreement between the Saeroun and Fatah coalitions to present a joint candidate in a fashion similar to the October 2018 agreement on nominating Adil Abdul-Mahdi, “within hours”. Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq urged Iraqi parties to break the political stalemate, noting that “any steps taken so far to address the people’s concerns will remain hollow, if they are not completed. Domestic unity, cohesion and determination are urgently necessary to build resilience against narrow partisan interests, foreign interference and/or criminal elements which actively seek to hinder Iraq’s stability.” 

On January 20, three members of Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) Parliament representing the New Generation Movement said they were leaving the opposition party citing a divergence of views regarding the controversial January 16 pension bill. The three members, Mem Burhan Qani, Sirwan Baban, and Diari Anwer, exchanged accusations with party founder Shaswar Abdulwahid, with each side accusing the other of abandoning party principles by approving a bill that extended pension benefits to members of the KRI legislature. The resignations diminish New Generation’s presence in the KRI Parliament to four seats, down from the eight it won in the September 2018 general election.

On January 21, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) planned to hold its 14th congress later in 2020. Party leaders have not confirmed a date for what will be the KDP’s first such meeting since 2010, but a member of the party’s leadership council said a June meeting may be feasible. Party members expect the agenda to  include the restructuring of party leadership bodies and the possible elimination of a gender quota. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is the 2nd largest party in the KRI held its most recent congress in December and is set to elect a new Secretary General of the party, a post that has been vacant since 2017, on January 25. Iraqi President Barham Salih appears to be the likely successor to the PUK’s late Secretary General Jalal Talabani

On January 21, mistrust rose between the PUK and the KDP over the death of PUK Peshmerga fighter Majeed Brayim Abdullah while in KDP custody in Erbil. Mr. Abdullah was arrested by the KDP security forces on charges of drug possession on January 13. On January 16, the forensic medicine department in Erbil, the KDP’s main stronghold, said that Abdullah committed suicide in prison. The PUK expressed doubt in the validity of the arrest and the cause of death, and arranged for a secondary autopsy to be conducted by forensic teams in Sulaymaniyah, the PUK’s stronghold. On January 19, the Kurdistan Parliament formed an investigative committee to look into the incident.


IEDs And Assassinations Hit Several Provinces; U.S. Embassy Attacked With Rockets Again; U.S. Considers Deploying Anti-Missile Defenses To Protect Personnel In Iraq

On January 16, a local security sources said that ISIS militants attacked a village on the border between Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces with eight mortar rounds. There were no reported casualties.  

On January 16, the Security Media Cell reported that Iaqi Air Force F-16 jets bombed what was described as an ISIS training camp in Wadi al-Shay, in Kirkuk province. The airstrike reportedly resulted in complete destruction of the site and killed all ISIS members inside.  

On January 17, unidentified gunmen killed a member of  the oil protection police in an armed attack near his home in the Mahmudiya district south of Baghdad. 

On January 17, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near the house of representative Hawazin al-Shammari in the Khalis district of Diyala. There were no human casualties or reported material damage, suggesting the IED may have been a sound bomb. 

On January 17, Iraqi security forces (ISF) killed several ISIS militants during a four-hour firefight that began when an ISF unit raided an ISIS hideout in the Tarmiyah district, north of Baghdad. An ISF statement said a senior ISIS figure was among the militants killed in the clashes. 

On January 18, ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army post in Tel al-Theib area in Kirkuk province. One soldier was killed as a result.

On January 18, unidentified gunmen opened fire using silenced weapons at a civilian in al-Husayniyah district, north of Baghdad. The civilian was killed in the shooting. 

On January 19, an IED attached to a minibus carrying civilians exploded in eastern Baghdad. The explosion caused severe injuries among three civilians. 

On January 19, an IED exploded in the Talbiyah area, east of Baghdad. One civilian was wounded in the explosion. 

On January 19, an IED exploded in the Rifai district in northern Dhi-Qar province near the house of a former member of the Rifai district council. There were no reports of casualties, but the explosion caused material damages to the house. 

On January 20, an IED exploded in the town of Badush, northwest of Mosul in Ninewa province. Two civilians were wounded.  

On January 20, an IED exploded near the Abbasiya school in the Shatra district in northern Dhi-Qar province. There were no human casualties, but the explosion caused material damages to the school.

On January 20, three rockets fell near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi issued a statement condemning the attack and called for an immediate investigation into the incident. On January 21, the Baghdad Operations Command said that its forces discovered two missile launchers, one of which with unfired missiles, in the Zafaraniyeh area in south Baghdad. 

On January 21, an under-vehicle IED (UVIED) exploded against a minibus in the eastern Mosul neighborhood of al-Karamah. The vehicle’s driver and one passenger were injured. 

On January 21, unidentified gunmen opened fire using silenced weapons on a group of civilians in central Basra. Three civilians were wounded in the attack.  

On January 22, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a civilian in the Kamaliya area of eastern Baghdad. The civilian was killed in the attack. 

On January 22, unidentified individuals killed a member of the popular mobilization forces (PMF) in Nasiriyah, Dhi-Qar province. 

On January 23, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a civilian near the protest site in central Basra. The civilian was killed in the attack. 

On January 23, ISIS gunmen kidnapped and killed a citizen in al-Hadar district, south of Mosul. The militants later set the victim’s on fire.

On January 23, American officials told Fox News that the U.S. Department of Defense is considering the possibility of deploying anti-missile defense systems in Iraq to protect U.S. troops. The development is in response to the January 8 Iranian ballistic missile attack that targeted U.S. troops housed in Iraqi bases. On January 16, the U.S. defense officials confirmed that at least 11 U.S. soldiers were being treated for concussions following the missile strikes on Ain al-Assad air base. Initially, U.S. and Iraqi authorities stated that the Iranian missile strikes caused no casualties.


UN OCHA Says Access Restrictions Since December Disrupted Assistance To 2.4 Million In Need; Amnesty International Condemns Violence Against Protesters As Security Forces Kill More Activists And Journalists

On January 16, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the Iraqi government has failed to renew the permits that allow humanitarian organizations to deliver aid and services to populations in need. OCHA warned that without access permits, the operations of humanitarian organizations would “come to a complete halt” in a few weeks, rendering them unable to provide critical supplies that are needed in the winter months. Since December, these access restrictions have already impacted close to 2.4 million people who require assistance, including internally displaced persons and refugees, and disrupted more than 2,450 humanitarian activities. Iraqi authorities grant the authorizations in question on a monthly basis following a vetting and application process. In November, the Iraqi government started to delay the renewals of these letters and as of January, the permits of most humanitarian groups had expired and renewals were not forthcoming. This withholding of authorization for humanitarian groups from the Iraqi government is connected with increasing backlash from the Iraqi government and militia groups against Western influence following the January 3 airstrike that assassinated Iranian General Qassim Soleimani and PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. 

On January 20, Amnesty International (AI) urged the Iraqi government to respect the right of Iraqi civilians to protest, calling on the Iraqi security forces to defend that right instead of using violence to suppress it. Amnesty’s message on Twitter was in response to the renewed use of excessive force by militias and government forces to contain escalating pro-reform protests in Baghdad and several other provinces. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, as of January 22, ten demonstrators have died from live bullets and tear gas canisters in the latest wave of protests that followed the expiration of a January 20 deadline that protesters had set for political parties to end government deadlock. In addition, at least 135 civilians were injured, and government forces arrested another 88 in the cities of Baghdad, Karbala and Basra, and in the provinces of Diyala and Dhi-Qar over a period of two days. Additionally, 24 security forces were injured in Basra. Eye witnesses and video footage confirmed that security forces used live bullets and fired deadly tear gas canisters directly at protesters. The casualties once again included members of the press. On January 20, security forces shot and killed photojournalist and volunteer paramedic Yousuf Sattar during protests in Baghdad, and at least one demonstrator was killed in east Baghdad when he was struck by a tear gas canister. Government forces have routinely used tear gas canisters against demonstrators in a manner that caused many injuries and deaths. On October 31, AI reported that security forces were using deadly military-grade tear gas grenades against demonstrators, leading to deadly penetrations of skulls and chests, and called on the government to withdraw these weapons from use.


IEA Says Iraq’s Oil Supplies “Vulnerable”; Dates Production Declined Further In 2019; Government Expands Temporary Unemployment Benefits; Sanctions Could Disrupt Gas And Electricity Imports From Iran

On January 16, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its monthly report that  Iraq was a “potentially vulnerable” oil source in light of military hostilities between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq and economically disruptive Iraqi protest activity. IEA noted that since 2010, Iraq has managed to double its crude exports, becoming a strategically critical supplier of crude oil against the backdrop of sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Security concerns have mounted over the past two months with the assassination of Qassim Soleimani and subsequent retaliatory actions by Iran and allied militias. The risk of greater violence recently prompted foreign oil companies to evacuate their U.S. staff from Iraq. Protest activity poses an additional risk of destabilization as protestors have on several occasions blocked access to major oil fields, including Rumaila, Gharraf, Ahdab and Nasiriyah. Instability and security issues have created concerns over the wisdom of investing in Iraq, especially among Western companies. Analysts predict that ExxonMobil is unlikely to invest in the proposed Common Seawater Supply Project, which involves water injection infrastructure needed to raise Iraq’s oil production from aging fields. On January 21, Reuters reported that BP had concluded a $100 million exploration contract in Kirkuk and would not be renewing their presence in Kirkuk. The results and recommendations from the contract were handed over to the North Oil Company of the Iraq Ministry of Oil. These security considerations do not appear to impress all foreign oil companies equally. On January 19, China’s Zhongman Petroleum and Natural Gas Corporation reportedly won a $27 million drilling contract concerning an unnamed oil field in southern Iraq. 

On January 20, Iraq’s Central Bureau of Statistics said Iraq produced 639,000 tons of dates in 2019, representing a 1.1% decline from 2018 figures. The bureau’s statement noted that date production, traditionally one of Iraq’s primary agricultural activities, has suffered steady decline due to wars and drought. The 2019 production places Iraq as the world’s ninth largest producer of dates, whereas the country used to be top producer up until the late 1970s.

On January 21, the Iraqi government approved an expansion of a program that pays temporary stipends to unemployed Iraqis. Under the amendment to Cabinet Resolution 340 of 2019, the government will now give 900,000 unemployed Iraqis a monthly grant of ID 175,000 (approximately $145) per person for a period of three months. The earlier version of the program would benefit only 150,000 Iraqis. This program was announced along with a series of reform and aid packages on October 6 2019 by care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in an attempt to address widespread protests and dissatisfaction with poor services, unemployment and corruption.  

On January 21, The Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), which handles payments for Iraq’s purchases of gas and electricity with Iran, announced that it would have to cease issuing such payments should the U.S. refuse to extend a waiver program that exempts Baghdad from American sanctions against Iran. The waiver, which the U.S. has so far renewed every 90-120 days for fifteen months, allow Baghdad to import 1,400 megawatts of electricity and approximately 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The current waiver expires in February, and Iraq’s electricity sector would face immense pressure if the U.S. decides against renewing it for another period.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from January 16 - January 23, 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
01/19/20Eastern Baghdad03
01/19/20Talbiyah, east of Baghdad01
01/19/20Al-Rifai, Dhi-Qar 00
01/20/20Badush, Ninewa02
01/20/20Shatra, Dhi-Qar00
01/21/20Al-Karamah, Mosul, Ninewa02

 

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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