- Militia Threatens Security Forces, Politicians; Allawi Ends Bid To Form New Government; President Salih Seeks New Candidates; Abdul-Mahdi Delegates Authority to Deputies; More Than 200 Protester Injured By Government Forces – On February 29, a Twitter account believed to belong to Kata’ib Hezbollah threatened Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, politicians, and Iraqi companies with unspecified consequences if they did not sever relations with the U.S. by March 15. On March 1, Mohammed Allawi withdrew from his role as Prime Minister-designate. Allawi failed to garner support from various political parties for his attempt to form a government and Parliament failed to reach the needed quorum to hold a meeting to vote on Allawi’s cabinet. On March 2, President Barham Salih held separate meetings with the leaders of the Fatah, Nasr, State of Law and Hikma blocs to choose a new candidate for the PM position. On March 2, care-taker PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced that he was stepping down from most of his government responsibilities, except those related to his role as commander in chief. On March 3, the head of UNAMI warned that continued political deadlock would “push Iraq into the unknown.” On March 4, Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights reported that at least 160 protesters were injured during clashes between protesters and government forces in Baghdad. On March 1, clashes between security forces and demonstrators injured at least another 83 protesters in Baghdad. more…
- Assassinations, Kidnappings Target Activists; New Rocket Attack Strikes Green Zone; Defense, Peshmerga Ministries Fail To Agree On Joint Operations In Disputed Territories – On February 28, two attacks by ISIS militants in Kirkuk killed two members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) and injured another. On February 28, unknown assailants killed activist Abdel Azim al-Rubaie in Diwaniya. On March 2, unidentified gunmen assassinated activist Ali al-Halfi in Basra, and in Najaf, unknown assailants kidnapped activist Rana Abdel Halim. On February 29, an IED injured two civilians south of Mosul. On March 1, two rockets struck in the Green Zone in Baghdad without causing casualties. On March 3, the Ministry of Peshmerga claimed that the federal Ministry of Defense was “still not ready to work together” with the Peshmerga on joint anti-terrorism operations, indicating that a February 24 meeting on the issue failed to achieve progress. On March 3, an IED killed a farmer in in Diyala. On March 3, an IED wounded two civilians north of Mosul. On March 3, ISIS militants killed two civilians and wounded a third southeast of Mosul and an IED wounded four Iraqi soldiers nearby. On March 3, unidentified assailants killed two civilians in Diyala. On March 4, ISIS militants killed two members of the PMF and wounded two others in Diyala. On March 4, Turkey said that military operations supported by airstrikes targeting the PKK in northern Iraq killed nine PKK members. more…
- Three Coronavirus Fatalities Confirmed In Iraq Amid Fears Of Health Sector’s Ability To Cope With Breakout – On March 4, two people died from the coronavirus in Baghdad and authorities reported that another man infected with coronavirus had died in Sulaymaniyah, raising total fatalities to three. The virus has spread throughout Iraq, including the KRI, and as of writing, there were 35 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Fourteen of the cases were reported in Baghdad, six in Sulaymaniyah, five in Kirkuk, as well as smaller numbers in Babylon, Karbala, Maysan, Najaf, Diyala, and Wasit. The spread of the virus reignited demonstrators’ criticisms of the government’s failure to provide adequate public services, while a Reuters report on the state of the healthcare system in Iraq highlighted a dismal reality marked by severe shortages in doctors, hospital beds, equipment and medicine. more…
- Oil Exports Recovered In February; Rosneft Paid $250 Million To “Consultants” For KRG Deal; Iraq Suspends Commercial Traffic With Kuwait, Iran – On March 1, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that February crude oil exports reached an average of 3.415 million bpd, approximately 3.3% higher than January’s levels, which in turn were 3.5% below December exports. On March 2, Bloomberg reported that Russian oil company, Rosneft, has paid as much as $250 million to an “external consultant” as compensation during 2017 and 2018 for facilitating more than $3 billion in energy deals with the KRG. On March 4, Iraq’s border authorities announced the suspension of commercial traffic with Iran and Kuwait until March 15 as more cases of the coronavirus were reported in these neighboring countries. 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.
Militia Threatens Security Forces, Politicians; Allawi Ends Bid To Form New Government; President Salih Seeks New Candidates; Abdul-Mahdi Delegates Authority to Deputies; More Than 200 Protester Injured By Government Forces
On February 29, a Twitter account believed to belong to Kata’ib Hezbollah’s leadership (KH), issued a “final and irreversible warning” to the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service, politicians, and Iraqi companies who have contracts with U.S. forces to sever relations with the U.S. by March 15 or face unspecified consequences. The U.S. accuses KH of many attacks against U.S. personnel, and on February 26, labeled the new KH leader and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) chief of staff a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” On March 2, the same Twitter account also accused Mustafa al-Kadhemi, the leader of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) and potential candidate for the premiership, of helping the U.S. assassinate former PMF chief of staff Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian general Qassim Soleimani on January 3. The account called al-Kadhemi’s potential candidacy for the prime minister position a “declaration of war” that would “burn what’s left of Iraq.” INIS responded to the threat, stating that their mission “serves the country and is not subject to political whims” and stressed “its right to prosecute all who use freedom of opinion to promote false accusations.” On March 3, the PMF stated that the organization has no connection with the Twitter account and its threats. KH has yet to comment and Twitter has suspended the account that posted the messages.
On March 1, Mohammed Allawi withdrew from his role as Prime Minister-designate. After a month of negotiations, Allawi failed to garner support from various political parties for his attempt to form a government that would replace the care-taker administration of resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Earlier in the day, Parliament fell short of achieving the needed quorum to hold a meeting to vote on granting Allawi’s cabinet confidence. No Kurdish members of Parliament were in attendance. The Arab Project, a Sunni faction led by Khamis al-Khanjar, confirmed their decision to boycott the meeting, leaving only ten Sunni representatives in attendance. Raad al-Dahlaki, a senior member of the Iraqi Forces Alliance, said the group would also boycott the meeting, affirming the group’s objection to Allawi’s choice of ministers and government program. The Hikma movement, led by Ammar al-Hakim said it wouldn’t vote for Allawi because it objected to his government program rather than his proposed ministers.The State of Law coalition leader, Nouri al-Maliki, claimed his bloc opposed Allawi because he “did not meet his obligations” before the people. The Nasr coalition of former Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi was one of few groups in favor of the meeting. Abadi said many of the candidates were independent, arguing that going to the session was a “constitutional duty” to give Allawi a chance. The vote was originally planned for February 27, but political parties across the spectrum, including the Kurdish parties, several Sunni groups and Shia parties like State of Law and Ataa boycotted the meeting, citing Allawi’s failure to consult with them when selecting his ministers. The vote was postponed twice, first to February 29, and later to March 1.
On March 2, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani thanked the Kurdish political parties who boycotted Parliament’s meetings to vote on Prime Minister-designate Allawi’s cabinet and called Allawi’s failure a “historic gain for the people of Kurdistan.” Kurdish blocs opposed Allawi’s method of choosing cabinet ministers, stating that the “official institutions’” of the Kurdistan region were the only parties who could decide who represents the region in the federal government, and that the new proposed government did not address the rights and entitlements of the various Iraqi factions. Ahmed Rashid, a member of Parliament from the Kurdistan Islamic Group said Shia blocs were mostly to blame for Allawi’s inability to form a government, arguing that if not for their divisions, they could have approved the government using their numbers in Parliament despite a Sunni and Kurdish boycott.
On March 2, Iraqi President Barham Salih held separate meetings with the leaders of the Fatah, Nasr, State of Law and Hikma blocs to choose a new candidate for the prime minister position after Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi failed to form a government. In a statement, President Salih called on political parties to work together and reach an agreement on a new candidate, who is also accepted by the people, within 15 days. According to former deputy Prime Minister Baha Araji, President Salih asked each of the four Shia blocs to choose two candidates. The blocs would then deliberate and agree on one candidate from that pool before presenting the name to Sunni and Kurdish parties to build consensus. Moqtada al-Sadr and his Saeroun bloc were notably absent from the discussions. Sadr reportedly refused to participate in the meetings and believes that “the names being discussed will not be selected to form a government.” President Salih had on February 1 tasked Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi with forming the country’s next government following outgoing Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation on November 30.
On March 2, care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced that he was stepping down from most of his government responsibilities, except those related to his role as commander in chief. He presented the president and Parliament with a six-point plan that he said his cabinet would undertake immediately. First, he asked Parliament to hold a session to finalize the election law annexes governing electoral districts and agree on the future electoral commission. Abdul-Mahdi proposed December 4, 2020 as the date to hold early elections and suggested thatParliament shall dissolve itself at least 60 days ahead. Abdul-Mahdi also tasked his two deputies, Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban and Finance Minister Fouad Hussein, with presiding over cabinet meetings. The care-taker prime minister said that a member from the Ministerial Council for National Security should be charged with facilitating national security meetings, without the right to exercise powers reserved for the commander in chief. Although he would cease to attend regular meetings and address day to day affairs at home and abroad, Abdul-Mahdi would continue to tackle matters of national security meant for the commander in chief. All other functions would be dealt with by the appropriate institutions and spokespersons, according to the statement. Abdul-Mahdi concluded with call for forming a new government “as soon as possible” to replace the care-taker government.
On March 3, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) delivered her quarterly briefing to the UN Security Council on the current situation in Iraq. In her rather pessimistic remarks, Hennis-Plasschaert highlighted the problem of the continuing violence and “abhorrent human rights violations” against the Iraqi protesters who have been demanding political and economic reform for more than five months. Hennis-Plassscaert called on the Iraqi government to hold the perpetrators accountable and demanded justice and lamented Baghdad’s inability to respond to the protesters demands. The UNAMI chief urged the political class to “act fast, placing the country’s interest above all else,” warning the politicians that the protesters “will not budge.” The envoy paid tribute to the distinguished role that Iraqi women are playing within the protest movement in Iraq, which she said “marks a new page in the history of women’s grassroots mobilization in Iraq” and that “political leaders should heed this call.” The UN official blamed much of the violence and lack of accountability on the unchecked proliferation of armed groups operating outside state control, which she said she requires serious political and government action to “dismantle or formally integrate these armed entities under full state control.” Addressing Parliament’s failure to approve a new government, Hennis-Plasschaert said the reason was distrust among political factions, warning that building consensus on a new candidate would take time, and the continued deadlock would further undermine public confidence in the political process and “push Iraq into the unknown.”
On March 4, Iraq’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (IHCHR) reported that at least 160 protesters were injured during clashes the previous day between protesters and government forces in Baghdad. Security forces utilized hunting rifles, stun grenades and tear gas to try to disperse the protesters, according to the IHCHR. In addition to the crackdown by security forces, protesters faced attacks and acts of intimidation by groups believed to be affiliated with Moqtada al-Sadr. A group of Sadr’s followers reportedly stabbed activist Hussein Rahm, who has previously criticized Moqtada al-Sadr, and wounded three others in Baghdad. Separately in Basra, unidentified gunmen killed prominent activist Ali Al-Halfi. On March 1, protesters turned out across Diwaniya and Baghdad to protest ahead of Parliament’s canceled meeting to vote on the government that was to be formed by Mohammed Allawi. Ensuing clashes between security forces and demonstrators injured at least 83 protesters in Baghdad. On February 28 and 29, during protests in Baghdad rejecting Allawi’s nomination and the scheduled voting sessions, security forces used live bullets to disperse protesters, killing one and injuring 14. In Najaf, unidentified assailants kidnapped activist Rana Abdel Halim, a media worker known for criticizing Moqtada al-Sadr.
On March 4, former Prime Minister and leader of the Nasr Coalition, Haider al-Abadi presented a six-point initiative for dealing with Iraq’s political stalemate after Mohammed Allawi failed to form a government (details above). Abadi urged President Salih to nominate “an independent, capable and strong” person within 15 days to form an interim government with reduced ministries to govern for one year. According to Abadi, that government would prioritize holding early elections, restoring order, establishing state monopoly over force, prosecute the perpetrators of violence against protesters and security forces, and reaffirming Iraq’s independence. Abadi said the cabinet must represent Iraq’s diversity without falling back to the system of ethnic or sectarian quotas. Finally, Abadi proposed trilateral committees involving the government, UNAMI, and protesters to oversee the implementations of these tasks.
On February 28, two attacks by ISIS militants in Kirkuk province killed two members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) and injured another. The first attack targeted an army checkpoint in the village of Mutaiq, in the Daquq district, killing one soldier and injuring another. The second attack targeted a unit of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also in Daquq, killing one PMF fighter.
On February 28, unknown assailants stabbed and killed educator-activist Abdel Azim al-Rubaie outside his home in Ghamas neighborhood, west of Diwaniya. A police statement claimed that the killing was over a personal dispute, and was not politically motivated. On March 2, unidentified gunmen assassinated another activist, Ali al-Halfi, in al-Hartha district north of Basra. Activists also reported that unknown assailants kidnapped Rana Abdel Halim, a media worker known for criticizing Moqtada al-Sadr, in Najaf.
On February 29, Iraqi army units killed five ISIS militants who were part of a group that attacked a PMF position in the town of Karmah, in eastern Anbar province. The clashes also killed one PMF fighter.
On February 29, ISIS militants killed three tribal PMF fighters in an attack in Hor al-Basha region, north of Baghdad.
On February 29, an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion injured two civilians in al-Shoura subdistrict, south of Mosul.
On February 29, six mortar shells struck the Abu Saida subdistrict northeast of Baquba in central Diyala province. There were no human casualties.
On March 1, two Katyusha rockets targeted the Green Zone in Baghdad but did not cause casualties. The following day, security forces found the launcher used in the strike in the Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad, approximately five kilometers east of the Green Zone. Stephen Hickey, the British ambassador to Iraq, condemned the rocket attack, saying that these continued attacks undermine Iraqi sovereignty, as well as “terrorize Iraqi citizens and adversely affect the Iraqi economy.”
On March 1, an IED targeted the home of the president of the Nasr coalition of parliament, Adnan Zarfi, in the city of Kufa in Najaf. The attack did not cause any casualties.
On March 1, unidentified gunmen killed a colonel affiliated with the Ministry of Interior in the Muqdadiyah subdistrict in northeast Diyala province.
On March 1, unidentified gunmen armed with silenced weapons killed a civilian in the Husseiniya district north of Baghdad.
On March 2, two Katyusha rockets struck the outskirts of the city of Haditha in Anbar province, but did not cause any damages.
On March 2, unidentified gunmen killed a civilian in Tal Afar district west of Mosul in Ninewa province.
On March 3, Jabbar Yawar, the Ministry of the Peshmerga’s Secretary General claimed that the federal Ministry of Defense in Baghdad was “still not ready to work together” with the Peshmerga on joint anti-terrorism operations. Yawar’s statement indicates that a February 24 meeting in Baghdad between the federal and regional ministries that sought to coordinate lines of control and fill security gaps in disputed territories between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) has failed to achieve progress on these issues. Yawar did not point to specific failures, but accused the Ministry of Defense of “wasting time and avoiding joint action.”
On March 3, an IED explosion killed a farmer in the Abbara subdistrict, northeast of Baquba in Diyala province.
On March 3, an IED explosion wounded two civilians in the Tel Kaif district north of Mosul, Ninewa province.
On March 3, an attack by ISIS militants killed two civilians and wounded a third in al-Khadra village in the Makhmour district southeast of Mosul. The following day, an IED explosion wounded four Iraqi army soldiers in the nearby village of al-Haditha.
On March 3, unidentified assailants killed two civilians in Jalawla subdistrict, northeast of Baquba in Diyala province. The following day, ISIS militants killed an Iraqi soldier at a security checkpoint in Islah village in Jalawla subdistrict.
On March 4, an attack by ISIS militants killed two members of the PMF and wounded two others in the Muqdadiyah subdistrict, in northeast Diyala province. Other sources put the casualties at one killed and four injured.
On March 4, unidentified gunmen armed with silenced weapons killed a civilian and injured his wife and son in the al-Faw district south of Basra.
On March 4, the Turkish National Defense Ministry said that military operations supported by airstrikes targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq killed nine PKK members. Five of the PKK members died in operations in the Hakurk region, and the other four died in the Avasin area in the Kurdistan region close to the Turkish border.
On March 4, two people died from the coronavirus in Baghdad and authorities reported that another man infected with coronavirus had died in Sulaymaniyah, raising the total fatalities to three. The virus has spread throughout Iraq, including the KRI, and as of writing, there were 35 confirmed cases of coronavirus, all of whom individuals who had recently returned from Iran. Fourteen of the cases were reported in Baghdad, six in Sulaymaniyah, five in Kirkuk, as well as smaller numbers in Babylon, Karbala, Maysan, Najaf, Diyala, and Wasit. The spread of the virus reignited demonstrators’ criticisms of the government’s failure to provide adequate public services. In an interview with Rudaw, one protester claimed “the real virus is Iraqi politicians,” while another said political corruption was “an epidemic that is much more dangerous than the coronavirus.” A Reuters report on the healthcare system in Iraq reveals a dismal reality. In 2019, the government allocated a mere 2.5% of the budget to healthcare, or $161 per citizen, leaving the sector dangerously underfunded. This is significantly smaller than what poorer governments in neighboring countries spend on health, such as Jordan ($304) and Lebanon ($649). The scarcity of hospital beds and doctors is especially alarming. There are 0.8 doctors for each 1,000 people in Iraq compared with 2.3 doctors per 1,000 people in Jordan and 2.6 per 1,000 in the United States. There are 1.2 hospital beds available to every 1,000 people in Iraq compared with 1.4 hospital beds per 1,000 people in Jordan and 2.9 per 1,000 in the United States. Drug shortages exacerbate the situation. In 2018, 85% of essential drugs were on short supply or unavailable. Iraq, once a healthcare pioneer among its neighbors, has lost approximately one third of its healthcare practitioners since the 1990s due to poor pay under Saddam Hussein, murders and kidnappings due to sectarian and extremist violence, and tribal retaliations against doctors held liable for deaths or medical accidents. The healthcare situation in Iraq has driven many Iraqis to seek treatment in neighboring countries, however this option is not available in the case of the highly contagious coronavirus. Iraq is attempting to contain the spread of the virus by appealing to the public to avoid public gatherings, reducing office hours (including for the Ministry of Health), suspending schools, and canceling Friday prayers in some cities. The central government also halted all commercial exchange by land with Iran and Kuwait. The Iraqi Red Crescent reported that the Chinese Red Cross will be sending resources, including respirators and laboratory equipment, to help Iraq deal with the outbreak. Iraq is among a group of 26 countries on track to receive an initial $37 million in funding from USAID to address coronavirus.
On March 1, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced that crude oil exports during February reached more than 98.347 million barrels (an average of 3.415 million bpd), approximately 3.3% higher than January’s 3.305 million bpd. These exports generated over $5.5 billion in revenue, $700 million below January’s figures. Exports from the southern ports in Basra exceeded 3.30 million bpd, while northern fields in Kirkuk rose to 61,000 bpd exported through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, compared with January’s 36,700 bpd. Trucks delivering oil to Jordan exported approximately 10,000 bpd and exports from the Qayyarah field in Ninewa (trucked to the Basra ports) reached 17,000 bpd. Qayyara’s exports, typically 30,000 bpd trucked to southern ports, have suffered in recent months due to road blocks by protesters near the ports, and were absent from export figures in December and January. The ministry added that Iraq sold its oil at an average price of $51.37, a significant decline from January’s $60.45.
On March 2, Bloomberg reported that Russian oil company, Rosneft, has paid as much as $250 million to an “external consultant” as compensation during 2017 and 2018 for facilitating more than $3 billion in energy deals with the KRG. The report points out that the $250 million fee appears exorbitant by the standards of the sector, adding that the largest 12 international investment institutions combined paid $400 million in consulting fees connected with their merger and acquisition transactions in the Middle East and North Africa last year. Rosneft deals with the KRG, which the Baghdad government opposed, included spending $1.8 billion for a 60% stake in the KRG oil export pipeline which allows the region to export more than 400,000 bpd of its oil via Turkey–an investment expected to generate 20% returns for the Russian company. Rosneft also paid the KRG $400 million to acquire interest in five oil and gas blocks and another $1.2 billion in loans against future KRG oil supplies. Cut off from the federal budget in 2014, the KRG was desperate for cash to meet its financial obligations.
On March 4, Iraq’s border authorities announced the suspension of commercial traffic with Iran and Kuwait until March 15 following outbreaks of coronavirus in these neighboring countries. Iraq imports approximately $461 million worth of goods per year from Kuwait and substantially larger volume of goods from Iran, usually around $750 million worth per month. Imports from Iran have recently decreased to $540 million per month due to rising anti-Iranian sentiment among many Iraqis. The border authorities noted that despite the disruption of trade, Iraqis will be allowed to enter the country from Iran through March 15. On March 3, the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce announced that all of Iraq’s border crossings with Iran had reopened, with no restrictions for cargo trucks carrying export shipments, following their previous closure on February 24.
IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties
Casualties Due To IEDs from February 27 - March 5, 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.
|02/29/20||al-Shoura, south of Mosul||0||2|
|03/03/20||Tel Kaif, Ninewa||0||2|
|03/04/20||al-Haditha, south of Mosul||0||4|
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.