ENHANCE UNDERSTANDING

ISHM: MARCH 5 – MARCH 12, 2020

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Key Takeaways:

  • Iran’s Security Chief Lobbies To Keep Abdul-Mahdi In Office; Three Killed, Dozens Injured In New Violence Against Protesters; Iraq Braces For Financial Crisis As Oil Drops; Seven-Member Committee To Select New PM – On March 7, the head of Iran’s National Security Council arrived in Baghdad for meetings with Iraqi leaders, reportedly to convince them to let Adil Abdul-Mahdi stay in office until early elections. On March 8-9, there were new clashes between Iraqi protesters and government in central Baghdad, in which at least three protesters were killed and 58 were injured, including 11 members of the security forces. Renewed clashes near Khilani injured at least another seven protesters on March 10 and another ten on March 11. On March 8, a member of the parliamentary legal committee pointed to several obstacles that government needs to address before Iraq could hold early elections. These include the difficulty of agreeing on the borders of electoral district, among which are disputed territories, and the likelihood that political parties will “try to stall to keep the resigned government and exploit it…at any cost.” On March 8, a member of Parliament from Salah ad-Din province accused the Peace Brigades militia of Moqtada al-Sadr of bringing in Iranian pilgrims to religious shrines in the province despite a government ban on the entry of foreign visitors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On March 9, the financial adviser to the Iraqi prime minister called for adopting “an emergency budget” to deal with the possible impact of a prolonged decline in oil prices. The adviser warned that if oil prices were to stay below $30 per barrel then the initial $50 billion deficit in the 2020 budget, based on $56 per barrel, would nearly double. On March 10, political sources reported that the Shia political parties have set up a committee of seven members to select a new candidate to be the next prime minister after Mohammed Allawi withdrew his nomination on March 1. The seven members are drawn from the Saeroun, Fatah, Hikma, Nasr, State of Law, Ataa and Fadhila blocs. more…
  • Two U.S. Marines Killed During Iraqi Operation That Killed 25 ISIS Members; Gunmen Kill Two Activists, Abduct Journalist; Militia Rocket Attack On Iraqi Base Kills One British, Two American Coalition Members – On March 5, three rockets struck in different parts of Baghdad, including the Green Zone, without causing casualties. On March 7, an IED wounded three Iraqi oil workers near an oil field south of Mosul. On March 8, an IED wounded a civilian in western Anbar. On March 8, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service, aided by U.S. Marines, killed 25 ISIS militants in northern Iraq. Two U.S. Marines were also killed in the operation. On March 9, an under-vehicle IED wounded two civilians in Baghdad. On March 9, gunmen kidnapped journalist Tawfiq al-Tamimi while on his way to work at the state-owned al-Sabah newspaper. On March 10, gunmen killed activist Abdul-Qudous Qasim and lawyer Karrar Adel in Maysan province. On March 9, an IED struck the residence of a former governor of Basra, injuring two civilians. On March 10, the head of U.S. Central Command stated that the U.S. was sending “air defense systems and ballistic missile defense systems” into Iraq to protect U.S. personnel in the country “against another potential Iranian attack.” On March 11, a barrage of 15 rockets struck Camp Taji north of Baghdad. The attack killed one British and two U.S. servicemembers. The U.S. accused Iraqi militias supported by Iran of executing the attack. Shortly afterwards, airstrikes targeted a base used by Iran-backed factions within the PMF in the Albu Kamal area near the Iraq-Syria border, killing up to 25 PMF members. The Kataib Hezbollah militia issued a statement “blessing” the attack on Taji, adding that “now was the time to resume jihadi operations against the evildoers.” On March 12, two injured two civilians in eastern Baghdad. more…
  • Authorities Order Offices And Shops Shut, Restrict Travel As Coronavirus Cases Increase; Iraq’s Coronavirus Mortality Rate “Highest” In The World – On March 9, authorities in Basra suspended working hours in all local government offices, excluding the health and security departments, until March 22, after the province recorded its first fatality. Authorities in the nearby Maysan province took similar measures in the Salam subdistrict, where another fatality was reported on March 8. In Baghdad, security authorities ordered all coffee shops in the busy commercial district of Karrada to shut down. Meanwhile, Najaf banned the entry of visitors from countries with reported outbreaks. On March 6, the Iraqi government expanded the travel bans in place to include a total of 11 countries. On March 10, the Kurdistan region prohibited entry to travelers arriving from other areas of Iraq, except for those who have a valid six-month KRI residency permit, until further notice. In Sulaymaniyah, the city’s mayor asked residents to stay at home, while the governor of Duhok prohibited residents from traveling to other provinces. On March 10, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) mentioned that there were suspected infections among the residents of an IDP camp in Ninewa province. Authorities are concerned that coronavirus could spread rapidly in the overcrowded camps. On March 11, Iraq’s total fatalities from the coronavirus increased to eight after four five men died in Karbala, Maysan, Basra, and Babylon. There were 74 total reported cases in Iraq as of writing. Local officials said the mortality rate from coronavirus in Iraq stood at 10%, making it the “highest in the world.”
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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.


Iran’s Security Chief Lobbies To Keep Abdul-Mahdi In Office; Three Killed, Dozens Injured In New Violence Against Protesters; Iraq Braces For Financial Crisis As Oil Drops; Seven-Member Committee To Select New PM

On March 7, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, arrived in Baghdad for meetings with Iraqi leaders, including the president, care-taker prime minister and speaker of Parliament. The main purpose of Shamkhani’s visit was reportedly to convince Iraqi political parties to let Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the care-taker prime minister, stay in office until Iraqi can hold early elections. Political sources told al-Sumaria that President Barham Salih, and State of Law bloc leader, Nouri al-Maliki, were among several Iraqi leaders who rejected the proposal. A representative of al-Hikma bloc also expressed his party’s opposition to Abdul-Mahdi’s staying in office, citing objections by the protest movement, the Najaf clergy, “external powers,” and many of the political parties themselves. Extending Abdu-Mahdi’s time in office, however, appears to be the preferred course of action for the Sadiqoun bloc (part of Fatah), in case the political blocs failed to agree on a new candidate within two weeks. Shamkhani is also said to have met with Falih al-Fayadh, Iraq’s national security adviser and chairman of the popular mobilization committee, and Moustafa al-Kadhimi, the head of Iraq’s intelligence service and a potential candidate for replacing Abdul-Mahdi. 

On March 8, there were new clashes between Iraqi protesters and government forces for control of the Khilani Square and Sinak Bridge in central Baghdad. There were also clashes in Nasiriyah, where protesters demanded the sacking of the provincial police chief and the prosecution of those involved in killing protesters. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) said on March 10 that at least three protesters were killed during the previous two days and 58 were injured, including 11 members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF). IHCHR attributed the casualties to “mutual violence” between protesters and the ISF that included the use of hunting rifles, stones, Molotov cocktails and other projectiles, and urged both sides to abandon the use of force. Renewed clashes near Khilani injured at least another seven protesters on March 10 and another ten on March 11. In Amara, the capital of Maysan province, protesters took to the streets on March 11 to demand the removal of the police chief after two activists, Karrar Adil and Abdul-Qudous Sami were murdered the day before. 

On March 8, a member of the parliamentary legal committee pointed to a number of obstacles that government needs to address before the country could hold early elections. The first obstacle, according to representative Hussein al-Oqabi, is agreeing on the administrative borders of electoral districts and their share of representation, which is complicated by the fact that these include a number of disputed territories claimed by both the federal government and the Kurdistan regional government (KRG). Oqabi also noted that early elections require a vote by absolute majority to dissolve Parliament, which the political blocs will “try to stall to keep the resigned government and exploit it…at any cost.” The MP added that Parliament also couldn’t dissolve itself before finalizing the annexes of the election law (passed in December) and ratifying the federal budget.

On March 8, a member of Parliament from Salah ad-Din province accused the Peace Brigades militia of Moqtada al-Sadr of bringing in Iranian pilgrims to religious shrines in the province despite a government ban on the entry of foreign visitors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The MP, Muthanna al-Samarrai, claimed the militia threatened the security forces in the province who initially attempted to prevent the pilgrims from entering. 

On March 9, a member of the Hikma bloc said that a group of young members of Parliament from various Shia blocs were lobbying their leaders to reconsider the criteria for selecting the next prime minister. MP Hassan Fadam said these young representatives were organizing into a bloc and have told their leaders that the next prime minister must be young, living inside Iraq, not a dual citizen, must not have been nominated before, and must not be a “controversial” figure. 

On March 9, the financial adviser to the Iraqi prime minister called for adopting “an emergency budget” to deal with the possible impact of a prolonged decline in oil prices. The adviser, Mudhir Mohammed Salih, warned that if oil prices were to stay below $30 per barrel for a long time, Iraq’s budget “which is 92% dependent on oil revenue” would face a major shock. Salih pointed out that initial $50 billion deficit in the 2020 budget, based on $56 per barrel, would nearly double “should spending in the 2020 budget remain at preliminary estimates of ID164 trillion” (approximately $135 billion). This week, global oil prices dropped by more than 20% due to fears of economic slowdown worldwide as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and a “price war” between major suppliers Saudi Arabia and Russia. The International Energy Agency said on March 9 that global demand for oil decreased by 2.5% so far this year (compared to last year) as the coronavirus problem began to impact travel, industrial output and various economic activities. Reports of Saudi Arabia planning to hike output by more than 1 million barrel per day suggests that prices could remain low for some time. Fouad Hussein, Iraq’s Finance Minister, acknowledged on March 10 that lower oil prices would hurt Iraq’s economy, but said that such impact was “unlikely” to affect government’s ability to pay salaries. 

On March 10, political sources reported that the Shia political parties have set up a committee of seven members to select a new candidate to be the next prime minister after Mohammed Allawi withdrew his nomination on March 1. The seven members are drawn from the Saeroun, Fatah, Hikma, Nasr, State of Law Ataa and Fadhila blocs. On March 11, a member of the Sadiqoun bloc (part of Fatah) said meetings between the parties had not produced an agreement on a new candidate, but achieved consensus on certain principles for the next government. These principles, according to MP Naim al-Aboudi, include limiting the government’s term to one year, and requiring it to focus on setting up new elections and addressing the economic and health consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier, political sources said the negotiating parties have softened their positions regarding previous demands they now deem unattainable, such as requiring the next prime minister to expel U.S. forces and implement the oil for infrastructure agreement with China. According to these sources, the political blocs want the one-year government to focus on “lessening the street’s resentment” through policies more in line with the demands of the protest movement. Indeed, a March 6 statement by the Sadiqoun bloc listing its criteria for the next prime minister did not mention U.S. presence or the deal with China.

On March 10, al-Mada reported that the protest movement in Iraq was “facing its toughest moments” since it began in October of last year. The report, citing interviews with protest organizers, pointed to the coronavirus, government pressure to use that as a pretext to disperse protests, and the “political stagnation” following Mohammed Allawi’s aborted mission to form a government. Other activists said the numbers of protesters have declined because of government violence, needing to go to work, and exhaustion from months of relentless activity. According to a protest organizer interviewed by the paper, organizers were close a week ago to issuing a statement suspending protests “until further notice.” The proposal was scuttled out of concern that the government could exploit the suspension to prevent future protests altogether. Despite these obstacles, some activists predict an escalation in protests if political parties try to “repeat the scenario” of Allawi’s failed government formation attempt. 

On March 10, the KRG cabinet met to discuss economic conditions in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) and the impact of the coronavirus. A statement issued after the meeting said the KRG would seek stronger cooperation with Baghdad to deal with economic hardship, without mentioning specific measures. The KRG said it will also work to cut unessential expenses and diversify its sources of revenue to reduce the dependence of oil in light of the recent sharp decline in prices. The threat of a financial crisis is reviving criticism of the budget arrangements made between the KRG and the federal government under the 2019 budget deal. On March 9, a member of the parliamentary energy committee accused resigned Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi of “squandering the wealth of the central and southern provinces…by continuing to pay the region $425 million a month” while the KRG has not met its obligations to deliver 250,000 barrels per day of oil to the federal government.  

On March 10, care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi presided over a meeting of the government emergency cell tasked with containing the coronavirus outbreak. The committee is facing public criticism after a leaked video of conversations showed members mocking their duties as “hogwash.” The following day, Abdul-Mahdi also convened a meeting with the ministers of Planning, Finance, Oil and top financial advisers to discuss the decline in oil prices and economic impact of the coronavirus. Abdul-Mahdi had declared  last week that he was going on “voluntary leave” except for duties requiring the attendance of the commander in chief. 


Two U.S. Marines Killed During Iraqi Operation That Killed 25 ISIS Members; Gunmen Kill Two Activists, Abduct Journalist; Militia Rocket Attack On Iraqi Base Kills One British, Two American Coalition Members

On March 5, three katyusha rockets struck in different parts of Baghdad. One rocket landed near the Ministry of Trade in the Mansour district. Another rocket struck the Green Zone while the third landed near Turkey’s embassy in the Iraqi capital. None of the rockets resulted in any casualties.  

On March 6, an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near a civilian residence in al-Rifai, Dhi-Qar province. The explosion caused material damage to the building but no casualties. 

On March 7, unidentified gunmen using silenced weapons assassinated a tribal leader from the Tamimi tribe in the Abu Al-Khaseeb district in Basra province. 

On March 7, an IED exploded near an oil field in the village of Najma, in the Qayyarah district, south of Mosul. The explosion injured three Iraqi oil workers who were on their way to the field.

On March 7, unidentified gunmen killed a commercial truck driver on the road between Baladruz and Mendili, east of Baquba in Diyala province. 

On March 8, an IED exploded inside of a shop owned by a local mukhtar in the Rutba district in wetern Anbar province. The explosion wounded the shop owner. 

On March 8, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), aided by a U.S. Marine Special Operations Team, killed 25 ISIS militants and destroyed nine tunnels used by the militants in the Qara Chogh mountains between Ninewa and Erbil. During the raid, two members of the U.S. Marine Special Operations, identified later as Diego D. Pongo and Moises A. Navas, were killed and four other members were injured. A team of the U.S. Delta Force was sent later to recover Pongo and Navas’ bodies, and killed four additional ISIS militants during their mission, which took six hours. According to The New York Times, these developments have led American military commanders to begin reviewing how U.S. forces advise and accompany Iraqi troops. The CTS often conducts joint combat missions with U.S. Special Operations troops in Iraq. 

On March 9, the explosion of an under-vehicle IED attached to a car wounded two civilians in the north Baghdad neighborhood of al-Shaab. 

On March 9, unidentified gunmen kidnapped journalist Tawfiq al-Tamimi while on his way to work at the state-owned al-Sabah newspaper. The Iraqi Journalists Syndicate condemned the kidnapping and urged the ISF to take “serious and decisive” action to end the continued violence against activists and journalists in Iraq. On March 10, unidentified gunmen killed activist Abdul-Qudous Qasim and lawyer Karrar Adel in Amarah, the capital of Maysan province. Their deaths are the latest in a series of kidnappings and targeted attacks against journalists, activists, and media personnel in Iraq.  

On March 9, unidentified individuals targeted the residence of former governor of Basra, Muhammad Musbih Al-Waeli, in central Basra with an IED. Two of al-Waeli’s family members were reportedly injured in the attack, which was preceded by anonymous threats the previous night. 

On March 9, ISIS militants attacked a security checkpoint in Khanaqin, Diyala province, and wounded two members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Other sources put the casualties at two killed (including an Iraqi army officer) and two injured.

On March 10, an IED exploded near a liquor store in the Bab al-Muadham area of Baghdad, causing material damage to the building. 

On March 10, unidentified gunmen opened fire at a security checkpoint in the Mdeina district north of Basra. The attack injured one police officer.

On March 10, the Turkish military conducted an operation supported by airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Qandil and Avasin-Basyan regions of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI). The operation killed or captured three PKK members. 

On March 10, the head of U.S. Central Command stated that the U.S. was sending “air defence systems and ballistic missile defence systems” into Iraq to protect U.S. personnel in the country “against another potential Iranian attack.”  U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had said on January 30 that the U.S. was in the process of requesting permission from the Iraqi government to position Patriot missile defenses at Iraqi bases to protect American personnel based in the country. Washington’s interest in stationing these defense capabilities in Iraq increased after the January 7 Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Iraqi Ain al-Assad air base which resulted in over 100 cases of traumatic brain injury among U.S. personnel. 

On March 11, a barrage of 15 katyusha rockets struck Camp Taji, a major ISF base located north of Baghdad that also hosts international coalition forces. The attack killed two members of the U.S. Army and Air Force and one member of the British Royal Army Medical Corps. At least 12 additional members of coalition forces were injured in the attack. The ISF later found the launcher that was used in the strike, which was mounted on a truck with three remaining missiles, in the Rashidiya area north of Baghdad. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused Iraqi militias supported by Iran of executing the attack. Care-taker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi ordered an immediate investigation to expose those behind the attack, calling it a dangerous aggression. The U.K. Foreign Secretary joined in denouncing the attack, and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq highlighted the security threat that these continued attacks in Iraq pose to the country. Shortly after the rocket attack, there were reports of airstrikes, presumably by the U.S., targeting a base used by Iran-backed factions within the PMF in the Albu Kamal area, on the Syrian side of the Iraq-Syria border. The airstrikes reportedly killed 18 (or up to 25) PMF members. The following day, the Kataib Hezbollah militia issued a statement “blessing” the attack on Taji, adding that “now was the time to resume jihadi operations against the evildoers.” 

On March 12, ISIS militants attacked a military patrol in Umm al-Karambi, a village located on the border of Diyala and Salah ad-Din, wounding one Iraqi soldier. 

On March 12, two IEDs reportedly exploded in quick succession in eastern Baghdad. The first bomb was in Sadr city, and was followed soon with another explosion in the neighborhood of al-Obeidi. Each explosion injured one civilian. 


Authorities Order Offices And Shops Shut, Restrict Travel As Coronavirus Cases Increase; Iraq’s Coronavirus Mortality Rate “Highest” In The World

On March 8, Japan pledged $5 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help support internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, and IDPs who have returned to their home districts. These funds will support the provision of a range of services, including legal services for approximately 6,000 IDPs and 2,800 Syrian refugees, as well as “enhanced access to civil documentation, psychosocial counseling and strengthened prevention and response activities for sexual and gender-based violence.” The statement points out that there are more than six million people in Iraq who continue to require humanitarian assistance, including 4.6 million returnees, 1.4 million current IDPs, and more than 288,000 refugees. On March 11, Japan granted an additional $4.4 million to UNICEF. According to UNICEF, the money will help immunize over 1 million children under five who live in IDP camps and in the provinces of Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, Anbar and Ninewa against preventable diseases. UNICEF also said the Japanese contribution will also support nutrition programs serving other vulnerable groups, particularly refugees and women who are pregnant. 

On March 9, provincial authorities in Basra suspended working hours in all local government offices, excluding the health and security departments, until March 22, to help curb the spread of coronavirus after the southern province recorded its first fatality from the disease. Authorities in the nearby Maysan province took similar measures in the Salam subdistrict, where another fatality was reported on March 8. Iraq’s railway company also suspended the movement of passenger trains between Baghdad and Basra until further notice. In Baghdad, security authorities ordered all coffee shops in the capital’s busy commercial district of Karrada to shut down. Meanwhile, Najaf, a main destination for religious pilgrims from many Muslim countries, enacted several measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including banning the entry of visitors from countries with reported outbreaks, and the shutting down of all malls and coffee shops. On March 6, the Iraqi government expanded the travel bans in place to include a total of 11 countries: Spain, France, Italy, Iran, China, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Kuwait and Bahrain.  

On March 10, the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI) prohibited entry to travelers arriving from other areas of Iraq, except for those who have a valid six-month KRI residency permit, until further notice, in an attempt to control the spread of coronavirus. Authorities in the KRI also suspended  all official working hours across the KRI, excluding security forces and hospitals, until March 26.  In Sulaymaniyah, the city’s mayor asked residents to not leave their home unless they have an emergency and avoid crowds, while the governor of Duhok prohibited the province’s residents from traveling to other provinces. Additionally, the KRG set March 15 as the deadline for KRI residents to return from Iran. The border closure is expected to last through April 1. 

On March 10, an update on the coronavirus in Iraq by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) mentioned that there were suspected infections among the residents of an IDP camp in Ninewa province. Authorities took the possibly affected individuals to the hospital and established a makeshift isolation unit. If confirmed, these would be the first cases of coronavirus in Iraq’s IDP camps. Authorities are concerned that coronavirus could spread rapidly in the overcrowded camps. In response, many camps are enforcing temperature checks on people before entrance, and spraying public areas with disinfecting agents. The KRG’s Ministry of Interior has also prohibited IDPs residing in camps inside the KRI or in the region’s cities from leaving the region or returning to it until further notice.

On March 11, Iraq’s total fatalities from the coronavirus increased to eight after a 68 year old Iraqi man died in Karbala and four other men died in Maysan, Basra, Babylon, and Karbala from the coronavirus between March 5 and 9. According to the UN OCHA, there were 71 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Iraq, 14 of which in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI), as of March 10. However, an Iraqi news source on March 11 reported an additional three cases of coronavirus in the KRI, which would raise the total to 74. Iraqi health authorities reported on March 10 that 15 people infected with the virus had recovered, and reported later that another four recovered on March 12, raising the total recoveries to 19. According to a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the mortality rate from coronavirus in Iraq stood at 10%, making it the “highest in the world.” In comparison, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated the global mortality rate at 3.5%.


IED Incidents and Resulting Casualties

Casualties Due To IEDs from March 5- March 12, 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
03/06/20al-Rifai, Dhi-Qar00
03/07/20Qayyarah, Ninewa03
03/08/20Rutba, Anbar01
03/09/20al-Shaab, Baghdad02
03/09/20Basra02
03/10/20Bab al-Muadham, Baghdad00
03/12/20Sadr City, Baghdad01
03/12/20al-Obeidi, Baghdad01

 

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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