- Constitutional Amendments Committee Stumbles; KDP, PUK And Halbousi Demand Share In New Government; Allawi Promises An “Independent” Cabinet Next Week; U.S., UN Condemn Continuing Violence Against Protesters – On February 16, political sources said the 18-member committee charged with formulating constitutional amendments has made very little progress toward completing its mission before its 4-month mandate expires next week. On February 16, Speaker Halbousi met with KDP leader Masoud Barzani to discuss a joint approach towards PM-designate Mohammed Allawi’s plans for government formation. A joint statement stressed that the new government must “represent all components of Iraq, and on the basis of national partnership,” euphemism for the rules of the ethno-sectarian quota system. On February 17, Masoud Barzani objected to Allawi’s method of selecting his cabinet members, saying he must consult with Kurdish leaders before selecting ministers who would represent them in government. A PUK member said the party would not approve of any Kurdish ministers if they were to be selected from outside the PUK. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Saeroun bloc threatened earlier to confirm Allawi’s government through a majority vote in Parliament, regardless of consensus. Despite these disagreements, PM-designate Mohammad Allawi issued a statement on February 19 in which he called on Parliament to hold an extraordinary session on February 24 to confirm his new “independent” government. Allawi urged members of Parliament to consider what’s in the national interest and not to let “private interests prevent them from making the right decision.” On February 17, UNAMI condemned the continuing violence and use of excessive force against protesters, pointing out that at least 200 protesters were injured by pellet guns and birdshot fired by government forces in Baghdad and Karbala, including 59 in Baghdad during the previous three days alone. The following day, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker urged Iraqi leaders to put an end to such “criminal” practices and hold the perpetrators accountable. more…
- New Rockets Target K-1 Base, U.S. Embassy; Major Operation Ends With Limited Results; Foreign Oil Workers Injured In Attack – On February 13, an IED wounded three soldiers in Abu Ghraib district, west of Baghdad. On February 13, a katyusha rocket struck the K-1 Iraqi military base, which also hosts U.S. military personnel in Kirkuk. On February 13, Iraqi forces concluded a large-scale operation launched on February 12 in Iraq’s western desert. They discovered weapons and arrested two suspects but did not report killing any militants during the operation that covered more than 26,200 square kilometers. On February 15, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service killed ten ISIS militants in an air assault operation in the Himrin Mountains. On February 16, three katyusha rockets landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. On February 16, an attack by unidentified gunmen at the Halfaya oil field in Maysan wounded two Chinese oil workers. On February 18, suspected ISIS militants killed four civilians and injured two in an attack on a village northwest of Kirkuk. On February 20, IED wounded three soldiers south of Mosul. more…
- Government Builds Camp To Resettle 4,000 Refugees From Al-Hol; Migration Ministry Says 86 IDP Camps Remain Across Iraq; UN Report Says 350,000 Displaced Children Can’t Attend School – On February 15, Migration Ministry said that Iraqi authorities were building a new camp near the Syrian border in Ninewa to resettle 4,000 Iraqis who wish to return from the Syrian camp of al-Hol. The plan has been met with push-back from local officials and Ninewa residents who fear that many of these refugees have alleged ties to ISIS fighters. On February 16, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Migration stated that the number of IDP camps in Iraq has decreased from 184 to 86 camps, concentrated mostly in Ninewa, Anbar and the provinces of the KRI. On February 17, UNAMI and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented a report describing the lasting impact of the ISIS conflict on access to education for children displaced from their home districts. According to the report, there are 658,000 displaced children in Iraq, of whom about a half, 355,000 children, do not attend school. UNAMI and OHCHR proposed a series of recommendations for the Iraqi government, including easing enrollment restrictions due to missing documentation. more…
- Iraq Repairs Rail Links To Port, Refineries; New Oil Storage Tanks Built At Faw; One in Five Iraqis Below The Poverty Line; Public Sector Wages To Cost $8.5 Billion More In 2020 – On February 15, the Minister of Transportation said that Iraq’s Railway Company has completed the construction of rail connections to all docs at the Umm Qasr port in Basra as well as repair works on a railway connecting the Qayyarah refinery in Ninewa to the Baiji refineries in Salah ad-Din province. On February 15, the director of Ibn Majid General Company said his company completed the construction of six new oil storage tanks at the Faw oil depot in Basra with a total storage capacity of 464,000 cubic meters. On February 16, the Ministry of Planning released new figures about poverty in Iraq that showed a slight decline over a five-year period, from 22.5% in 2014 to 20% at the end of 2018. The three provinces of the KRI and Kirkuk had the lowest poverty levels, with Sulaymaniyah having the lowest rate at 4.5%. Some southern provinces were the poorest in the country, including al-Muthanna (52%), Diwaniyah (48%), and Dhi-Qar and Maysan (44% and 45%, respectively). On February 17, the financial affairs adviser to the Iraqi prime minister said that public sector payroll will increase by ID10-11 trillion (~$8.5 billion) in 2020 to pay the wages and salaries for over 500,000 civil servants, mostly re-hired employees and contractors converted to permanent positions. 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.
Constitutional Amendments Committee Stumbles; KDP, PUK And Halbousi Demand Share In New Government; Allawi Promises An “Independent” Cabinet Next Week; U.S., UN Condemn Continuing Violence Against Protesters
On February 16, al-Sumaria reported, citing political sources, that the 18-member committee charged with formulating constitutional amendments has made very little progress towards proposing changes to controversial articles of Iraq’s constitution. Sharp divisions over contentious issues, including Iraq’s system of governance, future of disputed territories and division of powers between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) have reportedly created a stalemate preventing the committee from meeting more than “once or twice” with full attendance since it was set up nearly four months ago. The source said that the committee has thus far failed to agree on any amendment proposals that can be presented to the public. On October 28, Parliament voted to create the committee in response to protesters’ demands for government reform, and the committee was given four months to complete its task. This deadline expires by the end of February. The constitutional amendments committee, however, claimed that they have completed their review of 116 articles of the 142-article constitution, however these alleged revisions have not been made public. The chair of the parliamentary legal committee said that these alleged revisions “do not meet expectations”, indicating that the 116 amendments, if they existed, are likely superficial revisions.
On February 16, Speaker of Parliament Mohammad al-Habousi met with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani in Erbil to discuss a joint approach towards Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi’s plans for government formation. A statement posted on the Parliament website said the two politicians came to a six-point agreement, which appears to aim at securing their respective party interests in the new government. The agreement stressed that the new government must “represent all components of Iraq, and on the basis of national partnership,” a clear reference to the rules of the ethno-sectarian quota system. The joint statement also called for “continued cooperation with the international coalition”, and “a clear vision for preparing early elections.” The statement (and criticism expressed by the KDP and PUK below) reflects anxiety among Sunni and Kurdish parties about being sidelined by the Fatah and Saeroun coalitions, who jointly endorsed Allawi’s nomination for the premiership. On February 14, Mohammad al-Karbouli, a senior member of al-Hal party, to which Halbousi belongs, warned that the new government “would die before it is even announced”, claiming that ministerial positions were being “sold” by political operatives. The position of the Sunni political class is not uniformly skeptical of Allawi’s handling of government formation. Sunni groups associated with financier Khamis al-Khanjar, who is known to maintain good relations with the Fatah coalition, joined Fatah and Saeroun in calling on political parties to let Allawi select his cabinet members without interference. On February 18, Halbousi hosted a meeting of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish representatives, but made little progress in fostering an agreement. A member of the Kurdish parties’ delegation summarized the problem: “we Kurds insist that the Kurdistan region and Kurdish parties must pick Kurdish ministers in Allawi’s cabinet. The Sunnis share our disposition, but the Shia parties are in favor of appointing independent ministers.” It is worth noting that the experience of Abdul-Mahdi’s government shows that powerful political parties can maintain control over government agencies even if they ceded ministerial position, so long as they retained influential second tier positions, such as deputy ministers and director general.
On February 17, KDP leader Masoud Barzani objected to Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi’s method of selecting his cabinet members, according to Arafat Karam, Barzani’s adviser for federal government affairs. Barzani told Allawi in a phone call that he must consult with the Kurdish leaders before selecting ministers who would represent the Kurdish community in his future cabinet. According to Karam, Barzani argued that Allawi must use a political approach in dealing with Kurdish representation on the cabinet instead of his “technical” approach, which Barzani said would be unsuccessful. Karam went on to question “why do Shia blocs feel they had the right to select the prime minister, but forbid the Kurds and Sunnis from selecting ministers?” The party official threatened that the KDP would not support Allawi’s government if the latter continued to refuse to consult with the party on cabinet appointments. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) appears to have adopted a similar position. PUK member Rezan Dler said the party would not approve of any Kurdish ministers if they were to be selected from outside the PUK. Dler justified the PUK position by arguing that the Shia blocs used the traditional quota rules in selecting Allawi for the premiership and were not willing to forgo their share of the government.
On February 17, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the continuing violence and use of excessive force against protesters. Hennis-Plasschaert pointed that at least 200 protesters were injured by pellet guns and birdshot fired by government forces in Baghdad and Karbala, including 59 in Baghdad during the previous three days alone. The following day, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker visited Baghdad and raised the issue during his meetings with President Salih, outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, and Speaker Halbousi. Schenker urged the Iraqi government to put an end to such “criminal” practices against protesters and hold the perpetrators accountable. Protesters continued to face other forms of violence throughout the week. On February 14, al-Sumaria reported that unknown assailants stabbed three protesters, while 23 others suffered injuries due to the heavy use of tear gas by government forces at Khilani Square as part of an ongoing campaign to restrict protesters in Baghdad to Tahrir Square. On February 18, Baghdad Operations claimed that hunting rifles have injured dozens of security officers. On February 20, renewed clashes with security forces wounded ten protesters in central Baghdad, including three cases of suffocation from the inhalation of tear gas. Throughout the week, protesters continued to express their rejection for Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi and call for the government to address corruption and unemployment with a series of student and women’s marches and road closures in Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, Maysan, Basra, Najaf, and Babylon. Earlier in the week, protesters endorsed prominent activist Dr. Alaa al-Rikabi as an alternative candidate for the premiership.
On February 17, Trine Bramsen, Denmark’s Minister of Defense, said that 130 members of his country’s security assistance mission to Iraq, will return to Ain al-Assad air base on March 1. The Danish personnel, part of the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, were evacuated to Kuwait over rising security fears following the January 7 Iranian ballistic missile strike on the base. On the same day, Iraq’sMinister of Foreign Affairs met with his Danish and Austrian counterparts and invited both nations to reopen their embassies in Baghdad.
On February 18, the PUK elected Lahur Sheikh Jenki and Bafel Talabani as co-presidents of the party in a near-unanimous vote. Jenki is a nephew of late PUK leader and former president of Iraq Jalal Talabani. He also served as head of the PUK’s intelligence service (Zanyari) and commander of the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s Counter-Terror Group. Bafel Talabani is the son of Jalal Talabani.
On February 19, Prime Minister-designate Mohammad Allawi delivered a public speech in which he called on Parliament to hold an extraordinary session on February 24 to confirm his new “independent” government. Allawi urged members of Parliament to consider what’s in the national interest and not to let “private interests prevent them from making the right decision.” Allawi asserted that the “precious blood [of protesters] will not go in vain” and that the protesters have changed the rules of the game in Iraq, warning that even if their momentum declined, the protests “will come back stronger”. Political sources, including former Speaker of the House Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, claim that Allawi has prepared 80 names from which he will present 22 to Parliament to fill an equal number of ministerial positions, with the other 58 as alternatives that he can resort to should the initial batch face rejection. Parliamentary sources said that Allawi will send the names and resumes of his nominees to Parliament on Saturday. Sunni and Kurdish blocs have threatened to block a vote of confidence, arguing that Allawi has not consulted them on the names to be presented (details above). Shia blocs threatened to confirm Allawi’s government through a majority vote in Parliament, regardless of consensus, if Sunni and Kurdish blocs refused to acquiesce. On February 19, care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi urged Parliament to “move forward in facilitating the mission of… Allawi to form his government and overcome serious and artificial obstacles in front of him.” Abdul-Mahdi warned that continued stalemate would “expose the country to a more serious crisis”, and that after March 2 his care-taker role would end, leaving a power vacuum.
On February 20, Fatah coalition member Faleh- al-Khazali said that support for Allawi’s anticipated government was conditional on implementing Parliament’s January 5 resolution the demanded the expulsion of the foreign forces in Iraq, particularly U.S.forces. Khazali also warned that his bloc would oppose any nominated ministers that sympathized with American interests. Al-Khazali’s statement reaffirms the strong conflict between the position of the Fatah coalition and that of Kurdish leaders and Speaker Halbousi, whose six-point joint statement made support for the next government contingent on its support for the continued presence of the U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq (see above).
On February 20, Iraqi authorities closed border crossings with Iran in Maysan, Basra, and Wasit provinces. Public pressure demanding restrictions on movement between Iraq and Iran increased following reports of two coronavirus-caused deaths and 25 cases of infection in the Iranian city of Qom. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior also stopped issuing new tourist visas for Iranians.
On February 13, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near a military vehicle in the Abu Ghraib district, west of Baghdad. The explosion wounded three soldiers.
On February 13, one katyusha rocket struck the K-1 Iraqi military base, which also hosts U.S. military personnel in Kirkuk province. The attack caused material damage to the base but did not result in any casualties. After the attack, Iraqi security forces (ISF) located a launch pad in the area, where 11 unfired rockets remained. K-1 is the same base where a December 27 rocket attack killed a U.S. citizen, sparking a violent escalation between the U.S. and Iraqi militias close to Iran.
On February 13, the Security Media Cell announced the conclusion of the first phase of “Iraq’s Heroes”, a large-scale security operation launched on February 12 in Iraq’s western desert. The operation involved units from the Border Guard, Anbar Operations Command, al-Jazeera Operations Command, the Central Euphrates Operation Command and the Baghdad Operations Command, with support from the Iraqi air force, air defense, and army aviation. During the operation, the ISF discovered five tunnels and captured various weapons, including 25 IEDs, nine anti-tank missiles, three mortar tubes, and dozens of mortar shells and other munitions. The ISF arrested two suspected militants but did not report killing any militants during the operation that covered more than 26,200 square kilometers.
On February 14, unidentified gunmen riding in a vehicle opened fire in the Yarmouk area of central Baghdad, killing one civilian. The following day, unidentified gunmen armed with silenced weapons killed one civilian in the al-Taji district. On February 17, unidentified gunmen opened fire in the Hay Al-Ri’asah neighborhood, killing another civilian.
On February 15, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) conducted an air assualt operation to target a meeting of ISIS operatives in the Himrin Mountains. The CTS force killed ten ISIS fighters, destroyed a weapons depot, and captured three explosive belts.
On February 16, three katyusha rockets landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The attack did not result in any casualties and caused minimal material damage. A fourth rocket struck a logistics base used by the popular mobilization forces (PMF), resulting in material damage.
On February 15, an IED exploded near a house in Dhi-Qar province, causing material damage. On February 16, another IED exploded near al-Haboubi square in Nasiriyah, Dhi-Qar’s capital city, resulting in material damage. Another IED targeted the house of Representative Ola Al-Nashi in Soq al-Shoyokh district, southwest of Nasiriyah. The explosion did not cause any losses. The limited damage reported in these incidents suggests the devices in questions were either stun grenades or included very small amounts of explosives.
On February 16, an attack by unidentified gunmen at the Halfaya oil field in Maysan province wounded two Chinese oil workers. The Maysan Oil Company, which oversees Halfaya, ordered all staff to cease moving between different locations on the field and called for an investigation into the incident.
On February 16, ISIS militants attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in the town of Jalawla in Diyala province. The attack killed one ISF soldier and wounded four more.
On February 17, an IED targeted the house of a local business owner in the central demonstration square in Maysan province. The explosion caused material damage but no casualties.
On February 18, suspected ISIS militants attacked a gathering of youths with small arms fire in the village of Chakhmakha northwest of Kirkuk. The attack killed four civilians and injured two more.
On February 20, ISIS militants attacked the home of a village Mukhtar in the Shoura subdistrict south of Mosul in Ninewa province. The militants later detonated an IED against an ISF patrol that responded to the earlier attack, wounding three soldiers.
On February 15, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Migration and the Displaced provided an update on Iraqi authorities’ plan to resettle Iraqi refugees from the Syrian camp of al-Hol to Iraq. The spokesperson said that 31,500 Iraqis at al-Hol camp, approximately 4,000 wish to relocate to Iraq, adding that Iraq’s national security service was coordinating with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to conduct security vetting of those refugees. Another ministry official said that construction of al-Ammla, a new camp to host resettled refugees was half-way complete, adding that relocation to al-Ammla, located near Iraq’s border with Syria, could begin by the end of February. The plan to resettle thousands of Iraqi refugees, mostly women and children, has been met with push-back from local officials and Ninewa residents who fear that many of these refugees have alleged ties to ISIS fighters.
On February 16, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Migration and the Displaced, stated that the number of camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) decreased from 184 to 86 camps, concentrated mostly in Ninewa, Anbar and the provinces of the KRI. According to the spokesperson, there are now six camps in southern Mosul, 17 in Dohuk province, six in Erbil province, four in Sulaymaniyah province, two in Kirkuk province, three in Diyala province, two in Baghdad, 27 in Anbar, and one each in the provinces Salah ad-Din and Karbala.
On February 17, the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered eight ambulances to the KRG Ministry of Health to improve medical services available to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the KRI and the local population. Iraq, including the KRI, had lost many ambulances during years of war with ISIS, which led to a serious disruption to medical services. These eight ambulances, acquired using funds provided by from the U.S. Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance, are the second batch a larger donation of 20 ambulances. In June, the WHO delivered the first ten ambulances to the provinces of Salah ad-Din, Erbil, Ninewa and Duhok.
On February 17, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented a report describing the lasting impact of the ISIS conflict on access to education for children displaced from their home districts. According to the report, there are 658,000 displaced children in Iraq, of whom about a half, 355,000 children, do not attend school. The report found that children who previously lived in areas controlled by ISIS have “a substantial gap in their academic knowledge due to years of missed education.” Presently, many of these children cannot attend school because they lack appropriate civil documentation proving their identity, are restricted from moving freely in and out of the camps, or are now too old to return to school. UNAMI and OHCHR proposed a series of recommendations for the Iraqi government, including easing enrollment restrictions due to missing documentation and ensuring accessible primary and secondary education for IDPs, including those who have gaps in their academic knowledge.
On February 15, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad al-Hakim, asked his German counterpart to support the lifting of the European ban on Iraqi Airways flights to Europe. European authorities imposed the ban in 2015 because the Iraqi national carrier failed to meet European flight safety standards. Hakim also asked Germany to help Iraq with training and capacity building for its civil aviation sector.
On February 15, the Iraqi Minister of Transportation, Abdullah Luaibi, said that Iraq’s Railway Company has completed the construction of rail connections to all docs at the Umm Qasr port in Basra. Luaibi said the company also completed repair works on a railway connecting the Qayyarah refinery in Ninewa to the Baiji refineries in Salah ad-Din province. The repaired connections will link Qayyarah refinery to the larger oil transportation network for the first time in 16 years. On February 17, a statement by the Ministry of Transportation said that passenger trains had resumed daily operations between Baghdad and Basra, including stops in Hilla, Diwaniyah, Samawa and Nasiriyah. The railways suspended operations in October in response to the outbreak of the mass protests through central and southern Iraq.
On February 15, the director of Ibn Majid General Company, a Iraqi state-owned engineering firm said that Iraq was adding eight new oil storage tanks at the Faw oil depot in Basra. The director, Hayder Jasim, said that his company completed the construction of six of the tanks and associated infrastructure, and laid the foundations for the remaining two. Each of the eight tanks is designed to hold up to 58,000 cubic meters of crude oil, for a total storage capacity of 464,000 cubic meters. Faw is a strategic onshore oil storage and pumping facility that handles all crude oil exports destined for Iraq’s offshore oil export terminals, which currently average 3.26 million barrels per day.
On February 16, the Ministry of Planning released new figures about poverty in Iraq that showed a slight decline over a five-year period, from 22.5% in 2014 to 20% at the end of 2018. The statistics showed a wide range of poverty levels across the country. The three provinces of the KRI and Kirkuk had the lowest poverty levels, with Sulaymaniyah having the lowest rate at 4.5%. Some southern provinces were the poorest in the country, including al-Muthanna (52%), Diwaniyah (48%), and Dhi-Qar and Maysan (44% and 45%, respectively). In Baghdad, where about a quarter of all Iraqis live, 10% are believed to be below the poverty line. Provinces in the north-central and west of the country, which bore the brunt of violence during the war with ISIS displayed high poverty levels too, especially in Ninewa (37.7%) and Diyala (22.5%). In 2018, Iraq launched the National Poverty Reduction Strategy for 2018-2022, with a target poverty rate of 16%. According to a ministry spokesman, a similar program that existed from 2010 to 2013 reduced the poverty rate from 23% to 15% before the dual economic-security crisis of 2014 sent poverty rates back to 2010 levels. The World Bank has warned the government that despite indications of economic growth since the end of the war with ISIS, Iraq’s economy remains fragile because of its dependence on oil revenue and the absence of serious economic reforms.
On February 17, the financial affairs advisor to the Iraqi prime minister said that public sector payroll will increase by ID10-11 trillion (~ $8.5 billion) in 2020. The adviser, Mudhir Mohammed Salih, said the additional funds will pay the wages and salaries for over 500,000 civil servants, mostly re-hired employees and contractors converted to permanent positions under government economic initiatives announced in late 2019 in response to mass protests over unemployment and poor services. Salih stressed that addressing tax and other fee evasions is a critical part of reducing the budget deficit, and that collection management must be strengthened to increase revenue before Iraq resorts to additional borrowing. Iraq spends much of its annual budget to sustain a bloated public sector. In 2019, public sector wages consumed $52 billion, almost half of last year’s budget.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from February 13 - February 20, 2020The 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.
|02/13/20||Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad||0||3|
|02/16/20||Soq al-Shoyokh, southwest of Nasiriyah||0||0|
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.